Spot the difference

Okay. Take a look at the two screengrabs below. Two stories, about virtually identical topics, told a month apart.

On the left, a story excoriating Partick Thistle for advertising on its website for a volunteer to help out at the club, unpaid, on matchday.

On the right, a story hyping up Rangers fans for the chance to volunteer to help out at the club, unpaid, on matchday.

Spot the difference.

According to the story on the left, written by Lynn McPherson and published on January 15 this year, Partick Thistle have been heavily criticised for the advert.

Politicians and union bosses criticised the Glasgow club over the advert, which was posted on their website last week.

SNP MSP James Dornan, who led a debate at Holyrood on the living wage and Scottish football clubs, said: “These types of unpaid positions in our football clubs are deeply concerning.

“Paying at least the minimum wage is a legal responsibility — to not do so is completely outrageous.”

And according to the story on the right, which was published yesterday and carries no byline:

Rangers fans who fancy working for their club could bag their dream job after the Light Blues advertised for volunteers to help out on match days.

The Ibrox side are looking for supporters to step forward and become key members of their matchday team.

In the first story, we have multiple MPs and the Scottish TUC being called in to comment, criticising the club for looking to use a volunteer.

In the second, no comments from MPs – including the MP of a neighbouring constituency who led the debate in the Scottish Parliament. No comments sought from the STUC. And the presentation that working at Rangers unpaid on matchdays is a ‘dream job’

As I said, spot the difference.

In the media, a perception of bias is as bad as actual bias.

Sometimes publishers adopt a deliberately partisan approach to their output — often in terms of political coverage, but occasionally elsewhere, in order to reflect the mood and opinions of readers.

And sometimes publishers get tarred with the brush of bias, even when no deliberate leaning exists, purely because the output disagrees with a viewpoint held with a part of the audience.

But when it comes to sports coverage, Scottish titles like to claim neutrality. Especially when it comes to football, where the fanbase for the country’s two largest clubs – Celtic and Rangers – is fevered, laser-focused and at times decidedly embittered.

With such large supports, it’s not a surprise that at times the two teams dominate the output of the media. Every spit and cough from either side of the city is covered in minute detail by publishers who know very few outlets went bust capitalising on the Old Firm Pound.

And of course the accusations of bias aimed at the mainstream media by each club’s supporters that titles are weighted in one way or another. The Daily Ranger. The Daily Rebel. Take your pick.

Now, there’s plenty of reasons why the two stories could differ in their approach. The latter might be an agency piece, filed late at night and used to fill a space. It might be by a journalist or casual (if the Record has any left) who didn’t know about the first story or think there might be parity.

It might entirely be an oversight, or an accident, or miscommunication.

But the perception of bias in the media is just as significant as bias itself. And when pretty much the same story is told in two wildly different ways, and the only significant difference is the subject of the story, it gives a perception, rightly or wrongly, of one rule for one, and one rule for another.

Declaration of interest, I’m a supporter of Partick Thistle (and have been for twenty at times long and testing years), and of course I used to work at the Record from 2008-2010.

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