In my late teens and early twenties, the publication to buy on matchday was Not The View. Written by fans for fans it was the antidote to The Celtic View which, at the time, was nicknamed Pravda after the Soviet Union state media outlet which stuck unerringly to the given political line that life in Russia could not be better, despite the 2-hour bread queues, lack of personal freedoms and all the other issues to be found in totalitarian regimes.
NTV was part of a new breed of publications – fanzines. With publishing becoming more possible for the punter, fanzines were popping up across British Football. As it remains, NTV was mainly light-hearted, poking fun at the at the pronunciations of the board and commenting on the quality (or lack thereof) in our squad and generally taking the piss out of the rest of Scottish football where necessary. NTV was quickly followed by other publications at Celtic and, as the fanzine culture matured, so did the quality of writing and quality of content. Little did we know it then, but “Fan media” was born.
The Biglhist was the first place for Celtic fans online and again, other go-to, online locations (Etims, CQN etc) arrived before a plethora of sites followed. My own journey online began when I emailed Eddie Pearson in January 2005 (Glen Tim Tim at the time writing the Rumour Mill) when I heard that MoN would be leaving the club that summer. I followed this up with a couple of articles and I was hooked.
When Eddie told me he was creating The Celtic Underground it was a simple idea – a group of Celtic fans writing stuff about Celtic for other Celtic fans to read. Why not? I could put the nonsense in my head on the written page and when the podcast was launched 16 seasons ago it was just an extension of the site. The idea was simple: we talk on the phone, at work, in the pub and on the way to and from games with mates about Celtic and recent performances so let’s record it and maybe some of the fans without someone immediate to chat to can enjoy some vicarious Celtic chat.
When twitter came along, again I saw in a similar way – a place to chat with Celtic fans about Celtic and vent when I felt like it. Although whatsapp came after, I saw it the same way I see my whatsapp groups. I’ll follow people whose opinions I like, and hopefully like-minded people follow me. I’ll tweet Celtic stuff I’ve heard and hopefully they will too. Celtic fans sharing Celtic chat. Nothing more serious than that.
During my time online, “fan media” has evolved massively. For a start it has become “fan media.” At Celtic fan sites been invited to press conferences. The content produced has enabled some people to take a revenue from their hobby and in some circumstances (especially at some of the EPL clubs) this hobby revenue has become a full-time income.
The problem for fan media is when do we/they cross the line? When does fans talking like fans become fans talking like media? Running a website and podcast costs money. The more content you produce the greater the cost. Generating revenue to cover that output is understandable but the minute you move from cost covering to profit making, the minute you start charging and your listeners become customers, have you crossed the line and simply become a branch of the media?
It’s a difficult place to be and a difficult decision to make. For some sites and podcasts the intention appears to be that they usurp the traditional MSM. That’s not and never has been the CU objective. Each to their own, but once you cross the Rubicon you cannot go running for shelter into the “we’re just an online fanzine having a laugh.”
At times, online can seem a lawless place but it’s not. Edge of decency comments may well be ignored and most of the time people get away risqué and marginally offensive tweets but the minute you usurp the guys whose mortgages depend upon their trade in the media you have crossed that line from annoying fan to being part of the media. The minute your club prioritises your website above the traditional media and the minute you have become an “Official media partner” you ARE the media.
Being The Media imposes standards and consequences and “lads banter” becomes official media partner output. Recent post-match media conferences at Ibrox have been populated by broadcast media and Rangers fans sites with newspapers refusing to pay the £25,000 “season ticket” to attend. At The Rangers, fan media has become THE media and for those fan sites who have wanted to replace the press, they have got everything they want AND everything that brings. The good and the bad…