I'm not one for conspiracy theories. Show me someone who thinks aliens have bases on the moon, that chemtrails are something even remotely sinister or anything else of a similar nature and I'll 'tut' in my most British tone and go find someone with an actual grasp on reality with which to converse.
However, fortunately, the notion of The Mirror developing a clear anti-Sunderland agenda of late is a long way out of the realm of conspiracy theories. It's out there, seeping out of every pore of their work. Even if you miss it with your eyes, the accompanying stench of misplaced smug self-satisfaction should alert anyone within seconds.
Let's be clear - all football fans tend to think their club get a raw deal from the media. In fact, such irrationality is our prerogative as football fans. It's half the fun. That's even more so with Sunderland, when, let's face it, moaning tends to fill the joyless void vacated by winning football matches and doing good football and so on and so forth.
But when a national newspaper signs a 'media partnership' with your club's local rivals, that should raise questions about impartiality from anyone. In fact, when a national newspaper, which is the very first to complain about having their freedom impinged upon, begin to offer contractually-obliged favourable coverage to anyone in exchange for access, they lose all semblance of freedom. They surrender all notions of honest journalism. They become propagandists.
The Mirror themselves have, of course, denied that the agreement affects their editorial line, but then again that's exactly what they would say. Let's look at what Newcastle say they are getting out of the deal. When only the 'preferred media partners' were allowed access to Steve McClaren's unveiling, here is how the club explained it to a fan's forum:
"The club felt that this was the most appropriate way in which to announce SMc's appointment to fans and best control and re-enforce the positive messages the club wished to deliver to them."
Well, they certainly seem to think there is a agreement in place for "positive" Newcastle coverage. Let's check in with a definition of 'propaganda', just for giggles.
1. information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view.
"he was charged with distributing enemy propaganda"
synonyms: information, promotion, advertising, advertisement, publicity, advocacy.
In other words, controlling information - precisely what Newcastle openly admit the The Mirror do for them.
You could argue at this point that it's fair enough and it's something that all club's do. Sunderland certainly use their own accounts and digital media teams to very carefully control the message, but that is what they are there for. The national press is supposed to be above that, though. They are supposed to provide impartiality and fair context. In fact, that is the very point of journalism as a discipline.
And 'impartiality' is a word with which it is now impossible to associate with The Mirror's coverage of Sunderland. Here is how they covered a new Sunderland signing not mentioning Newcastle United:
1) First rule of making new club's fans love you: Aim dig at the arch-rivals #SAFC #NUFC #LFC http://t.co/AqfkG1Hxon pic.twitter.com/uDjWha15Pv— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) August 31, 2015
Borini had claimed Sunderland were 'the biggest club up north'. It was a new player bigging up his new club. It happens literally everywhere. Yet The Mirror span it into a Newcastle story with a flagrant disparaging tone regarding Sunderland.
It's hardly unique, either.
Of all the 20 Premier League clubs, one of whom, let us not forget, has spent over £50million this summer and still haven't won a game, guess who it was who The Mirror chose to have a dig at? Spoiler: It wasn't Newcastle.
So, who came out top in our transfer window rankings? (spoiler: It wasn't Sunderland) http://t.co/lZOhOjDnu8 pic.twitter.com/57a69UHeei— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) September 2, 2015
Still not convinced? Ok, how about these?
Sunderland are worse at football than Australia are at cricket http://t.co/ByYxnNi4tT— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) August 8, 2015
Thumbs up if you don't want to join Sunderland.. http://t.co/icYL00KKZh pic.twitter.com/igxvQHxqlp— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) August 22, 2015
Sunderland are a shambles and it's NOT Dick Advocaat's fault | @StanCollymore http://t.co/8R1Pqv7CTd pic.twitter.com/WgFSuWKnpB— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) August 23, 2015
BIG DICK set to risk the wrath of Sunderland fans with move for ex-Newcastle skipper http://t.co/Wzm0TQFb8u pic.twitter.com/HvurY12h0O— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) August 28, 2015
Fabio Borini finally joins Sunderland from Liverpool - after rejecting the Black Cats TWICE http://t.co/JXlZgIeNT7 pic.twitter.com/JIo9gvyqI4— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) August 31, 2015
Spurs American all-star set to learn how to defend...At Sunderland!?!?!?!?! #coys http://t.co/OD6Xm4Hf04 pic.twitter.com/xorqN7GzsS— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) September 1, 2015
Another defender that can't defend. Just what Sunderland needed. http://t.co/OD6Xm4Hf04 pic.twitter.com/9eEILtgRCk— Mirror Football (@MirrorFootball) September 1, 2015
I am the first to admit that Sunderland are an easy team to mock. We do it ourselves more than anyone. That said, we are a fan-run blog, not national press.
What The Mirror are doing is not impartial. It is in no way professional. Actually, scrap that. It's earning them money from a partner, so may be it is. But it certainly isn't journalism.
What it is, is precisely how partners in a deal to cross promote each other behave. Hey, let's check in with the Twitter account of Newcastle United former betting partners 138.com, who saw their deal expire this summer. What was their attitude towards Sunderland back then?
New season, same old Sunderland. You can always count on the Mackems can't you? 2-0 down after 20 minutes. Can Leicester do a Southampton?!— 138.com (@138dotcom) August 8, 2015
Lee Cattermole has signed a new 5 year deal with Sunderland. Watch out Premier League! https://t.co/n8Emd8JD3h— 138.com (@138dotcom) July 2, 2015
Confirmed: Dick Advocaat has decided not to move to Sunderland. Amazing that. pic.twitter.com/Hn7ORO96mp— 138.com (@138dotcom) May 27, 2015
Just asked the intern who Sunderland should appoint next? "Why bother? Just give up. That club needs to just give up." He's chipper today.— 138.com (@138dotcom) April 22, 2015
Sunderland 4-0 down and the #GrandNational is underway. Not a bad day this!— 138.com (@138dotcom) April 11, 2015
This is how how fanzines behave. Newcastle fanzines, to be precise. Well, fanzines and official club partners.
Let's not kid ourselves that, in such a tightly contested region as the north east, with huge amounts of divided territories and even families in terms of football allegiances, disparaging one club is not in the interests of the other. Of course it is. It goes hand in hand.
Here, any young potential football fan who one club gains is one the other loses.
Again, it's worth reminding ourselves that we are dealing with a national newspaper here. The third biggest in terms circulation in the country and god knows what in terms of digital traffic. They also own smaller regional papers as well. Surely we have a right to expect impartiality in football coverage?
It is not asking for much, surely, to want journalists to behave with basic, simple integrity who take responsibility for, and pride in, their words rather than the faceless corporate lackeys that they have appeared to have shamelessly become?
Maybe the Mirror will say to Sunderland fans that it's just some simple humour and we shouldn't take it to heart. Maybe they'd use the dreaded 'banter' word.
Well, I would say to them: If you ACT like willing and official
propaganda 'media' partners with both reason to deliberately disparage Sunderland with editorial bias and now have a clear track record of doing just that, then why the hell should we believe you to be anything but the unprofessional, integrity-vacant bunch of blatant and shameless sell-out propagandists that you are appearing to be?