As a local sports reporter, you can't take your eye off the ball
31 March 2017
The north west, and East Lancashire in particular, is a hotbed for football. With three Football League clubs - Accrington Stanley, Blackburn Rovers and Burnley - it is difficult to have a conversation with anyone in this neck of the woods without the beautiful game cropping up at some point. In terms of our newspaper, the Lancashire Telegraph, sport - notably football - is a big seller.
Growing up, the back pages were always my 'front' page, and I was not alone in that. I’m still not, even though we cannot get away from the fact that newspaper sales nationwide are dwindling year on year. Regardless, it is the local newspaper(s) that football fans turn to if they want the inside track on their club; they just access their information in an alternative way to that tangible copy they might previously have picked up in a morning or evening, or had dropped through their letterbox.
The competition to break stories is stronger than it has ever been, particularly with Burnley in the Premier League.
National newspapers, Sky Sports News, the BBC, official football club websites and the ever increasing number of websites dedicated to football reporting are all clamouring for breaking news, particularly on and around transfer deadline day.
That can be a stressful time for a club reporter, and certainly relentless. No matter how long you have been in the office you cannot take your eye off the ball for a second during transfer windows, but it is part of a the job and the buzz.
There is a huge pressure around these times, with rumour and counter rumour, as well as your own information from contacts - it is often a case of sorting the wheat from the chaff to make sure our readers know what is (or isn’t) going on at their club, or what might be about to happen.
It is the same when there is a search for a new manager. You cannot switch off, because you can guarantee the club chairman and directors won’t be until they get their man.
And then there is the game itself.
When I started in the job we wrote match reports, player ratings and quotes pieces from a Saturday game for Monday’s paper. These days we are constantly updating the website with team news, on the whistle reports, manager and player reaction before we even think about writing a more considered and analytical match report for the next edition, alongside the aforementioned player ratings and quotes pieces.
Social media has added another dimension to the way we work. These days anyone with a smart phone and Twitter account is a ‘reporter’ - filming or commenting on events as they happen. But that has not diminished the role of the local newspaper journalist. If anything it has enhanced it, because no matter what information is out there from other sources, it is the local newspaper that people will look to for the real story.
As technology has advanced, so has the way we operate. It has become increasingly difficult, if not impossible, to keep an exclusive for the newspaper. There is often a web-first policy in place, and football stories are always among the most read on our web page.
Amateur sport is just as important to us and our readers, and our weekly Grassroots supplement is one of the most popular and most read items in our newspaper. It gives a valuable platform for aspiring sports stars and veterans, men and women, boys and girls, coaches and managers, the platform to showcase their skills or their clubs. And through this we have helped to raise awareness of a number of organisations and so-called minority sports.
We also ran the Grassroots sports awards for a number of years and that was an excellent event for bringing the local amateur sporting community together.
Away from sport, we provide a service to our readers that they would not be able to get elsewhere, be it collating information to keep them abreast of local entertainment events to local politics.
The appetite for local newspapers might not be as big as it used to be, but there will always be a thirst for local news.
It gives people a place to voice opinions and feel someone is listening to them and taking them seriously.
Suzanne Geldard is a local sports reporter