Recently one of the Albion’s most ardent supporters, The Brighton Argus, has experienced a fair amount of criticism for its reporting on the club. In particular, after a news story they ran about Brighton captain Lewis Dunk being “set to sign” for Chelsea. Upon reading the story, it was clear they’d simply republished a rumour from The Sun newspaper, that has since unsurprisingly turned out to be completely false.
Not a good look for the local newspaper and the fact that it’s in part filling our thirst for Albion stories with their “Content Managers” recycling unreliable stories from other news sources is unfortunately, simply a sign of the times.
The Brighton Argus has certainly seen better days. Decreasing newspaper circulation was already a huge industry-wide concern prior to the crisis many industries now find themselves in as a result of COVID-19. Additionally a recent spate of redundancies including some of the paper’s most senior and experienced journalists has left the paper with a much smaller and on the whole less experienced group of journalists to fill their pages and in particular that thirst for Albion content.
In fact the industry in the UK as a whole is struggling, with an average yearly decrease of its entire market revenue over the last 5 years being reported as 4.4% by IBIS Worldwide recently. And with revenue from print advertising continuing to fall at a faster rate than digital advertising revenue continues to grow, things are only getting harder for the industry.
So it should come as no surprise that the sports pages have turned to such tactics. The Argus is a business after all and needs to make a profit to succeed, combine that with the fact that sport sells or that I doubt many of us have recently bought a physical copy of the Argus, let alone remember the last time we did, makes this type of journalism a somewhat inevitable outcome. It’s hardly a surprise they like many others in the print industry have turned to focusing on website clicks above all else.
The circulation and rehashing of stories in local newspapers like the Argus has been going on for a while. The Brighton Argus itself is owned by the national organisation Newsquest who own a large amount of local publications across the UK and like other such organisations are known to regularly recycle stories across its local papers in order to fill pages. Something that the stand up comedian Dave Gorman’s routine about a group of local newspapers all reporting on dogging in their local area hilariously demonstrated.
This sort of thing hasn’t been common place in the sports sections of the Brighton Argus though, whose reporting has been the go to place for Albion news for many a year, which appears to be thanks to the dedication of its hardworking sports journalists as opposed to the support they get from their employers at Newsquest. In particular during the club’s time of need in the mid-to-late nineties (prior to Newsquest’s ownership of the newspaper), the paper was a huge catalyst for the supporters fight to oust the existing owners of the club. So much so for a period the paper and it’s journalists were even banned from the Goldstone Ground.
As a result we can be confident that this type of story will be despite of the efforts of longstanding Argus Sports reporter Brian Owen, who is no doubt working hard to keep up the paper’s usual high standards of reporting, amongst these increasingly difficult circumstances.
But this particular story (which was published whilst Brian Owen was away on holiday), certainly didn’t match up to those high standards and seemingly caught the eye of the club. The club’s Head of Media Paul Camlin admitted in a recent interview on the Albion’s Roar podcast that as a result of the story he’d personally called Brian Owen to make a point of it.
The signs of local print media’s demise have been there for a while and the recent rise of online sports publication like “The Athletic” (who’ve recruited the former Argus Sports Editor Andy Naylor) is possibly a sign of where the future of “local” sports reporting lies.
But, in contrast to the Argus who have always had a vested interest in Brighton existing and succeeding to aid their own success, organisations like The Athletic don’t and would be far less interested in club’s like Brighton if and when they once again fall on harder times.
Similar local media organisations who’ve also had a vested interest in the club’s success are also experiencing difficulties. The BBC’s seemingly continuous funding cuts have led in turn to local radio and tv budgets being cut and even being rumoured as at risk of closure altogether. Couple this with the demise of many commercial local radio stations like the recently closed long time supporter of the club Juice FM, it all means local voices in the media supporting the club are becoming more limited.
It wasn’t long ago these organisations were virtually the only media interested in the club. Regularly club press conferences would be attended mostly by a small huddle of local media representatives. While supporters of the club would largely rely on the Argus’s reporting during the week and the BBC local radio’s matchday reporting to get their Albion fix. Something many of the 92 football league clubs, as well as many others further down the English football pyramid, will be well accustomed to. But it’s something that is easy to forget in these times of global media interest in the Albion as a result of being a part of the Premier League.
But if local news organisations in general continue down the route of this “clickbait” type journalism rather than the informed journalism that we turn to then for, the power and variety of other media outputs available make it likely that newspapers like the Argus will only get left behind. And I can only see that being a bad thing for supporters of their local football teams all across the UK.
If publications like the Argus and other local media aren’t around to cover the club’s bad times when they inevitably arrive, carefully managed content released directly by the club may be the only output that us fans have to rely on.
Whilst our club has an owner such as Tony Bloom as well as a host of hardworking employees whom we can trust to do the right thing on its behalf, this isn’t an issue. In recent months the club has shown itself to be at the forefront of transparency and communication with supporters.
But many supporters of other club’s around the country aren’t so lucky. And as our club’s history shows, good times don’t last forever and in many cases it’s been the local media with their ear to the ground who’ve held club’s to account when it’s been required.
In his speech after winning the SJA’s 2018 award for best regional journalist, Neil Allen of Portsmouth’s “The News” dedicated his award to all the local sports journalists, saying: “we’re there for the good times, we’re there for the god damn awful times, we’ll always be there”.
And I for one hope they’re still around to do the same if such circumstances unfortunately arise in the future, but don’t hold your breath.