There’s been a lot of jibber-jabber on Twitter about the performance of Team Sky since last July’s Tour de France, won by Bradley Wiggins, some of it legitimate and lots of it simply misinformed tosh.
Sky did make a rod for its own back with its hastily cobbled together ‘zero tolerance’ stance on doping and past dopers within its ranks, and did itself no favours with less than transparent responses to instances where difficult questions needed to be answered.
Certainly the handling of the cases of Michael Barry, Steven de Jongh, Bobby Julich, Sean Yates and Geert Leinders left a lot to be desired.
Is Team Sky doping? Has it ever doped? Who knows? Certainly there is no proof, only guilt by association and insinuation. Like it or not, journalists can investigate and ask the difficult questions but cannot insinuate doping without conclusive proof. The usually anonymous forum monkeys can rail about the failings of the profession all they like, but they are not likely to face a writ anytime soon.
That the conversation around cycling has changed is undeniable but has it been for the better? In a video interview with The Guardian, Team Sky principal David Brailsford questioned the change in tone of media surrounding cycling, but admitted in the interview that he and Sky have no choice but to live with it.
He accepts that Team Sky’s consistently dominant performances will leave it open to questioning given the history of the sport, but lamented the sometimes negative impact of Twitter on cycling journalism.
“The sport of cycling has been through such a torrid time that when one team starts to perform as well as Team Sky has recently, then people will ask questions,” said Brailsford.
“But I think that's only fair, only right. I think people are right to question, and in light of that our job is to try and be as open and transparent as possible about what we do and how we do it, to try and gain greater insight and trust on behalf of fans and the viewing public.
“It's a bit challenging at times but absolutely it's our issue to deal with in terms of openness and transparency.”
When asked if the questioning of Team Sky performances by media was healthy or threatened something different, Brailsford suggested Twitter specifically has changed the conversation, and sometimes not for the better.
“From my experience over time there has been a definite shift from the integrity of journalism which is bound by quite serious codes of conduct and a professional approach to the advent of Twitter,” said Brailsford.
“I think Twitter has changed the dialogue, I think when you have people on Twitter going after the journalists - 'Why didn't you do this, why haven't you asked that?' - the question will be, is Twitter impacting on the editorial stance in some respect that maybe it wouldn't have done in the past? I think that's quite an interesting dynamic that's going on at the moment and one to watch very carefully.”
Brailsford also agreed that discussion on Twitter permeates its way through to journalists and influences the agenda.
“I think so, absolutely. If the journalists are being interrogated on Twitter by other people saying, 'Well you didn't ask this question, your questions weren't tough enough, you didn't do this you didn't do that', and they're getting hounded and hounded and hounded on Twitter, that's a very difficult thing to resist.
“So I think there is a whole new aspect there of how journalism exists in our world at the moment. That didn't happen in the past."
My take on this is that Brailsford too is highly attuned to Twitter and the conversations that occur on the platform and it is possible that he and Sky are also crafting their own narratives in response.
You could argue the recent embedding of the highly-objective journalist David Walsh with Team Sky for a training camp in Tenerife is a reflection not of his historically pointed criticism of the way the sport has handled doping, but the support he (and Irish journalist Paul Kimmage) receives on Twitter.
Walsh is seen as as someone who cannot be duped and Team Sky desperately needs his credibility to change any negative narratives about their success.
Twitter is a pervasive media platform today, and you can’t escape its effect or grasp, even if you’re not a user. The feedback loop from Twitter to journalists, subjects, and back to Twitter means there is constant interrogation of every issue. One we have no choice but to live with, even if you don’t like the answers to the questions.