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The future of boxing journalism

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Why the interests of the sport and its fighters must always be of paramount importance, writes Boxing News editor Matt Christie

YOUTUBE and social media are crucial tools for marketing the sport. Industry leaders increasingly prefer to be filmed with a camera than recorded by a dictaphone. It’s easy to see why. With minimum effort – and without the risk of having their words and marketing messages diluted by any contrasting opinions or facts – they can reach hundreds of thousands, sometimes even millions. In the right circumstances, for the marketeer and their audience, it’s a good fit and one that Boxing News understands wholeheartedly. It’s no coincidence that the newfound shareability of information coincided with the boom in popularity that boxing enjoyed in the UK recently.

It’s not just promoters who recognise this. Many fighters now prefer to be interviewed via video, too. It’s immediate and it’s engaging and it grabs attention. And boxers deserve the right attention, particularly when one considers they operated for too long without the recognition their efforts merited in the not so distant past.

The old adage, any publicity is good publicity, springs to mind but of course that’s not always the case. In the wrong hands it’s quite the opposite. It lacks context and any depth of investigation. And if we’re not careful, it will slowly but surely kill quality journalism.

The effect of that is not yet known. For those who have been stung by unscrupulous writers who twisted words and sentences to suit their own stories, the current trend will be applauded and understandably so. This is not a campaign for the written press to rule, scoundrels exist in that world too.

Diversity of content – from articles to videos to podcasts – should be welcomed if executed with care. Anyone in boxing or the media who is blind to the benefits of the digital age will suffer in the long-term.

But the dangers of quantitative over quality should also be obvious. If the people in power are never challenged and get too used to talking to those they know they can control, those who try a little too hard to please their subjects and fire questions but don’t come armed with evidence to challenge the answers, it will become increasingly difficult for the rule-breakers to be held accountable for their crimes. In boxing that’s a grim prophecy but one that is already prevalent as recent drugs controversies, that broke as swiftly as they then disappeared, prove.

To produce an in-depth investigation or feature, one that is balanced and fair and factually correct, one that uncovers the truth for the benefit of boxing and its fighters and holds decision makers accountable, can take several weeks or even months. The process of researching and securing the right interviews, conducting them and transcribing them and then crafting the story, is a long and arduous one if done correctly. These are not always the stories that Joe Bloggs wants to read or watch but that shouldn’t make them any less important. Though I accept we now play a numbers game — views, likes, comments — the real purpose of the story, be it video, audio or print, should always be considered while telling it.

At Boxing News, named the Sports Website of the Year by the Sports Journalists’ Association three months ago, we have long recognised the importance of the social media age and the success we’ve had with our digital channels, which have a reach of millions, reflect that. Plans to increase our multimedia offerings were at an advanced stage prior to lockdown and we look forward to introducing those when the pandemic restrictions ease. As always, quality and integrity will be atop our priority list when we do.
Please don’t get me wrong here. Certain YouTube channels have done truly exceptional things in the last decade. Kugan Cassius, in particular, is rightly regarded as a trailblazer and remains one of the hardest-working figures in boxing and he’s very good at what he does. His is a difficult and relatable balancing act and one that, for the most part, he does well: Retaining both the trust of his audience and his interviewees.
Yet his success has spawned plenty of wannabes who have been drawn to boxing — always so generous with its access — purely to boost their own profiles and seemingly without any real knowledge of journalism or understanding of the sport. One swear word or cursory outburst is all they need to get a headline, though the notion of a story alongside it is often a falsehood.

Prior to lockdown, we were in a situation where as many as 20 YouTubers would queue up at a press conference to ask the same person the same question and get the same answer. The truth be damned and those of us who are still driven by the need to tell the truth might one day be labelled the stupid ones for wasting our time pursuing it.

To be clear, however, the job of the boxing journalist isn’t to try and trip anyone up. Very often, like right now for example, those at the heart of the sport deserve tremendous praise. They’re working diligently in almost impossible circumstances to get it beating again. Ultimately, the job of the boxing journalist is to serve boxing’s interests: the fighters, the fans and its future by shining a light on both the good and the bad.

Speaking from the heart, I am eager for boxing, the enduring love of my life, to return sooner rather than later because I want it to thrive again. I want the boxers to get paid and the gyms to regain their purpose.

The safety of all involved in the events has to be paramount. The sport must be given every chance of proving it can operate in this new world. If that means the media numbers have to be dramatically reduced in the short term, then so be it. The priority here is the sport of boxing, is it not?

Yet some feel differently. Last week, Cassius hosted a virtual roundtable with fellow YouTubers that was both interesting and depressing. Some of his guests were outraged that they won’t be allowed into events while showing little pleasure that boxing is taking steps to return. One demanded that the promoters “have our back the way we’ve had theirs over the years”. It’s their livelihood, I get that, but the sport regaining its footing and fighters generating an income is infinitely more important. Any ‘journalists’ complaining at this point should take a look in the mirror and ask why they’re really here.

If their first thought is not the good of the sport and its boxers, if it is more about themselves and their own profiles, then what real purpose do they serve?

In 2020 the powerbrokers have proved, by making the most of their own digital platforms in lockdown, they’re more than capable of generating attention all by themselves.

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