The Sun has made three sport correspondents redundant, with one of the outgoing journalists attributing the decision to a failure to drive online traffic.
Golf correspondent David Facey and rugby union correspondent Jonny Fordham finished at The Sun in November and December respectively. Cricket correspondent John Etheridge is due to leave at the end of this month.
Etheridge, who has been a Sun staffer since January 1986, told Press Gazette: “The role of cricket correspondent is being discontinued and, as a specialist, that means I have to leave the company.”
Etheridge said he had been due to leave in November but was asked to cover the Ashes, which end later this month.
He said he has been told he can cover some cricket for The Sun during the summer as a freelance, but otherwise his duties are to be absorbed by the rest of the sports desk.
Etheridge said that the explanation given for his redundancy “was that cricket (and rugby and golf) doesn’t generate enough online traffic for their liking. Or, more particularly, the advertising department’s liking”.
The Sun disputes this explanation for the redundancies, Press Gazette understands.
Asked about the redundancies, a Sun spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual contracts, but sport continues to receive big investment from The Sun. Like any business, we are constantly reassessing where to invest our resources and coverage to best serve our audiences, and restructure teams on that basis.”
Press Gazette understands areas currently receiving investment include racing and boxing.
The outgoing staff were told the decision had been made by executives at parent company News Corp in New York, rather than Sun management.
Etheridge, who was voted 39th in Press Gazette’s 2010 list of the UK’s top 50 sport journalists, said: “I am disappointed to be leaving and would have liked to carry on for a few more years. But I’ve been on the staff of the paper for 36 years, so I’ve had a decent run…
“I do understand that the cricket correspondent’s role is a costly one for the company because it involves many nights in hotels and extensive and expensive overseas travel.
“Having said that, it is a worrying development when a paper such as The Sun feels it can manage without a cricket correspondent. After football, cricket is the sport which fills most column inches in the print product.”
Rugby correspondent Fordham suggested there had been a strategic switch to target football over other sports.
“I am proud to have helped drive record page views across rugby union for The Sun’s website during last year’s Lions tour and Six Nations,” he told Press Gazette.
“Now the website and paper are going in a different direction and appear to be targeting just football traffic.”
Fordham said he has been hired by sports agency CSM in a newly created communications role helping sports media and brands.
“I had a great seven years at The Sun and can’t wait to get started at CSM where I will still be working with all my colleagues in Fleet Street.
“I just think it’s a really sad situation that The Sun’s rugby union presence has been eroded like this.
“Whenever there was a World Cup or Six Nations, I think The Sun actually punched above its weight. And there definitely is a readership there.
“So it’s a shame that no one else is going to have the same opportunities in journalism to cover those big rugby tournaments across the world like I did.”
Telegraph golf correspondent James Corrigan tweeted in November that his departing Sun colleague Facey was “given a terrific send-off” at the European Tour, adding: “It really will not be the same.”
According to him, Facey told colleagues: “I have made so many great friends in my three decades covering golf. It’s just unfortunate none of them could be here today.”
Sport journalism was particularly badly hit by 2020’s lockdowns when many fixtures were cancelled.
One freelance told Press Gazette at the time: “I imagine newspapers will get used to working with fewer pages and less sport content – if that’s cost-effective for them it may carry on along those lines.”
Similarly, in August that year sport staff at The Guardian and Observer wrote to management warning that “drastic” cuts to their numbers would do “immense damage” to their coverage.
The picture has been more positive elsewhere, however: a journalist from dedicated sport news website The Athletic told Press Gazette in April 2020 it had not furloughed any of its staff and the brand has this week been given a vote of confidence when it was bought by the New York Times for $550m.
And this August Reach revealed plans to hire 76 sport journalists, a little over a year after a July 2020 restructuring netted a loss of 29 such roles. The new jobs were slated to focus on football, but with some attention paid to other sports.