Lee Power allows banned Sam Morshead and the Adver back in at Swindon

The Swindon Advertiser’s week-long press ban is over. Hurrah, says Alex Cooke, but is everything back to normal now?

Swindon’s local paper is once again welcome back at the County Ground and Adver reporter Sam Morshead no longer has to fumble around for stories like a blindfolded octopus in a library. This is good news for fans, and for Sam.

However, that a ban, albeit a short one, was ever put in place shows that there is a serious problem with the relationship between the club and hacks, and by implication their relationship with us, the fans.

While it’s been an entertaining diversion the reason for the embargo matters less than the outcome, for as the club’s statement said the embargo “…was as a result of a series of issues with the newspaper of which the Nile Ranger incident was the most recent”. What these issues are, or were, has not been made public.

So the rift is goes deeper than one tweet, and if there was a functioning relationship between what remains of the Town’s PR department and the Adver such things could and should have been dealt with. Instead it took national coverage, an MP, two club directors and an editor to resolve the issue.

The short-term effect of the embargo was probably minimal. It proved largely hollow as it only lasted just over a week, took in two away games and probably generated more web traffic than usual for the Adver with their photos of sad Sam Morshead sat outside the Country Ground looking like a defrocked vicar.

What the ban was designed to achieve is also unclear. It wasn’t as if the Adver were printing hostile headlines. In fact, we all know there are many issues which could have been pushed much harder, including the names of the many mystery investors around Jed McCrory, the lack of progress on McCrory’s promised County Ground and training ground developments, or, as we’ve seen this morning the three legal challenges facing the club.

It would be easy to speculate that the real motive for the ban could be a poor personal relationship between reporter and chairman or anger about the un-moderates comments made by Fredi on the Adver forums, but that would be just speculation – pure, ill-informed guess work. Like so much of those forums, but at least this has been spellchecked.

Whatever the motive for the embargo, it has achieved nothing, bar damaging both club and paper – for they are co-dependent, and not just in terms of bottom lines.

Obviously the Adver gets readers through its access to the club but it also gains credibility, respectability and legitimacy by the strength of association. This is shown in the continued popularity of the paper, above an upstart such as FlicWiltshirenews.

For the club, some benefits are equally black and white. This primarily includes the vast amount of free publicity and pages every football club gets from its local paper every day.

But that is only part of it. For as the paper reports on the club, it also endorses the club – and gives tacit consent of the way that it is run. And that matters because people actually value the opinions of their local paper. They actually like the paper, some even buy it with cash money, or at least click on its website regularly. So a positive word, or absence of criticism, about the club in the local paper still carries some weight.

And if things do go badly, they can also frame the debate, shape the information for the majority of supporters. To some extent they can decide if any fan disquiet becomes mass protest or just grumbling on forums.

Lee Power must understand that because he has decided to communicate with fans pretty much only through the prism of the media. So far he hasn’t meet the Trust or any supporter groups and doesn’t seem to press the fan-flesh, that is when he is in the country. In fact, print and radio aren’t just the backbone of his communication, they are his sole methods.

Granted, McCrory’s boardroom bonhomie and indecipherable tweeting made him at times look like a cockney chimp they did give the illusion of listening – at least for a certain section of fans. The chance to meet ‘Jed the ledge’ to be ROARed at seems to have resurrected his credibility to such an extent that there are some who still bemoan his strategic withdrawal in bizarre petition form.

Power would do well to remember Jed for another reason, for if another investor were to come in to Swindon and look to remove Power just as he did with McCrory, then when Power sought to explain his side of the story to fans, stakeholders or investors, he might find the media suddenly have plenty of other stories.

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