It was a story that was breaking as we were on the air with Coming Home Newcastle LIVE - Questions were not being accepted from Mark Douglas or Lee Ryder and the twitter reaction came sliding down on Alan Pardew's head on the heels of yet another poor performance culminating in a second consecutive derby loss. As the discussion unfolded, it turned out that The Journal, The Evening Chronicle and The Sunday Sun had been informed they would be banned from media access to the club in the week leading up to the derby match but the papers did not make it public so as not to become a distraction as the club prepared for the derby (fat lot of good that consideration did, eh?). (note - this was the second ban handed out by the club this calendar year, following Luke Edwards' banishment near the end of last season)
At any rate, you can find the text of the letter from Newcastle United (through Wendy Taylor) to the publisher of the three papers informing them of the ban through this linky. Perhaps the most notable part of the ban letter accused the papers of encouraging anti-Ashley sentiment:
Indeed after reviewing all of the above articles, and in particular, the front page headline and a large map outlining the route of the march, spread over two pages in The Chronicle on 19 October it is our opinion there was an underlying message of encouragement and support provided by your titles in the lead-up to the day and on the day itself.
--Wendy Taylor, Head of Media, Newcastle United Football Club
This may not be a popular stance here, but I can certainly see the point of what Taylor is saying in her letter. 8 of the 12 articles ran specifically in The Chronicle and several of them have purposefully incendiary titles, "Time for change – time for Newcastle fans to take charge of their own club" and " March if you want him out" specifically. While those headlines certainly are associated with the content of the articles, you'd be hard pressed to argue they weren't crafted to sell papers in at least a semi-sensational manner. Here's the thing, though - Banning the papers for reporting what is out there is another in a series of PR faux pas by the Mike Ashley regime in their dealings with the press and supporters.
While the words Taylor uses are not inaccurate with regard to the number of supporters who attended the Time4Change march, using this as the basis of their argument displays a systemic disconnect with the attitude of the support at large. We know that so far as Mike Ashley and his relationship with the fans goes, the internet meme "Not a single ^$#! was given that day" applies to every day. Part of this is on the supporters. Having a potentially productive hall meeting become defined by adopting a resolution calling for Ashley to sell the club is not helpful when your complaint is "why won't the owner communicate with us?!". A lot of it is on Ashley himself - who has made a series of questionable decisions that frequently have seemed to be spiteful swipes at the fan base.
Any way you slice it, attempting to control the narrative regarding coverage of the club is a bad move. It is interesting to note, though, that the papers in question (particularly The Chronicle) have frequently been charged by the support with acting as a mouthpiece for the Ashley regime. The papers did put out a public response to the letter from Newcastle United which you can find here. The digest form in quotes is as follows:
Chronicle editor Darren Thwaites said: "It's always disappointing to fall out with a football club but our independence and integrity is much more important.
"We may be banned but we won't be gagged. We all want Newcastle United to be successful but it would be nonsense to pretend the fans are happy about what's going on behind the scenes."
"It's important for fans to know that our coverage is informed and independent. We've no intention of allowing the club to dictate what we can and can't print."
Time will tell how this decision and action taken by the club (involving all levels of management right down to Alan Pardew) will ultimately play out. Early returns are that reactions are not at all favorable in any quarter outside of Newcastle United offices - in which all are probably exchanging hearty slaps on the back. Except for Bedo Fif. He's probably down the pub in London.
We'll keep tabs on this situation as it continues to develop.