Unless you are Hunter S Thompson, Gonzo journalism – the branch of the craft where the writer or presenter becomes the story – should be avoided like the plague.
Jim White, the Sky Sports News presenter, sailed extremely close to the Gonzo wind in the week leading up to Friday’s transfer deadline day. You could hardly open a paper without reading how the excitable Scotsman loves it when Harry Redknapp gives him a call while last-minute deals are finalised, while his partner in crime Natalie Sawyer keeps things running smoothly on screen.
But for most of the day itself, he was nowhere to be seen. For a start, the brolly-holding reporters-at-large had their thunder stolen by Andy Flower stepping down from the England cricket coach’s job. So instead of Aidan Magee at Fulham, Ian Bolton at Chelsea and Peter Stevenson at West Bromwich Albion, we had Tim Abraham, the cricket reporter, in the studio.
As day turned into night, we were back on deadline-day message, but White was nowhere to be seen. Tony Cottee, the former West Ham player, was there, telling Sawyer how clubs like his alma mater were “desperate”. Magee was there too, in the rain, delighted to have dragged in a few of leafy Surrey’s teenagers to form a backdrop.
Then with three hours, 14 minutes and 34 seconds left of the window, there White was, in a backstage area of Sky Sports News studios making funny faces and adjusting his tie. Was he about to make an appearance? Sadly no. It was just a teaser. A teaser – for a news-presenting shift. In the background you could hear the sound of television eating its own carrion.
He did make an entrance 10 minutes later in what was possibly the most cringeworthy newsroom scene since that TV blooper favourite with the American newscaster asking her (male) weather presenter about the absence of forecast snow with the question: “So Bob, where were those eight inches you promised me last night?”
White and a few other Sky stalwarts invaded the studio, ordering Cottee out of his chair, to much sycophantic guffawing. He may have shouted “It’s my turn now”, or we may just have imagined it. But it summed up what is wrong with the transfer window: the whole thing is so darned contrived, especially if it is a quiet one like last Friday’s was. “What a start,” White shouted, 45 minutes into his shift, after precisely nothing had happened.
Yes, there is an excitement about the expectation – often unfulfilled – of that big name clinching a deal and the reporters up and down the country do a good job of keeping the pace up. But the cult of personality that White has attempted to conjure just doesn’t work; he has fallen hard into self-parody.
There was worse to come. Gary Cotterill, reporting from West Ham’s training ground, had a total lack of news (“It’s a frugal window for the Hammers”, he said through gritted teeth) so he instead reported that a woman named Lucy had delivered some pizza to him.
As we watched Cotterill chew a slice for a full five seconds, we could see that in the absence of anything happening, the reporters had become the story. Gonzo? One of the muppets, anyway.