WHENEVER I see a boxer or promoter being interviewed these days by someone pointing a camera at their face, I can’t help but recall the iconic scene from the 1977 film Annie Hall, in which Woody Allen and Diane Keaton have a conversation on a balcony and all that is left unsaid – their true, honest, innermost thoughts – appears via subtitles at the bottom of the screen.
Unfortunately, that is what the interviewing process in boxing has become of late. It has become a mess of boxers and promoters being harassed by grateful fans with an ability to press “record” and “stop” but largely lacking any ability to get to the truth of the matter. No fault of their own, it is ultimately these fans, so content are they to listen and so unwilling are they to interrupt, who then find themselves welcomed back time and time again. They are also called “media” for some reason.
A mere symptom of the current climate, it’s fair to say that a lot of the media you find covering boxing nowadays would not be found covering sports considered to be more serious by the general public. Instead, such is boxing’s tendency to let in any old straggler, press conferences and press rows appear to have been overtaken by people just happy to be there; happy to receive a press credential, happy to have a seat, happy to take selfies, happy to meet their heroes.
This enthusiasm, although never something one wants to stifle, is hardly conducive to fair and serious reporting. What’s more, there is a direct correlation between the extent to which these “new media” members are being warmly embraced and welcomed by the sport and the problems the sport, or at least those within it, are currently looking to sweep under one giant, stained Arabian carpet.
To facilitate these efforts there is, for an under-fire boxer or promoter, arguably no greater sight than that of a giddy member of the “new media” carrying both a camera and an adoring smile. Primed to be groomed, many of these people will not even be aware of the fact that by being so grateful for whatever it is they are being told, they are, without meaning to, enabling the deceit and becoming part of the problem.
For the newer members of the cult, which is what it has become, such ignorance is forgivable. Yet for the older ones, the ones who have adapted to this cult of personality and tweaked their own motives accordingly, it is not so easy to look past their strange desire just to belong, or feel part of it all.
The same is happening elsewhere. In the film industry, for instance, there is a fear that proper film criticism is being killed by studios who co-opt journalists as part of their promotional campaign. These journalists, often of a certain age and very much online, are made to feel as though what they are doing is a privilege and therefore when they are sent gifts and goodie bags by studios before the release of a big film they will invariably take to social media to post their thanks and gratitude, as well as their over-the-top praise of the film in question. In a sense, it’s almost as if gratitude in a world of empty, performative displays of online kindness is now a prerequisite when it comes to gaining access; to an event, or any kind of interview.
This, in the context of boxing, leaves you in either one of two camps: arsehole or sycophant. If in the former camp, you are likely deemed a snide, miserable cynic with nothing positive to say, whereas if you find yourself in the latter camp, you are everybody’s friend and you are well on your way to becoming a “face” in the world of online boxing. For some, that’s probably enough. It’s their aim and that’s fine. But if boxing, as an industry, houses too many of those types, including them even on fight night broadcasts, who is going to be left to ask the difficult questions and produce the kind of insight needed at a time like this (when boxing, objectively speaking, is on its knees)?
I suppose, given the broader changes in the world, it’s only natural press row will look different today than it did when I first started covering the sport in the early noughties. Back then, when I was just 16 and websites were the Big Scary Monsters in the eyes of the old guard, there was no doubt a similar feeling among those around me. I know there was, too, because when I once covered a bill on press row alongside my dad, who had driven me all the way to Norwich (a six-hour round trip), I heard an experienced member of the press say, in reference to me, “They’re even letting kids in these days.”
Perhaps now, by writing this and bringing up this issue, I am saying the same 20 years on, though that is not my intention. Indeed, if there is one thing I learned from that experience, having discovered that particular journalist’s lack of talent in the subsequent years, it’s that age has no bearing on either knowledge or ability. In other words, “kids” covering boxing, and showing a passion for it, is something I support wholeheartedly and always will.
My only concern, I guess, is that whereas a young blagger like me broke into the sport by sitting ringside with a notepad and pen and writing about every four-rounder on a bill before going home and trying to convey on a computer some sort of insight or feeling in an overwritten report, there is nowadays a sense that all you have to do to gain a similar level of access is create a social media profile and tweet nice things about people.
That is something anyone can do, for it requires neither skill nor thought nor sincerity. Scariest of all, though, an inability or reluctance to question anything, or even think deeply about something, leaves you in the end susceptible to being groomed by people in power. It happens without you knowing and is typically described as either “banter” or “great content”.