I thought I might take a look, in a bit more detail, at how the domestic (to the UK) written media has evolved and changed over the past couple of years. While I don’t have the in depth knowledge of the commercial metrics that some of the contributors here retain, I do think I know a little bit about the message drivers. I’ll also go into some of the social media developments – blogs, Twitter etc. – and what I think of the future for BOC.
This blog, and its predecessor, made its presence felt when it commented upon the journalist corps and its attitude to the events of 2013/14. I had always had an eye on the writing corps because I saw them as our window to the play when we weren’t there, and also a little bit inside to tell us the latest goings on. I’d always been a bit of a sceptic, probably since the Hold The Back Page days, when the personality of the journalist seemed to be more important than the story. Mark’s take on that always makes me smile. There was always a thought that this was a dying trade, as the internet and cheaper writers were available, and cricket, like baseball in the US, seemed a sport open to “new media”. I never thought I’d be part of it, writing away, with no-one paying attention. 2013/14 might have been the Year Zero, but it had been building up to a crescendo for a while. Did the print media care more about themselves than they did about the readership. That’s been the question for me.
Despite a journo telling me that we are wasting our time talking about the press because no-one gives a shit about them, the evidence on hits and responses shows this not to be the case. Since the end of that ill-fated Ashes tour. there has been some interesting interaction with a number of the print media, and some of the television/radio gang too, but while quite frequent in 2014, and early 2015, in the past few months that has slowed down to a trickle of comments. But it is funny how pieces about journalists seemed to get traction. We’ll see how this goes down. What I do know is that the old media don’t come around here much no more.
For example, I can’t remember the last time Etheridge got enraged, Selfey called us bilious inadequates, Pringle called us irrelevant, and Paul Newman said we are “nothing important”. In some ways this is a shame. Our penchant for investigating their writing was at times great fun, but also headbangingly annoying. It provided the fuel to run much of this blog, but was also something that needed writing about, and some of them cared what we did. It is evident that quite a few of the journalists are fully aware of some of the things written about them. For example, I was told categorically that Newman never read this blog. I’ve never abused him, as far as I know on Twitter, but he blocked me, and has done for a while. Did someone read it to him? He knows enough about it to deem it “nothing important” which isn’t really the point, but if it keeps him happy, who am I to complain.
Interaction has diminished because, most definitely, the heat is off, for now. In much the same way as Ed Smith is riding out the current plagiarism accusations by saying nothing and hoping it will all go away, he has a precedent in the way the press had time on their side with the fallout of 2014, knowing, that at some point, the main cornerstone, a recall of KP, would become impossible for even the legendary fruitfly to pull off. It’s no coincidence that some of the media who spoke to me in 2014, and who I struck up reasonable conversations with, now barely bother to feel out how the proles are taking things. That’s fine. But if there is a future storm, we’ll be a little bit more guarded than we were before. Others, who were testing us out, taking the temperature, and even getting involved, see no need now despite claiming they wanted to have an interaction. Again, that is absolutely their call, but again allows us to look at them as a “cosy little clique”, with us not sure what side they are on. Actually, we know full well, but let’s be polite here.
There has been a decided trend in cricket reporting. As the sport gets less and less visible, so paying the big beasts large sums in a crowded media market becomes more anachronistic. It has been evident this year. The departure from the scene of two key players, following on the release of Pringle a year or so before that has confirmed it.
The noticeable journalistic news of the past season was the moving on of two of those behemoths. The first was Stephen Brenkley, aka Bunkers, of the Independent, who appeared to be a casualty of the Independent’s decision to go online only. Bunkers filed his last piece as the season was about to begin, and I have to say, I have no idea what he is up to now. Bunkers will always, in my eyes, be associated with the “aplomb” verdict on Moores and Downton’s first presser. Bunkers’ removal / resignation was the canary in the goldmine as a cut-down, online newspaper was not about to keep the payroll of a minority sport specialist on the books when it could source copy from cheaper sources. Bunkers is a good writer, and I disagreed with a lot he said, but he had a turn of phrase that was clever but not, in the main, patronising. Deep down, I quite liked his persona, but he backed the wrong horses on the ECB front and for that he will not be judged favourably. But as I said at the time, we should not be rejoicing, firstly on a personal level, but also on our wish to see cricket in the spotlight.
The departure of Selvey is definitely more seismic. This is the biggest of cricket writing beasts, and he is being moved on, and given his Twitter pronouncements, it appears against his will. This sends out the message that few are safe – is it new media and new audiences, or just the reticence not to pay over the odds? The game is losing visibility and although we may not like what he writes, his departure is a bad sign for the game.
Selvey’s not been shy in reminding people he is on his way, a decision that did not surprise your writers on BOC who had heard from multiple sources that this was on the cards, but maybe the timing did shock because we thought there was a natural fin de siècle at the end of the next Ashes series. Selvey is the cornerstone of the Guardian’s cricket coverage, and the feeling is if he could be dumped, so could anyone.It’s a chill wind blowing. England may be on the up, but if the game is so out of the public eye, the top people might as well be reading out the stock market prices.
On this blog the consensus from our commenters is that Selvey had it coming, and there are few tears being shed. I can’t celebrate people losing their jobs, but Selvey made sympathy tough for me. I’m sure there would be little sympathy if the situation were reversed. He’s certainly dismissive of this “newer form” of cricket writing, and much was based on a snobbish “requirement” of having played at the top level to be an aficionado of the game. When being a former pro appeared to be the main reason for employment, things looked shaky. He thought our passionate criticism of his positions taken were an affront to his professional sensibilities. He reacted not with engagement, but with hostile fire. We’re not ogres here, and we believe a vast majority of the upset fans weren’t either. But it was either you were with him, or you could Foxtrot Oscar. Incidentally, exactly the same attitude a certain fruitfly has towards his detractors! Those that come in peace and constructive dialogue find we are what most of the readers of blogs and newspapers are – cricket fans. That care.
What we have, or at least had, in my view were three classes of national journalist (there are others, but lets deal with the three main sectors).
- There were the old pros reinventing themselves as writers – we’re thinking Selvey, Atherton, Marks and Pringle. Athers is newer to the genre, and as he’s hidden behind a paywall, and I’m not walking conspicuously to the newspaper rack in the office to read him, is a little blindsided to me. Athers is not a source of any heat, nor, on most occasions is Marks. But the other two have been lightning rods.
- There are the experienced writers, a genre being phased out, including Bunkers, to a lesser extent Etheridge (not really a call to be a writer in The Sun, not that his role isn’t skilled), Wilson and Newman. These are the hacks, the day to day sloggers, the test match reporters who weren’t former pros. They’ve done the hard yards to get where they are, and they stay there.
- Then there is a third section – a newer breed. The likes of Dobell, who has been around a while, Kimber, to a lesser extent Hoult, (Booth crosses hack and new school), who don’t seem to treat their audience with contempt, and attempt to approach things in a more open manner. This isn’t to say they are not “hacks”, but they get “newer media” and its opportunities, and yes, its threats. That they are of the generally “younger” generation, may, or may not, be a coincidence.
Of course, there are other areas of reporting I’ve not touched yet. The Cricket Paper, out every Friday, is a really worthy attempt to bring the old newspaper type reports into a distilled weekly package. It’s not perfect, of course it isn’t, but if it wasn’t there I’d miss it. It allows talented new reporters like Tim Wigmore to have an outlet, for which he is getting wider viewing as a result, and although I have my issues with the way Chris Stocks is going about things, and that it gives Derek a chance to air his misery, it is generally a good read. How viable it is in the long-term, I have no idea.
The Cricketer magazine has had a revamp, it looks quite good, but I can’t quite get past the Simon Hughes thing. He is one of those who effects to be a “man of the people” and in with “new media” but in practice I never see it, with his interactions quickly breaking down when challenged and reverting to “I know more than you because…” responses. He, and others, don’t have to read blogs like ours, or TFT or whoever, but there’s a good deal of journalistic snobbery in the Cricketer – Henderson and Selvey each month for example. Again, though, the failings as I see them are outweighed by the fact that there is a cricket magazine on the market and it can be worth a read. I don’t intend giving up my subscription just yet, though do note that I used to renew each September and now that auto-renew seems to have moved forward to June. They have given airtime to some bloggers – most notably our old friend Tregaskis – but it’s a toe in the water, and a risk. It was interesting that T’s most recent piece, a short one, about how close journalists were getting to players, sparked the ire of Jonathan Agnew, for instance. I thought that interesting. Maybe the Cricketer could try that approach again?
Then there is blogs, and blogging. While there is a twilight zone between papers and the bloggers, where the likes of Peter Miller and others inhabit, with a foot in both camps, I’m obviously interested in how they are working, but to do so, we need to consider what is being reported, and how/
How do people consume, if that’s the word, their cricket reporting? As you know, Chris, Sean and I do reports on test matches, previews etc., but we see them as part report, part opening up comments to the visitors here. We do not see ourselves as the alternative to cricket reports in newspapers and magazines. I rarely read those reports on newspapers, often, these days, scrolling through a Selfey tome to visit the resident muppets BTL, looking to see who can put out the most ridiculous or obsequious comment. The Telegraph website is an absolute disgrace, and I’m finished with it – a shame. It’s where I chanced upon the comments of Chris, where Nick Hoult resides, and where I used to draw a lot of material. The Telegraph has become a horror to visit and it really does Nick, an absolute trojan in the game, no favours whatsoever. Nick is an example of how studying and looking at things more changes minds. I used to be quite scathing. Now I know more, he’s a great example.
The Independent was only worth a look when Bunkers was there – and then only for laughs. No idea who writes for it now, and don’t know what they are saying. The Mirror and Sun are only read when someone leaves me a copy. The Express is a joke. Which leaves the Mail.
This is the only online site where I read the writing and ignore the comments. The focus, of course, is my perennial favourite, Paul Newman. He’s either excellent at his job, or the worst out there depending on your metrics. But, to contradict myself within one sentence, I think it is a bit of both. The articles, at times, are absolutely designed to provoke a reaction (aka blatant clickbait). His anti-KP screeds in 2014 were by far the most intense in their dislike for the controversial one from a journo – or gave the impression that he did. But the comments followed in droves. His defence of Alastair Cook, the England hierarchy and his attacks (the Bell one in particular) on potential rivals were seen as lacking integrity. It has been noted, that in my perception, he has been more vociferous against Colin Graves than he ever was against Giles Clarke in the Great Leader’s later years at the ECB. Graves made the cardinal sin of trying to finesse the KP situation when it wasn’t called for in Newman’s eyes. From that day it seemed as though Graves was in Newman’s cross-hairs. Not that he’s wrong to do so (especially over the four day test nonsense). I’ve been about as unimpressed by the Costcutter Clown as I was Downton. But Newman’s motives are absolutely not those I share, and he’s attacking Graves as an affront to the old ways, not some desire for a new broom.
While the Mail employs a stream of writers, including Booth, Lloyd and Hussain, Newman is the focal point here. After a quiet period where things had calmed down post KP and World T20, he got the interview with Andy “Dignified Silence” Flower in what seemed a barely concealed pitch by our former Team Director to have a more prominent role with the main England team. That that was followed, not long after, by an attack on the selection panel revolving around playing, or not playing, not fully fit players (Stokes broke down in his first test match back – something not noted anywhere near as readily as the row over the first test), which again was construed as a pro-Flower supremo piece. We can be accused (well I can) of tin-foil hat conspiracy theories here, but isn’t as if we don’t have form here with Newman and his sources. As you know, we have seen plenty of “good journalism” round these parts.
So, with a couple of small exceptions, this summer has been pretty quiet on the journalistic ire front. We saw the treatment of Nick Compton by some, which seemed to be borderline personal in places, as if Compton, who has as two test hundreds to his name, two more than Alex Hales, for example, was the first intense batsman to fail in England colours. There barely seemed an article by Pringle passing by where Ramprakash, who had a better test career than Muppet in my eyes, was not used to compare Compton. But in the end, the fact that Compton wasn’t, or isn’t up to it, was “proved” on the cricket field. His performances in the Sri Lanka series weren’t good, while Hales had a decent series so someone has to be on the hot seat. But the vitriol, and it seemed it from Stocks in particular, was something I’d not seen in a while.The calls for Vince seem slightly more muted to me – there’s an England player there but with mental blocks – is odd. He’s never looked like making a big score. I guess personalities matter.
Cricinfo remains a reassuring constant presence. I have a post on them alone in my head, so may well leave it until then to go into detail. The Ed Smith nonsense will pass – he’s not some ordinary OBO person so making a stand is harder – but the journalistic and writing chops of Dobell, Kimber, Hopps and Andrew Miller for starters, with all the others who contribute means it is a much better force for good than bad. We are really lucky to have such a vehicle covering our sport so well.
So to social media, and blogging. How does it look from my perspective after the test summer has ended? I have to say I don’t read anywhere near as much as I used to, as time pressures and other interests make a play for my spare time. The perception is that there is not as much to see. My “must reads” were always Maxie Allen, Tregaskis, Yates and The Old Batsman. Of course, there is also the Full Toss, seen by a few in the media in times gone by as joined at the hip with us – which wasn’t correct. That is not so much the case now, as James has taken the blog in a slightly different direction, which is absolutely within his right and he still produces fine work. But there is no doubt, if ever there was one, that we are two different entities now (not that we were that similar in the past – just we attacked the same targets) and I do miss Maxie’s takes.Long may they continue. James is a bloody hard worker and the site has some crossover and some distinct areas we don’t approach. Their presence is important.
Tregaskis plays his cards very astutely, posting little, but substantial and tenacious when he does.His jumping on the golf interaction in the UAE and the follow up non ODI with Hong Kong is the main time we saw the press truly interact with us in the past 12 months.
Yates doesn’t update his blog any more, but is still an astute and acerbic commenter on Twitter (if you can get through the darts stuff), and I’d love to see him get back on his horse. The Old Batsman, aka Jon Hotten, has gone from strength to strength and has shown how blogging can get people to notice good writing, but his blog is now neglected for other outlets.
The blogging environment is getting somewhat more scarce – I’m more interested in blogs delivering messages rather than trying to win writing awards (T does both, and I’m envious) – and quite often the biggest “enemies” of the writers are those who frequent BTL and put their own views prominently on newspaper comment sites, but seek to deny or decry those who take the time out to create their own space. Never understood that thinking. I see BOC as my home venue, and you know where to read what I think. I know where to go to find out where my antagonists comment, so I choose to avoid them. I see no point in going out of my way to say what I think. I’ll never understand them, even as my two co-conspirators tell me not to try! Which takes me on to the Danger Zone…
Twitter has its behemoths as well. Peter Miller is obviously quite a prominent figure, and he appeals to some and not others, in his double act with Dave Tickner – I’ve interacted a lot less in the past year as it does feel like too much of an in crowd. Fair enough. They are doing bigger and better things. Lizzie Ammon, who veers more to the journo side than blogger, given she is a journo, also caters for that audience, but not for my tastes as I stopped following a while back.
To me, the biggest question on Twitter is when does Innocent Bystander sleep. If you go on Twitter, he’s a must follow, and also, as much as you can judge someone by Twitter interactions, a top bloke. His coverage of the game is amazing. I’ve singled him out but there are loads of top people to follow, and in my view some to avoid, but I don’t doubt all their sincerity and love for the game, even if that is sometimes not reciprocated and my motives in particular are questioned. I’m not going to comment on Dennis Does Cricket. I really am not!
Now to us. Sean being brought on board was brilliant for us, and I’d like to thank him for all his work. He’s shown he can do this, and so can you! So we all met for the first time as the Glum Boy Three. As you may know, we had an Editorial Meeting on Wednesday, and the minutes have been recorded as follows:
MINUTES OF BEING OUTSIDE CRICKET EDITORIAL MEETING – 17 AUGUST 2016
Attendees – Dmitri Lord Canis Lupus Old, The Leg Glance, Sean Great Bucko B
Apologies – We apologise to no-one
Items for Action – 2 x 3 rounds of beverages.
Actions Going Forward – Write more articles
Items for Discussion – Two of the editorial committee have made club hundreds. One has made double figures in hundreds. Bastard.
Date of Next Meeting – Some time before Christmas.
It has been a curious summer. I think the first thing that needs to be noted is that for a blog like this to run as it does, it needs some commitment and a lot of hard work. It also has to be enjoyable to do. This year, from my perspective, the enjoyment has waned a little, but not enough to pack it in. Those who read this blog regularly and comment on here know this. They really get what we do, and what it takes, and I feel the same way about our commenters. We genuinely regret seeing some old faces go, but we are happy when new ones appear. We are particularly concerned that genuine newbies are allowed to dissent, without there being too much rancour. We’ve seen a few come along and stick, and that’s good. We do not want this being an echo chamber. We will maintain our policy on moderation – that is there really isn’t one, just behave yourselves.
In the same way an Ashes summer boosts TV viewings, and controversy drives hit spikes, we know there is a solid core of people who visit nearly every day, and even when we don’t post there are still a core amount of hits per day. No-one is confusing us with a national circulation, but we have our niche. It would be lovely to grow it further, but we will not do it by compromising our values and beliefs. We write because we enjoy it, we write what we want, we do not try to court hits via blatant clickbait, and we love interaction and comment. If you are prepared to come on here with that in mind, you’ll find me sticking up for you. If you question my motives, I’m afraid that’s not the way to keep me onside. Question what I say, by all means. Don’t impugn motives that aren’t there.
Here ends the ramble through the written media this summer. Hope there is something in it for all of you, and would welcome, as always, any views. Being Outside Cricket remains, and will continue, to provide comment, analysis, reporting of sorts, and a forum for you to discuss cricket. We will provide nostalgia, anecdotes and a platform for anyone who wants to write things on here that fit with our concept. We loved it when Andy and Simon provided us with pieces, and we’d like some more! The future looks busy – we have seven England tests scheduled by the end of the year, five of which are in India. There are some key anniversaries for series to go through, as well as a number of international matches that are sure to be interesting. There appears a dead spot for a couple of months next Winter, but then the following 12 months looks full on. Sean B, TLG and I are looking forward to it. Hope you are too. Where the print media is at the end of the next 18 months is anyone’s guess. Where the blogging world is, who knows? Maybe some new players can come on the scene and hit it off. Where English and test cricket is too is going to be interesting and with the flaws in all teams, plenty to debate. Let’s hope there are plenty of sources to read and talk about it.
UPDATE – I came across this piece in an old edition of Wisden Cricket Monthly from 1987. Amazing how the same themes come through three decades on, especially the bit about team selections (below the header “Briefed In Advance”. We’ve done a bit of EM Wellings before, I think, and he might have been a spectacular curmudgeon, but this certainly is something worth reading.
Also, great to see Yates back on his metaphorical horse with a new blog post. Read him here.