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Dyson at Large: The joy of reliving football in print

A post-Christmas trip to the north-east coincided with Whitby Town v Blyth Spartans on Sunday 28 December, and with the visitors due to meet Birmingham City in the FA Cup I couldn’t resist being the 584th spectator.

It was bitterly cold, and the clash was one of few Northern Premier League games not to be frozen off that weekend, but that didn’t stop both sides playing competitive, attacking football, Whitby snatching a 1-0 victory with an 89th minute goal.

Now I don’t know about you, but I always enjoy reading about the game I’ve just watched, and so I looked forward to finding at least a summary in one of the next day’s regional dailies.

I was therefore disappointed to not even find the result in the Teesside Gazette, my old paper: this able title knows it main audience and is rightly obsessed with Middlesbrough FC, but given it circulates in Whitby I thought a snippet might have been fitting for local readers.

At least the Yorkshire Post had a couple of paragraphs on the game that same Monday, but I had to wait until Friday 2 January for a detailed match report in the weekly Whitby Gazette.

And boy, was it worth waiting for: freelance sports reporter Andrew Snaith giving the fixture the full works with a 31-paragraph dispatch, allowing me – and, more importantly, fervent Whitby fans – to relive every substantial shot, header and save.

Whitby Gazette back page splash

‘Last-gasp Pell sinks Spartans’ was the back page lead headline, with ‘We earned the right to win’ above the full report, statistics and action pictures filling nearly all of page 54.

No other media covered this game in such depth, naming every home player, recreating the buzz surrounding the Spartan’s forthcoming FA Cup tie, and even including a paragraph on the main local sponsors who’d pledged to pay Whitby £5 for every fan over 300.

This level of itemised sport is what local weeklies should be about, especially when their teams are not big enough to be covered at all by national media, and only in passing if they’re lucky by bigger regional dailies.

The Whitby Gazette should therefore be congratulated on its sports focus: with what appear to be only three full-time reporting staff in the town, it’s still worthwhile to invest in expert coverage of The Seasiders, albeit via a freelance reporter.

Whitby Gazette page 1

Despite sparse staffing, the Gazette’s news coverage in this festive edition began decently enough, with ‘Help me find my missing husband’ the front page splash on 2 January, marking the first anniversary of a local man’s disappearance.

The front page design was clean and provided space for an end-leg to project a free wall planner, news nib, sports review and calendar, and fresh fish discount – although the ‘Happy New Year’ message might have been more colourful.

Inside the paper, there were a few reporting question marks, the most notable being the page 16 lead headlined ‘Jeanette’s thrilled to meet TV star Andre’.

Whitby Gazette UGC lead

If you look carefully at this story, you’ll see a ‘By Slimming World’ byline, and while this particular report is harmless enough you can imagine how user-generated content (UGC) from organisations could be misused in what are supposed to be balanced news sections.

Elsewhere in the paper, at least a couple of page leads seemed to come from a reporter at the Scarborough News, the Gazette’s sister paper, for example: ‘Borough council says tax freeze likely’ on page three; and ‘Council windfall to deal with pot holes’ on page 11.

There’s nothing wrong with using relevant regional news stories, as long as you look into and add the necessary facts for local editions – but neither of the above reports contained any meaningful Whitby detail.

In the wake of various staff cuts, it’s unsurprising that shared stories, near-inapt UGC and any other copy available is allowed by Johnston Press’s regional editor Ed Asquith; he’s responsible for the Scarborough News, Malton and Pickering Mercury, Filey Mercury, Bridlington Free Press, Driffield Times & Post, and Beverley Guardian as well as the Whitby Gazette.

But I don’t think any of those titles’ readers will be hoodwinked for long if these short-cuts on news become too frequent.

Nevertheless, the Gazette’s own staff contributed some reliable local reports on various planning and parking rows, business successes and charity tributes, and there was a colourful picture spread on locals’ festive but chilly sea dips.

Other UGC contributions felt more appropriate in features, including a recipe by the chef from Whitby’s famous Magpie Cafe, a new campaign explained by the RNLI, and an ‘Exhibit of the week’ described by Sutcliffe, the renowned local photo gallery.

And I was impressed with the detailed contacts for no fewer than 12 ‘Your correspondents’ on the Gazette’s ‘Down you way’ community pages, another section where UGC has always worked well.

Overall, the Gazette was a good enough read for £1 – with around 235 stories on 56 pages – but it could be improved by the same full commitment to detailed and independent news content that the paper rightly devotes to Whitby Town FC reports.

As for sales figures, none have been released since 2012 when the Gazette enjoyed a +2.1pc rise to 9,540 copies a week; paradoxically, the then editor Jon Stokoe was made redundant the day after these were published.


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  • January 14, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Been away from Teesside for so long Steve you’ve forgotten how to spell it 😉

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  • January 14, 2015 at 9:13 am

    Wow, that Slimming World story is a shocker. I really think that should have been the angle, Steve, not the football.
    We all appreciate the lines between editorial and commercial are more blurred than they have been in the past, but simply handing over space for free PR like this is a step too far.
    Aside from the ethics, it leaves the readers short-changed. Where is the local detail you’d expect to find about Jeanette Thompson? How about an age, address, whether she’s got kids, whether she’s married and so on?
    All we get is a bland quote about how great Slimming World is….although hang on, did she even really say that?
    A quick Google reveals exactly the same words – with only the place name changed – came out of the mouths of Gillian Hetherton from Wishaw; Claire Ball from South Shields; Sandra Thompson from Grimsby; Amanda Tate from Hartlepool, Elaine Mackie from Uddingston and so on and on. What an amazing coincidence.
    PRs must think we are absolute mugs for printing this guff without question, and as an industry we should all be ashamed.

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  • January 14, 2015 at 9:25 am

    My local paper asks its most senior club to send in its own reports. In fact all its sport is submitted. Doesn’t even have a sports Ed! JP of course!!

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  • January 14, 2015 at 12:25 pm

    Thanks, Desker – have corrected typo. Shows the need for subs!

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  • January 14, 2015 at 12:51 pm

    Still not convinced by this reliving the match blow by blow days after the game. It’s particularly questionable for bigger teams who have wall-to-wall coverage of the action. Post-match reaction and analysis, yes. But “In the 50th minute…”? Not so sure.

    Agree that local sport’s pulling power shouldn’t be underestimated (as it often is, sadly), but it needs to be given thought.

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  • January 14, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Some of the submitted sports copy is hilarious, but it seems to go in without editing. Unprofessional but cheap!

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  • January 20, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    Story duplication in Yorkshire Regional Newspapers was the norm even before the Scarborough paper went weekly Steve. If a Scarborough story has even the most insignificant Whitby link, it’s duplicated and likewise across the YRN stable (which no longer includes the Filey Mercury, long ago subsumed into the Scarborough paper).

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