There is a basic communication model from 1948 by Shannon & Weaver that shows people how easy it is to send a message. I’ll show you just how easy it is.
Firstly there is a source who has a message they want to communicate.
Secondly the message is transmitted by a chosen medium such as email, speech or newspaper article.
The message is then sent to its intended recipient who decodes the message and the communication is received.
If this communication model is so simple then why do football fans hardly ever receive a straight answer about what is happening at their club?
Take the potential takeover at Sheffield Wednesday, the fans have had very little information about who may buy the club or when this takeover might take place. Very little communication has come from the club itself until the chairman gave an interview to say it wasn’t happening (well with this buyer anyway). As a fan and a receiver of this communication I still feel like I’m not getting the whole message. So why am I failing to understand what is being communicated?
In Shannon & Weaver’s model they introduced an element called ‘noise’. When the message has been sent by the source, before it even reaches the receiver there is always some kind of interference. Let me give you an example.
When I was completing my Masters I went to Russia on an exchange visit. This was a time when I was training to be a journalist and had grandiose ideas of writing a series of articles about the regeneration efforts of Russia post Glasnost. That idea disappeared as quickly as my journalism career.
I was travelling back from Moscow on the plane with a fellow student who happened to be Danish when about an hour or so into the journey he turned to me and started talking. I didn’t understand what he said. After his third attempt to communicate with me and from the blank expression on my face he started to get a bit frustrated.
Why couldn’t I understand him? Was it the noise from the fuselage? Was the jet lag hitting me already?
It was at this point he looked at me and said ‘shit was I just talking to you in Danish?’
The noise between us wasn’t literal it was a language barrier. In football’s case the interference depends on whether the message is coming from the club itself or the media. The noise is normally based on what the sender’s agenda is.
Having an agenda can cause all sorts of interference. Clubs themselves are becoming more reliant on their own media and communications teams to provide fans with information which in turn means more control for the club.
However when I posed the question on Twitter about how fans find out information about their club and how reliable it was, the overwhelming response was that fans only use the club’s communications if they want to confirm something that has already happened such as a new signing. By the time the club has announced any news the message is old and the likelihood is the fans have already received it from another source.
I understand why this should be the case. Clubs have their business interests and shareholders to protect so any message that isn’t fully signed off could be analysed and left open to interpretation but I find it a worrying trend when clubs like Nottingham Forest aren’t allowing journalists access to their players because ‘times are changing…We have a media team of our own who are fully focused on keeping fans updated.’
This could lead to another source of noise that seems to interfere with information fans receive from their clubs which is ‘omission’. There is an element of propaganda around keeping the messages generic, by saying something without actually saying anything at all.
Fans don’t entirely trust club messages because the noise in between is about protecting the share prices.
So what about news that comes from the media? Their ‘noise’ is just as likely to have an agenda as the clubs, especially if it’s a national news agency. A scoop is always likely to involve embellishment or in some case no evidence of truth at all.
Local media, however, are the closest thing fans have news without the noise.
In the recent examples of Newcastle United and Port Vale where they have banned their local media from press conferences, has a more detrimental effect for fans especially the further down the leagues you travel.
Local journalists need their relationship with the clubs in order to make a living. Reporting every day on the same teams requires a lot of trust between the two parties. Local media have little to gain from pissing off the golden goose so articles and social media messages are generally factual and direct.
No fan wants to see their club lock up the information and become North Korea and clubs shouldn’t expect their fans to obediently believe everything that comes from their media room. Without local news outlets the silence would be deafening from clubs especially when their are big changes in the offing such as a takeover.
So the message from Sheffield Wednesday at the moment is Milan Mandaric still owns the club, there is no offer on the table from any party and the chairman is back to investing in loan players. Message received and confirmed by the club. Back to the white noise of omission.
As a fan I’ll continue to get my football news from multiple sources but there are still going to be times where unfortunately it will be like listening to Danish on a plane.