JEN CHANG was appointed LFC’s communications director in the summer. Before he officially started in the role he contacted various people, including me, and said he wanted to extend the access to the club that was currently enjoyed by the mainstream media so that it also included fan-sites, blogs, fanzines, podcasts and so on. For the rest of this article I’ll try to refer to all these as either fan-sites or blogs or we’ll be here all day. We might still be.
Chang said he wanted fan-sites to be able to go to press conferences and to get access to the press box. He said in the US that ‘bloggers’ are treated the same as mainstream journalists and he’d like to see that happen at Anfield too.
It was still ahead of his official start date when Brendan Rodgers was due to be officially announced as Liverpool manager. At The Anfield Wrap we found out about the press conference being held to make this announcement and I asked Jen Chang if I’d be able to go along to it. We were told we could, and in fact Gareth Roberts and I went along.
When Chang officially started at the club he arranged to meet some of the people he’d previously spoken to on the phone. I met him one day and I know others met him at various points in his first few weeks in the role. He asked people if there were any other blogs, fan-sites or otherwise that he should be speaking to and he was given recommendations.
On the whole the people running the various fan-sites all get on together quite well whenever they do have any contact with each other and to my knowledge there is very little rivalry between sites. It might be the case when forumites start to discuss other sites – but the people running the sites are generally fine with each other. Some people take the internet more seriously than others.
As it was Chang soon found that there problems with the idea of giving fan-sites the same access as the mainstream press. There were various reasons for this, one of which is a physical lack of space in the press room at Melwood. So a new idea was put forward – instead of fan-sites going to the regular press-conferences every week the fan-sites could have their own monthly meetings with the manager or a player.
It’s also safe to say that although some members of the mainstream media were genuinely pleased to see the likes of The Anfield Wrap and This Is Anfield involved, others were rather resistant to it and so would have been pleased to see the separation continue.
Chang also around this time gave us the name of the contact from the press office that was to be our point of contact from that point forward. Chang doesn’t arrange access for any of us; we speak to our contact in the press office.
The idea of separate sessions for fan-sites had been mentioned to me well before what was for us the second event of the summer at Anfield, the press conference held ahead of the US tour. It was also mentioned to all the fan-sites who were there the day of that press briefing – and there were a number of fan-sites there that day. Those fan sites were spoken to by Chang separately from the rest of the press as he basically introduced himself to us properly.
As it was LFC’s pre-season blended in with the real season thanks to the Europa League qualifiers and so there wasn’t an opportunity for the first of these monthly meetings until September and the first, inevitable, international break.
Brendan Rodgers sat with the various fan-sites for an age, openly discussing all kinds of issues with much enthusiasm. You probably heard the audio on the Anfield Wrap or Anfield FM, saw the video on The Redmen TV, or heard bits of it in various parts of the mainstream media. I spent far too long writing a full transcript of the interview (due to popular demand from overseas supporters struggling with the manager’s accent) and of course you could read about it on those other fan-sites that had been invited along.
With no domestic football on that week the quotes were gratefully received by the mainstream media to help them put a story together. Outlets using TAW’s audio credited TAW for the use of it. And that was enough to kick a conspiracy theory off.
The conspiracy was that Jen Chang had given TAW exclusive access to Rodgers in return for keeping quiet about some allegations that had been made against Chang by a Twitter user going by the pseudonym of “Duncan Jenkins”.
You will no doubt have seen the reports in some sections of the press on Friday; you’ve probably seen the blog that the press reports were based on. One thing they – “Jenkins” and Chang – agree on is that they had a meeting in Manchester in August. “Jenkins” claims he and his family were threatened, Chang denies this.
This article isn’t aimed at deciding which one, if any, is being totally honest about what went on at that meeting. In the absence of any evidence of what was said it’s the word of one guy against the other and no doubt people will make their own minds up about who they believe.
Back in September, at the time of the Rodgers interview, I’d heard only quite vague snippets about the claims “Jenkins” was making so it was quite strange to start receiving angry tweets accusing TAW of doing some kind of deal with Chang. The ridiculous accusation being made was that we got to speak exclusively to Rodgers in return for not speaking out about Chang.
Their rush to jump to conclusions meant they completely missed the fact it wasn’t exclusive – there were other fan-sites there too. (Laughingly, one of the theorists reckons ‘exclusive’ still applies when there are 15-20 people from different independent outlets involved).They were also unaware of the fact the interview idea was first put forward long before that first session, way back in the summer. The reason it took place when it did was because the first team had no games.
At this point I was in contact with someone who runs the website the majority of this small but vocal army of critics came from. Their beef was that they had been told TAW would definitely cover the story about Chang but hadn’t done yet and it looked to them like a deal had been done. “You can see how it looks,” said the person from the website.
Unfortunately for us that website is hidden from anyone who isn’t a member and becoming a member isn’t just a case of registering. We’ve no idea what’s been said about us on there and so can’t respond to inaccuracies. The same would apply to any other forum which restricts access to members, for whatever reason, unless of course any of us have chosen to join those forums. We’re not afraid of criticism and are usually happy to respond to it if it’s put to us. And the night of that Rodgers interview criticism was put to us, in the form of accusations based on that conspiracy theory that had been cooked up on that private website.
The night of that Rodgers interview I took up the complaint from our contact at that forum. He’d mentioned something extremely vague about a problem with Chang on what would have been the day or day after Jenkins meeting with him. On the night of the Rodgers interview in the wake of the criticism from some members of that forum we exchanged messages and phone calls. I spoke to Chang about it. There has never been any dispute from Chang about him meeting Jenkins but his story wasn’t the same as the one being put out on behalf of Jenkins.
A deal was put on the table for Chang.
The contact asked me to tell Chang that if he apologised to Jenkins that would be the end of it.
I put this to Chang – but Chang denied any wrongdoing and seemed unlikely to apologise. That said, I suggested he should still speak to Jenkins because only the two of them knew what really happened in that meeting and maybe they could resolve it.
What I couldn’t do was put any of the details of the allegations to him. I still didn’t have any details. I couldn’t put them to Chang and I couldn’t write about them.
The allegations being made on behalf of Jenkins were extremely vague and, in my view, the lack of details made them sound extremely sensationalised. “Chang threatened Jenkins’s family” is a soundbite guaranteed to cause concern but what exactly was the nature of that threat? It’s difficult to think of any threat from a Premier League football club executive to a fake Twitter account that could be considered reasonable in the circumstances but it’s important to be clear about what that threat was.
Did he threaten to torch their homes or did he threaten to give them some poor feedback on eBay?
Was the threat to children or partners or parents? I wasn’t told.
I asked for the details to be emailed over because time and time again when I asked what the actual threats were I felt I wasn’t being given a straight answer. Not because the other person was being evasive but because the other person was too angry to talk calmly about it. The other person had already decided Chang had done all he was accused of doing and just wanted him shown up to the world for doing it.
At the very least there seemed to be some room for a little chuckle at Chang for taking a parody Twitter account so seriously that he travelled to Manchester to meet the person behind it. There were also questions to be asked about whether it was right for Chang to warn Jenkins about the possibility of being blocked from using the season ticket he was using (it wasn’t in his own name). But there’s a massive difference between that and the “Jen Chang threatened my family” headline I was basically being fed.
Having never met the person behind the Jenkins character I had no way of knowing how trustworthy he was. The third party passing us his allegations trusted him but was unable to be specific about what the allegations were and as I said I asked him if he could email something over to me about it so I could work on it from there.
As it was that email was never sent.
The contact said he’d ‘need clearance’ from Jenkins before emailing it. That was on September 9th and a few days later something happened that meant this story was so far down my priorities that I didn’t bother chasing it up. The something that happened was the release of the report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel.
Before the release of that report there had still been enough time to knock up an email explaining what had happened but as those few days passed I did start to wonder if there had been any threats to his family at all. The third party was determined, desperate even, for us to get this story out, no doubt the website he ran was full of members wanting us to do so too – yet three days later they still hadn’t supplied me with any of the details of the allegations. I didn’t know who had been threatened or how.
By the time the panel had released its report I’d already started to wonder if Jenkins had been misleading the other people from the forum, that when it came to writing the details down he couldn’t do it or had maybe tripped himself up. For the contact to be so determined one day to get the story out and to then just go quiet seemed odd to me. But then the panel’s report came out and I unsurprisingly stopped giving Jenkins a great deal of thought.
For the next five weeks I rarely even saw mention of Jenkins. I didn’t chase them up about the email; they didn’t make any contact with me to explain why they hadn’t sent it. As coverage of the panel’s report started to scale down they still made no contact, the longer this went on the more I started to doubt the claims Jenkins was making.
At no point until yesterday had I had any direct contact with the creator of Jenkins other than whatever communication went on with him ‘as Jenkins’ prior to this storm. I’m told that Jenkins has exchanged emails with another TAW member during this saga.
On Friday I was at Melwood along with the numerous others invited to speak to Lucas. On a personal level I was extremely pushed for time. I had left for Melwood a little bit later than I wanted to having waited for the IPCC announcement to be made. I tweeted links to that then legged it to the car. I also had to leave before Lucas had finished the interview as I had to be elsewhere. I knew I’d have very little time, if any, to write about the Lucas interview because I had so much on away from the world of football and blogs.
I was in the press room at Melwood waiting for Lucas when I saw that Jenkins had resurfaced, that he’d written a blog with the allegations I’d been told about so vaguely all those weeks before.
My first reaction was one of anger, to be honest. I’d waited five weeks for an email or even a calm phone call with those details in and one hadn’t been sent, with no explanation about why. The IPCC had released their report that morning and I still hadn’t even read that, and that was far more important to me than the experience one supporter had waited two months to talk about. And why not at least warn me that it was going to come out? Had they done that I might have been able to tell them that on a personal level I was going to struggle to do anything with the blog’s contents this weekend. I could also have asked them why the hell they’d picked the day the IPCC released their report to release their blog and maybe persuaded them to delay it a few days.
Over the weekend the guy that runs that forum tweeted to TAW and two journalists: “it’s time to stop hiding behind curtains and support Jenkins who came to yous in first place.”
That was just part of the backlash that was coming from the forum he runs. No doubt there had been more fuming going on behind the curtains of that private website. Other accusations levelled at TAW include “hanging a good Red out to dry”.
TAW was asked prior to that Rodgers interview – by the intermediary, not by “Jenkins” – to tell the world about the allegations “Jenkins” was making. Another member of TAW took the intermediary’s word to be true and agreed to do this – but clearly there needed to be more for TAW to go on than what we had at that point in time.
A third party was telling us over the phone about some threats – without any real detail of the threats – that a parody Twitter account owner claimed had been against him. The owner of the account, to my knowledge, was and still is unwilling to go on record using his own name. That might be for good reason. But – judging by the two-month delay in writing about it even under the pseudonym – he was reluctant to go on the record in any form.
The Jenkins account has more Twitter followers than any of us at TAW and he could have used this to get the allegations out there. He has a blog site he can use – and eventually did – to get the allegations out there. The third party demanding we cover the story has of course got a website that does still have public areas he could use to put those allegations onto.
Yet it’s TAW hanging Jenkins out to dry.
As for TAW taking some kind of sweetener – access to players or exclusives for example – in return for covering up the Jenkins allegations all I can say is that this is complete bollocks. There’s no other word to use for it, really.
The story we ran yesterday about the stadium didn’t come from the club. Another member of TAW got the scoop from a source elsewhere. It was a nailed-on source and we took steps to confirm it with other sources. In fact, from what others have told me since, the club had actually already fed information about the stadium to certain members of other, more mainstream, media outlets and that information was embargoed. TAW wasn’t aware of this because TAW still aren’t treated in the same way as the mainstream media.
Yet – according to the conspiracy theorists – that story was fed to us in return for continuing to keep quiet about Jenkins and Chang.
Jenkins has put forward an explanation for the timing of his blog. Whether that’s a reasonable explanation or not it doesn’t change the fact that it also arrived at a time when TAW were unable to do much at all with it.
Two of us were at Melwood (one of us representing another fan-site) as he released it. The IPCC announcement was made just before we got to Melwood. The Friday podcast and radio show had already been recorded the evening before. The next podcast is on Monday.
For me that was the first opportunity I’d had to actually see what the allegations were. And I just did not have to time to sit down and go through them to see what I thought of them. In fact even now I’ve had not read them properly – I’ve used what time I’ve had responding to conspiracy theorists and now writing this up.
The bottom line is that this incident remains the word of one person against another.
The only agreement on record that I’m aware of in the two versions of the story is that a meeting took place.
I don’t know of any evidence that we can use that shows any threat of any kind was made. That doesn’t mean it never happened, but two months after that meeting it’s only now that TAW has actually got details of the allegations.
The areas of the press that did run this on Friday night were only able to run it because they were reporting what had been written in that blog. That was the first time anyone could report what had been alleged because until then nobody was willing to put anything down on the record. Was there anything that TAW could have added to that?
Well yes, there is a lot that TAW could add to it. And we will. But it’s going to take time to do that.
We can have a read about it and those of us who are in for tomorrow’s podcast can talk about it. I won’t be in tomorrow, frustratingly because I’ve a lot I’d like to say, so I’ll probably be writing something about it instead.
We don’t have a party line at TAW, we all have our own opinions. We talk to each other, we agree to disagree, you hear some of that twice a week on our podcasts. We’re not afraid to speak out as individuals or as a group if we feel it’s the right thing to do. We speak out about stuff that’s serious and stuff that’s not so serious. Sometimes it’s the less serious stuff that gets us in bother in terms of criticism.
We recently passed comment during a podcast on the shirt choice of a certain member of the Anfield hierarchy. That member of the hierarchy didn’t get the best of press from us that week and we were told a short time later that the owner of the shirt was minded to ban TAW because of our criticism.
We’re not afraid to criticise fashion choices – even if many of us have little room to talk – whatever the threats of bans may be, although it may have been the rest of what we said that really upset him. We’re not afraid to criticise the club’s hierarchy at any level for anything that we feel is relevant – although in my view we shouldn’t be saying anything we’d not say to the face of that person. As long as it’s constructive or gently taking the piss why should we be afraid of saying what we think? Sometimes we might hold back from saying something because we feel it would do more harm than good to the club but that would be our own, individual, personal choice to do so. And chances are we’d still be trying to do something about in some other way if we thought we could.
What we won’t do is hold back from saying something just because we’re afraid of losing access to the club in some way. The day we do lose access after saying something the club didn’t like you can guess what the podcast topic will be. We don’t rely on that access for what we do – after all we didn’t have any official access at all until a couple of months ago.
If we don’t cover something the chances are it’s because we lacked time, information or interest or because we think it’s better to wait or let it pass without comment. It might be we think others have already done it far better than we can. We’ll nail lies whenever we can. It’s extremely annoying that this weekend we find ourselves having to take time to nail lies about us.
We won’t be bullied or bribed into not covering something but we won’t be bullied or bribed into covering it either.