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Football writers quit regional dailies to join sports news venture with 50 jobs in pipeline

Three regional daily football writers are leaving their newspapers to join a US firm’s new UK sports news project which could see more than 50 new journalism jobs created.

HTFP understands the Liverpool Echo’s Liverpool FC reporter James Pearce, Yorkshire Evening Post Leeds United writer Phil Hay and Express & Star Wolverhampton Wanderers correspondent Tim Spiers are all taking up new roles with The Athletic.

The Athletic launched in Chicago in 2016 to cover the city’s sports teams, and has since expanded its operation to hire journalists based in around 50 cities across North America – operating with a paywall and promising readers “quality local and national sports coverage” with “no ads, no clickbait – only stories with substance”.

It is understood its UK edition will initially cover football, largely Premier League clubs, and focus on content such as ‘long reads’, features and opinion pieces, rather than match reports, transfer stories or player ratings.

The Chicago news page on The Athletic's US website

The Chicago news page on The Athletic’s US website

James, Phil and Tim have all announced their departures on Twitter in recent days, with all three mentioning they will continue to cover the clubs they report on in their new roles.

Although none of them have officially confirmed who their new employer will be, HTFP understands all three have been recruited by The Athletic.

Buzzfeed has also reported two national journalists, Times sports editor Alex Kay-Jelski and the Independent’s sports editor Ed Malyon, have signed up to join the site.

Online media trade magazine Digiday reported earlier this month it would launch in mid-August with a team of between 50 and 55, with most recruits being writers.

Akhil Nambiar, chief of staff at The Athletic, told Digiday: “This is not an extension of the US; this is about how to empower our writers for a UK audience.”

Its American edition currently offers dedicated pages for six English football clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur.

The Athletic presently charges $9.99 (£7.86) per month or $50 (£39.35) per year, with Digiday reporting rates will be similar in the UK and allow subscribers access to all content from here and over the Atlantic.

Phil’s job at the YEP is being advertised on HoldtheFrontPage here, while Tim’s role at the Express & Star is being advertised here.

A spokesman for The Athletic said: “We are looking forward to launching The Athletic’s written, audio, and video journalism in the UK. This is the home of the world’s most popular football league, of a wealth of brilliant writers and of fans with an insatiable appetite for coverage of their teams.

“The Athletic is building a line-up of the most talented and connected football journalists and our ambitious plans include not only comprehensive coverage of every Premier League club, but also highly localised football reporting beyond the top flight. More details will be released as the new season approaches.”

10 comments

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  • June 25, 2019 at 8:48 am
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    No wonder Reach have started that Liverpool FC venture. But with so much being written on the big clubs, will enough people be prepared to pay for ‘quality’ coverage? I have my doubts – a long-standing reporter covering the club I support left his paper to set up a subscription site but couldn’t get the numbers. For The Atlantic to succeed I suspect there’s going to have to be a major culture change in this country, and many may feel they’ve spent enough on Sky/BT subscriptions without paying out any more.

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  • June 25, 2019 at 10:06 am
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    Can I wish the very best to the three in this new venture, especially Phil Hay who I worked with on the YEP sports desk for so long. You are a fine writer and a decent bloke Phil.

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  • June 25, 2019 at 10:29 am
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    One-time sub makes a good point about people having already paid enough but look at the growth of streaming for other entertainment. Many people will willingly pay for Netflix, Now TV and Amazon Prime, all while watching the BBC iPlayer and All4 for free. This is about sports writing rather than immediate post match analysis.

    The fees look pretty reasonable. And sport was always the part of editorial with the most potential to monetise if the quality was there.

    The success of this depends on the interest from abroad and possibly some of the current following of the writers The Athletic has recruited going with them.

    Good luck to everyone involved. It would be superb if someone can finally crack the model for people paying for written journalism online. Yes I’m being a bit rose tinted here but it isn’t my risk to take. I want someone to succeed because it’s painfully apparent the papers they are leaving don’t have the answers.

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  • June 25, 2019 at 10:30 am
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    I’m guessing the financial offers to these three fine journalists were just too good to turn down. I hope that this is a wake-up call to newspaper bosses that if you want to keep your best staff, you need to pay them a decent salary that correlates with their standing and experience. I doubt it will though.

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  • June 25, 2019 at 10:37 am
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    Can I add to Midlanders comment that I hope it’s a wake up call to newspaper bosses that if you continue to run your papers down, axe staff, have earlier and earlier deadlines and cut costs to a ridiculous degree, you will lose your best writers

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  • June 25, 2019 at 12:43 pm
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    I note that in both Wolverhampton and Leeds they waited a while before starting the replacement process, judging by the ads on HTFP. Given that the closing date on the Express and Star position isn’t until July 5, their reporter might not be in place until significantly after the start of Wolves’ league season and the beginning of their European campaign. Is this a case of newspaper groups trying to save a few weeks’ salary and dump all the work on already pressed colleagues? Surely not! No wonder people want to leave this penny-pinching world behind. Also in Yorkshire I think they’re living in fantasy land when they ask the ideal candidate to be “able to demonstrate a contacts book full of Leeds United insiders”. On what you’re offering – and the workload you expect to be undertaken – you’re not going to get the likes of Henry Winter, despite his recent appreciation of all at Elland Road.

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  • June 25, 2019 at 4:50 pm
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    what does quality mean? it needs an adjective in front of it..
    High quality. Low quality.
    An over-used and vague word. But good luck with the launch.

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  • June 26, 2019 at 11:34 am
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    Good luck to the, sinking ships spring to mind.

    The Echo especially used to be the first place you’d look for transfer news, not it’d probably be the last, they just haven’t plowed the resources into coverage that they used to, despite James being a seemingly excellent journo.

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  • June 27, 2019 at 8:52 am
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    Morning ‘Jeff Jones,’

    Just to correct what you’re saying about ‘not plowing resources in like they used to’ on the Echo for its LFC coverage, The Echo now has more people covering Liverpool FC that most people can remember. At least four new roles have been added to the team in the last 12 months, and the company made this announcement last month, as reported here on Holdthefrontpage:

    https://www.holdthefrontpage.co.uk/2019/news/ten-jobs-created-as-reach-launches-new-liverpool-fan-site/

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  • June 27, 2019 at 11:30 am
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    Interesting call by these three, none of whom strikes me particularly as being the next Mcllvanney. They will struggle to get ‘exclusives’ once they are no longer tied to the trusted ‘brands’ that they currently work for. All the clubs they will be writing about have many, many dedicated blogs/fan sites etc alongside what is free via their current employers/other news outlets, not to mention what is already put out by the clubs themselves. They’ll have to be good to make people part with their hard-earned.

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