Regional press titles have been urged to vocalise their opposition to journalism job cuts which will see them “lose significant provision” of cricket coverage.
The Cricket Writers’ Club says it is “deeply concerned” about cuts to the England and Wales Cricket Board’s central Reporters Network service, which provides match reports for a number of regional titles across the country.
The network usually has a roster of 18 reporters, but in 2021 only six will be engaged to cover all 18 professional county teams in England after funding for the service was cut from an estimated £89,000 in 2019 to £40,000 this year.
According to the CWC, journalists working for the service may be required to report on two matches at once, one of them remotely, using a mix of live streams, video highlights, scorecards and contacts with the counties’ PR teams to cover the match they are not attending.
Those involved will also be limited to a maximum of 300 words for their reports at the end of each day’s play.
HTFP reported in October how Sam Morshead, digital editor at The Cricketer magazine and former chief sports writer at the Swindon Advertiser, had called on national press titles to help plug a funding gap for the service after the cuts were first announced.
The Leicester Mercury, Derby Telegraph, Bristol Post, Brighton daily The Argus and Portsmouth daily The News are understood to be among the titles which currently make use of the network, as well as organisations such as the BBC and PA.
The service was set up by the ECB in 2014 with the help of CWC to ensure the domestic game received written coverage. Since then, its reporters have provided coverage to over 200 media outlets.
In an open letter to all users and beneficiaries of the network, the CWC said: “The Cricket Writers’ Club is deeply concerned about cuts to the ECB Reporters’ Network, which will see local, regional and national media outlets lose significant provision of domestic men’s and women’s cricket coverage across digital and non-digital platforms in 2021.
“CWC believes an estimated 70pc reduction in coverage and a requirement for reporters to cover matches remotely will severely impact the integrity of the reportage, the visibility of domestic cricket outside of [new tournament] The Hundred, and diminish the profile of players and clubs to their supporter base and commercial partners.
“In the absence of further direct funding from ECB, CWC sees an urgent need for the game to collaborate to find a way to fund a full quota of reporters.
“CWC understands some counties are considering engaging their own reporter to fill in gaps in eye-witness coverage, but it is unclear whether these reports will be provided network-wide.
“It is of great regret that the ECB did not communicate with CWC prior to deciding this Reporters’ Network restructure, given the role CWC and members have played in it and our desire to help find solutions.
“ECB has informed CWC that the decision to reduce output is based on a consultation with users of the network and feedback was that content provided previously was too long, particularly for online outlets.
“CWC has not been shown the specifics of this research but the club has spoken to several media outlets who say they weren’t consulted and maintain they would still prefer to receive full match reports and features, in the absence of being able to afford to send their own individual reporters.
“We urge all recipients of this letter to consider closely how the reality of these upcoming cuts in wordage, content, and method of reportage will affect you. If you are concerned by these changes, please make it known, and consider how the situation can be improved for all.”
HTFP has approached the ECB for a response to the letter.