Henry Winter has admitted that, despite being the chief football writer for The Times, he has written tweets for England players – and says he’s not the only one.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself that a lot of the top football writers in the UK media sound more like England fanboys than actual, critical journalists, you’re probably not wrong.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s podcast, On the Media, chief football writer for The Times, Henry Winter, freely admitted he has written tweets for England players in the past, such is their relationship.
Asked by Andrea Catherwood if footballers ever approach him for his advice before sending a tweet, Winter replied, “I’ve written tweets for players, I’m sure everyone else on this panel has as well.
“Because they just say ‘how will this play out?’ and I have a certain social media following, obviously very much football related, and they will absolutely do that.”
This, from the man who famously wouldn’t follow anyone, or even reply to tweets, when he first joined the platform.
It shouldn’t need me to point out that this is not the role of journalists, this is a PR job, even if you do think you’re just ‘being helpful’.
That’s not what journalists are meant to do. They are there to report what is happening. It’s one thing if he was asked to check for typos or something but how is Henry Winter supposed to offer a fair assessment of a player he’s going having a chat with later like they’re mates? If the resulting tweet creates an outrage for some reason, what is he going to write about it?
He’s hardly going to highlight a Harry Kane dive if he might be tweeting for the England captain later or helping him spin a poor performance in the best light (I’ve no idea if it is Harry Kane, I just used that as an example).
Access comes at a cost for most journalists and, therefore, journalism.
They will tell you that it doesn’t impact what they write, but that’s simply not true. It can’t be.
It is almost always a trade-off, even if that happens on levels you aren’t even aware of yourself. None of us want to think we are swayed by other people, but the truth is we are. It’s fantasy to think you can be helping somebody out one minute and then being completely impartial the next, no matter how much you want or try to be.
You can’t write objectively about people you want to be or are friends with, or whose image you are helping craft. Like most little boys growing up (and they are mostly little boys in this game at all levels, still), I’ve no doubt Winter and his chums dreamed of being friends with England players and other top level footballers. Who wouldn’t? That sounds great! Being a football journalist, if you make it to the right places, offers you that chance.
But how, then, do you call them out the next day in the paper?
A lot of journalists would prefer to keep their access and, to do that, they must sacrifice some of their critical eye. Then, there are those who value the truth of the story over their proximity to it. Access, to them, is important, but not essential.
No matter how much some journalists try to protest that they are above that sort of thing, they aren’t.
Like the rest of us, they are only human, no matter how many footballers they hang around with.