The pressure to express an opinion

I spent the morning reading the reaction to the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport committee’s report into doping in sport, and there was plenty of it. Some of it was excellent, informed, measured and human. Some of it was absolute nonsense. And some of it was somewhere in between. I think that sums up the reaction to pretty much everything that happens, though, doesn’t it.

When stories like this hit the mainstream, I do have sympathy for people in the media who have to suddenly get to grips with professional cycling and all its peculiarities. The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show cut from pictures of Wiggins to some archive footage of Robert Millar riding a time trial in a Panasonic team jersey at either the 1986 or 1987 Tour de France, before going back to Wiggins. Whoever had to put that package together presumably just searched the database for ‘cycling’, perhaps saw a reference to the Tour de France, and thought that would be okay.

Even the DCMS report wasn’t immune, describing the Tour de France as one of the Classics. That might not matter in the grand scheme of things – after all, no one who’s ever written anything for a living can say they’ve never made a mistake, least of all me – but in a report that was asking to be judged on its attention to detail and trust in its veracity it showed a poor grasp of the basics.

I don’t know how other journalists feel but there’s often a pressure to say ‘something’ on Twitter when these stories break and a while ago I would have done, but I’ve learned that Twitter is just about the least suitable place to express a view on a complex, multi-layered issue. Any comment is open to misinterpretation, people read between the lines and see things that are not there and were not intended. Then there’s the round of, ‘Yes, but what about…’ type messages and before you know it the day’s nearly gone and you realise you’ve been frowning since lunchtime.

A couple of BBC radio stations contacted me asking if I wanted to take part in discussions on the story and I decided I didn’t. I used to do quite a few of these sort of radio appearances around Tour de France time and when big cycling stories broke but since starting the podcast I’ve felt less and less inclined. There’s less room to examine both sides or say ‘I don’t know,’ on the radio. Generally you’re there to put one point of view or the other and sum everything up in a few lines. But what if you see elements of truth in all sides of a story – as is usually the case with something that is complicated?

Instead, I decided I’d write a piece for my website. I’ve called it Eight Years of Covering Team Sky and part one is online now. I’m not entirely sure where it goes next but it’s certainly not going to be an attempt at a definitive, comprehensive account of the team’s history, because I don’t feel I can do that. What I can do is reflect on a few of the major stories I’ve witnessed over the years and write about them from my own perspective.

One thing that does baffle me, though, monitoring the traffic to this site over the past 24 hours, is this: How is it that more than 10 times the number of people are interested in a piece about Team Sky than about what sort of food it is appropriate to leave out for hedgehogs? I just don’t get you people.