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The Zoom Press Conference Era: Joshua Kloke on the challenge of reporting TFC from afar

Much has been written about how the pandemic has affected players and fans, but what about the impact on soccer journalism and the media’s ability to accurately report on what’s happening within clubs?

Toronto FC Training
Quentin Westberg #16 of Toronto FC talks to the media at Starfire Sports Complex on November 08, 2019 in Tukwila, Washington.
(Mead/ISI Photos/Getty)

Much has been written about how the pandemic has affected players and fans, but what about the impact on soccer journalism and the media’s ability to accurately report on what’s happening within clubs?

With the traditional routine of training ground visits and press conferences disrupted, and with in-person access and face-to-face conversations lost all together, the way clubs are communicating has changed.

Has this led to a knock on effect in the kind of information that club’s share, and on the way they choose to share it?

With TFC making headlines both on and off the pitch right now, Joshua Kloke of The Athletic spoke to Waking The Red Weekly about the challenges of reporting from a distance:

We as media members are at a serious disadvantage with the club being in Florida. We have access to the team once a week and after games.

I’m sure there are people saying ‘boo-hoo, poor media’, like you guys can figure out how to do your jobs, but we were able to tell better stories and provide better coverage—to report on this team more accurately—because we had access to training.

Gregg Vanney was always forthright about injuries, and we could see when players weren’t reporting for training. It’s been difficult to report on this team because the best reporting is done, not simply when you have ‘access’, but when you’re able to have conversations with players and management, and there seems to be a move away from that this year.

It’s a byproduct of the Zoom press conference era that I think we’re all looking forward to moving past. And it’s difficult because Chris Armas came in and I don’t think any of us in the TFC press core have actually been able to meet him in person.

I’m trying not to compare everything to Greg Vanney, but his factor kind of looms large. Greg was always forthcoming about information if you asked it in a smart manner. And what that did was take away any fear the club might have about how they were going to be reported on.

Greg invited questions, and what I’m finding now is the club has not made it as easy as I’m sure we would have hoped, to report in a really interesting and accurate way lately.

You wish there was an opportunity to have more of a discussion. I don’t think that there’s an insinuation that the media believes [the club is] withholding information, but maybe if you could walk us through your thought process we could report on that.

It’s natural that a changing of the guard at any club would usher in new practices, and different management styles favour different degrees of transparency. While some will opt for total openness, others will lean towards being more guarded—in some cases to prevent releasing sensitive information (such as injuries to key players) and providing an advantage to other clubs.

But as Kloke pointed out, less transparency in general can lead to an information vacuum, leading to less accurate reporting and a lesser degree of connection between the club, the players—and the fans:

I remember growing up and studying journalism. I was always fascinated by the way that soccer was reported on in England because it just seemed that if there was one little juicy bit of information it turned into this huge spectacle of a thing, and I’m like: that sounds terrible!

In a way it feels like we’re slowly moving towards that. Again, it’s not even about an access thing, it’s the inability to have conversations and constantly learn information.

Like we get access to this team once a week with a stockpile list of questions. [Previously] we were able to go to the training grounds, even on re-gen days, and ask questions and just gather information and report in a much more educated manner.

It’s a very weird process. I don’t know what the answer is yet. My sense is that there’s some finger pointing going on within the club right now—because of the poor results, because of the continued drama that’s happening off the field.

And I do think that if the team wants to move forward in a positive way, and decrease that finger pointing, giving the media an opportunity to report more in an in depth manner [would help] because that’s what we’re lacking right now.

Again, it feels like that kind of English tabloid way, where you get one little piece of information and then you kind of take it much further, because you don’t have the conversations that allow you to become educated about the club and to report about it in an educated manner.

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