The Beltline: Boxer interviews will often be chopped and skewed in the baiting game

The Beltline: Boxer interviews will often be chopped and skewed in the baiting game


By Elliot Worsell

THE importance of a headline should never be underestimated. Nor perhaps is a headline more important than it is today, when a lot of the people consuming media and what’s left of journalism are reluctant to read beyond it.

In fact, the headline is, in so many ways, the article itself in the eyes of these people; or it is at least the impetus for them to comment below and offer the author their thoughts on what they have acknowledged but not read.

For most news outlets today, the click alone is what they are chasing, therefore the headline must be strong. It must stand out in a swamp of stories about the same subject and it must entice a reader to want to know more. It must also distract people from videos of Aaron Bushnell setting himself on fire, images of Sydney Sweeney’s chest, and the rumours regarding the whereabouts of Kate Middleton.

Get it right, of course, and you get the click and some interest, however long or short. Get it wrong, on the other hand, and your article will either sink without a trace, or, as the BBC discovered on Friday, expose the somewhat sinister machinations of this practice.

For context, it was on Friday, March 8 that the BBC announced that Tom Lockyer, a professional footballer, had recently become a father. They chose to announce this news with the headline, “Luton Town’s Tom Lockyer becomes dad after cardiac arrest,” and even at that stage it seemed a strange choice of words. Indeed, one couldn’t help but read the sentence and wonder what on earth nurses had done to Lockyer at the hospital following his cardiac arrest in December for him to then produce a child. Moreover, was there really a need to mention the cardiac arrest at all?

In answer to that, the BBC would likely argue that Lockyer’s current relevance owes to the unfortunate incident involving him last year. They would say that to therefore not mention it would result in many reading a truncated headline – for example: “Luton Town’s Tom Lockyer becomes (a) dad” – and questioning why we must hear about a random footballer becoming a father.

That may be so, but it remains a clunky and confusing sentence nonetheless. It is clunky and confusing because they have tried to pack too much detail into just nine words and it is clunky and confusing because we now know it represents a panicked amendment to the story’s original headline: “Luton Town’s Tom Lockyer is dad after cardiac arrest.”

Yes, that was the original headline used in the tweet. Exactly those words in exactly that order. Tom Lockyer. Is. Dad. After. Cardiac arrest.

More callous than simply clunky, that was the title of the tweet posted from a BBC account at 10:56 on Friday, March 8. It was then swiftly deleted and replaced by the alternative headline at 11:17, no doubt due to the backlash the original post received. Words like “grim” were used in reference to it. “Disgusting” too.

Yet it was just clickbait, that’s all. In a world sadly full of it, this was clickbait to the nth degree, the clickbait to end all clickbait (as if), and the surest sign yet that everybody, even the BBC, are scrapping for relevance and a spot on the podium of trash otherwise known as social media.

They are not alone, either. In boxing, too, there was an interesting development last week concerning a couple of video interviews involving retired super-middleweights. The first of them featured George Groves, who, standing in a corridor somewhere, was asked to give his thoughts on the postponement of the fight between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk. A seemingly innocuous request on the face of it, the question would lead to Groves discussing the cut Fury picked up in sparring and playing devil’s advocate when considering its authenticity. As a result, Groves was then greeted by an army of angry Fury fans when the video, complete with an all caps and overly dramatic headline, appeared on social media and was widely shared.

It was a shame, too, because the soundbite itself was one of the more interesting soundbites I have heard from a boxer for some time. It was a shame as well that Groves felt he had been betrayed by the video channel for cutting and serving the clip the way they had for their online audience. This, Groves suggested, had only encouraged more people to read the headline, see something in the video that wasn’t there, and then attack him, the one to whom the quote was attributed.

George Groves (David M. Benett/Dave Benett/WireImage)

Similarly, Paul Smith, a former Groves opponent, had an issue with the way an interview of his was chopped and skewed by a video channel last week in Saudi Arabia. For Smith the issue was that a six-minute interview regarding the heavyweight fight between Francis Ngannou and Anthony Joshua had been reduced to a social media post with this as its headline: “HE’S NOT A GOOD BOXER!”

Irked, it seemed, by the possibility that he had come across as negative or disrespectful, Smith took to social media to write: “I’ve given about 10 compliments to Ngannou, how tough, hard, strong, how good an MMA fighter he is, how I’m happy financially he’s now set for life and is a good man; and (they) wrote the headline on the one negative I had/have for him.”

Unfortunately, that one negative Smith said in relation to Ngannou was the bit of gold the video channel was looking for. It provided the five words the channel hoped would be enough to stop people scrolling and focus, if just for a second, on the post they had published online.

Presumably in that mission they succeeded; no doubt aided by Smith’s angered reaction, which would have only driven more people towards the video in question. It’s the same with the Groves on Fury video and many others as well. Which is why, for content creators and people who consider clickbait a dirty word yet specialise in and strive for nothing else, rocking the boat is deemed a risk worth taking.

As for the boxers, they must be smart, careful. They should remember the process: handshake, platitudes, interview, headline, tweet. That they trip over from time to time should come as no surprise, particularly when there is a desperation to stay relevant, yet what they must understand, as we all must, is that in a post-quality world the only thing they are good for is a soundbite that generates clicks. In other words, today the aim is never to tell a story about a brave footballer cheating death and later becoming a father. It is to instead have the distracted masses see the word “dad” and have their cluttered, overstimulated minds convince them they have seen the word “dead”.


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