In era of fake news, sports stars need real relationships with media

From a certain vantage, the entire world appears like a marketing platform, a kind of vested-interest bog to pull through in search of the meaning. The truth itself, well documented this week, is becoming a mystified and unreachable shore. It was inevitable that this town, with its relatively small problems, would let sport join the conversation about fake news.

Before I hate myself for another media-talking-about-media bit, let's acknowledge that we are in a climate of self-proclamation as journalists and publishers, as private social media operators. There’s a proliferation of channels, individual voices bypassing the traditional conduits of style and verifiable information. So yes, media talking about media, which is to say talking about everyone in 2018.

In the days when journalists wore fedora hats, the relationship between the media and sportspeople was mutually beneficial.

In the AFL, as in all big sports, the question of what a player owes traditional media and his audience has never been properly answered, because no one knows. Football will say it’s an industry. And that word “industry” foretells its language, and how its men and women are answerable above all to business. This matters because football is an industry that also trades in Australian culture, and passion, the value of which can’t be measured.

Media appearances, so far as they are in most sports, are just that, appearances. It’s a strange thing to witness on the pro-tennis tour, say, where the players are pushed out by timed protocol before a group of writers all asking the same questions and reporting the same answers. By design, it’s entirely impersonal and, unless you run into a player who is unafraid to say what he thinks, mostly a waste of time.

You have to be on the players’ side in all this. They are the risk takers, the ones braving the arena. But they are also brands now, and marketing machines with their own publications in their pockets. Exactly what do they represent? Who do they represent, and for how long?

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