Absence of local reporters at football match a 'damning indictment' of lack of investment in regional media, says sports writer

A former sports journalist has criticised the absence of any local reporters at Brentford FC’s opening game of the season, calling it a “tragedy”.

Jim Levack said the absence of any local journalists at Saturday’s game against Rotherham FC followed in line with the UK media’s failure to pick up on residents’ concerns ahead of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster.

Levack, who reports on every home game for PA and covered the west London club for Hounslow Chronicle for 20 years until 2008, claimed it was the first time there had been no local media representation at a Brentford FC fixture in its entire professional league existence – more than 100 years.

Sharing his views on Brentford FC fan blog Beesotted, Levack said: “It’s a damning indictment of the lack of investment in local and regional media, but also a tragedy for the club and its fans at a time when the side’s potential has never been greater.”

However Reach (formerly Trinity Mirror), which owns the Hounslow Chronicle and Ealing Gazette, which both publish online at Get West London, argued that it is bringing coverage of Brenford FC to a “bigger audience than ever before” with its Football.London website.

The website, which launched at the end of 2016, has a dedicated section for Brentford FC, alongside London’s other Football League clubs and Premier League teams, and published four articles around Saturday’s game.

A Reach spokesperson said: “The opinions shared in the article are simply not supported by the facts.

“Brentford’s opening match against Rotherham was covered comprehensively with four separate pieces of coverage – a full transcript of the manager’s press conference ahead of the game, a live blog during the match, a write up of the match highlights, and an analysis of player ratings.

“Brentford FC has its own dedicated section on our Football.London site – a site that’s growing exponentially and is third only to the Manchester Evening News and Liverpool Echo for the size of its football audience.

“We are bringing coverage of Brentford FC to a bigger audience than ever before.”

However the website did not send a reporter to the match.

Levack, who has also worked for the Birmingham Mail and Coventry Evening Telegraph, argued that local reporters are essential to “analyse, question and go into depth” and build a relationship with the club.

“Fair enough, the need to fill column inches in print probably isn’t as great these days with online presence far more important, but to not send a reporter to the game is a disgrace.”

He added: “I’m a great believer in accountability and genuinely feel that had there been a strong local media presence in Kensington, the views of the families living in Grenfell Tower whose pleas for help fell on deaf ears would have been picked up and taken higher.

“Football clearly isn’t as important as life and death, despite what Shankly once said, but it’s a terrible shame that the once vital local reporter no longer exists at Griffin Park.”

Levack also named Newsquest title the Richmond and Twickenham Times, which used to send reporters to games but has not published any online coverage of Brentford FC since late 2017.

He said that although national and agency reporters do a “great, professional job”, there is “just no substitute for that ‘under the skin’ passion and knowledge” of a local reporter.

Levack told Press Gazette people have begun to turn to independent websites like Beesotted and West London Sport for local sport news instead, but said “because they have got a good relationship with the club you can’t challenge as much as you could on a local paper.”

In 2016 Trinity Mirror faced complaints that the reorganisation of newsrooms along web-first lines had led to less coverage of smaller football clubs and cricket.

Jon Phipps, a former sports content editor of four former Local World titles in Kent, said: “I’m so sad that local journalism is becoming an endangered species in this quest for web traffic.

“Yes, sport in Kent can be hard, but jeez, to just ditch it? It’s absolute bloody madness. The beginning of the end.”

Picture: Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

Comments

3 thoughts on “Absence of local reporters at football match a 'damning indictment' of lack of investment in regional media, says sports writer”

  1. You’re deliberately missing the point… it’s about accountability on varying, and admittedly very extreme, levels. And it wasn’t dull, as you and Reach would know if you’d been there.

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