Football Blogging, The Media & The End Of A Depressing Year

By on Nov 17, 2011 in Latest, Opinion | 8 comments

Over the last couple of weeks or so, a debate has been being passed back and forth between football bloggers over both the present and future of what they do. On the one hand, we have seen the introduction of a new news feed service which has angered some that are seeking to make a living from their writing whilst, on the other, the behaviour of an established football website (which could clearly be described as “Mainstream Media”) has seen the scales fall from quite a few eyes on the matter of the ethics of established media sources. It marks the end of a year which has seen increasingly fractious relationships between independent football writers, bloggers, freelance writers and seasoned, experienced journalists, a phenomenon which seems likely to continue to deteriorate still further as more and more people continue to fight for the increasingly meagre-looking scraps that are left for writers of any hue.

The introduction of the Guardian Sports Network kick-started the row last week. The GSN is a loose grouping of bloggers from various sports. These writers are  not being paid for what they produce, but then – in contrast with, say, The Huffington Post, which doesn’t pay writers for producing tailor-written content – this is content that is already available on their own websites. They are receiving the benefit of the exposure that The Guardian can offer them in return for copying and pasting articles which already exist and would have been written anyway. The Guardian’s sports editor, Sean Ingle, has already gone on record that the newspaper will pay writers for specially-commissioned articles, and those that are involved – and they include such well-established names as The Run Of Play, The Seventy-Two and Dr John Beech’s Football Management - may well consider that exposure and the possibility of a paid gig in the future is ample compensation for what they are giving up.

This, however, doesn’t tell the full story of how this new site is being treated in the online world. There are, perhaps, two counter-arguments to the above which deserve to be heard out. Firstly, there is the small matter of those that are seeking to make a living from their sports writing. It could certainly be contended that a site such as GSN is, if anything, forcing down the value of independent football writing, in helping to perpetuate a culture in which the words of independent writers are treated as essentially valueless in any way other than through getting “exposure”. It could be argued that The Guardian had an opportunity to support the notion of writers deemed of a sufficiently high quality to appear on their website in the first place – in principle, if not in the sense of allowing them to cast the day jobs to one side to become full-time writers – and that this opportunity has not been taken. Ultimately, though, the choice is between the writers and the newspaper concerned and has been made of their own free will. It may just be the way of the present and the future that words simply aren’t worth what they used to be any more.

Secondly, for those seeking to break through into – for the want of a better word – the “blogosphere”, the GSN is reinforcing a hierarchy that has existed for some time now. There are few names on the GSN bloggers list that are a major surprise, for sure, and the owners of sites that merely want to get themselves recognised may contend that the GSN offers a one-stop shop which will deter those looking for original sports writing from looking too hard elsewhere. Why, for example, go to the trouble of searching out and bookmarking ten or fifteen different football websites when you can just bookmark GSN and get some of the latest from writers such as Brian Phillips or Dr John Beech in one hit? There is plenty enough competition for eyeballs amongst independent football writers and bloggers as things stand. If the GSN turns out to be successful, there may be some that are left wondering whether they will ever receive anything like the attention that they may (or may feel that they) deserve. There has been no subterfuge going on in the arrangement between the GSN and those that have signed up for it

The second issue related to an interview that was undertaken by the independent site Les Rosbifs with the former Nottingham Forest and England manager Steve McClaren. There can be no question that to bag an interview with such a high profile individual was a major coup for a comparatively small, privately run independent site, but any pleasure that the site’s editor, Gavin, may have taken from this started to run a little dry after it became clear that swathes of the interview had been reprinted by the considerably more established website, TeamTalk. While this site mentioned the name of the site from which the interview came from, no was made link was provided to allow readers to see the original source from which it came. This created two significant problems for Les Rosbifs. Search engine optimisation concerns set to one side, there is a moral dilemma to consider, here. Whilst there is no legal line that has been crossed by TeamTalk in this case, whether they should have provided appropriate attribution – through the form of a link to the original interview – is a different, greyer area.

What we can say with a degree of certainty is that TeamTalk has hardly covered itself in glory in terms of the way that it dealt with complaints over the matter on Twitter (“I’d love you to do a day to see how a big organisation works. You’d have a different view by 5pm” was one Tweet sent to Gavin by Michael Holmes, the TeamTalk editor, the other evening). No-one would dispute that this company is within its rights to make comments like this but, in the same sense, we are entitled to criticise them for holding this attitude and if there is one thing that has come through from the last seventy-two hours or so, it is that TeamTalk hasn’t received a great deal of positive feedback as a result of this contre-temps. It is a big enough to website to be able to withstand such criticism, but it can hardly be reasoned that such publicity could be regarded as being positive for them.

Perhaps stories such as these are little more than examples of the cut-throat nature if the professional media. Gavin himself has been left feeling so disillusioned by the events of the last few days that he is now considering giving up his editing altogether. This would be a great shame, since Les Rosbifs has become an excellent website, one which has created its own niche and filled a gap that will not be easily replaced. What is, perhaps, the most troubling about Gavin’s malaise is that he is not the only person feeling the same way at the moment. We recently also lost the excellent Two Footed Tackle (although its long-running podcast will continue and the site’s editor, Chris Nee, has already launched a new site, The Stiles Council) and another stalwart of the scene, Gary Andrews, has also stated his intention to semi-retire from from writing about football.

Perhaps a plurality of football writing was too utopian an ideal. Perhaps money and recognition (or a lack thereof) have such a corrosive influence that the idea of writing about the game for the pure love of it is – or was – naive. Perhaps the echo chamber of social media creates such a suffocating atmosphere that nastiness becomes an inevitability. Whatever the answers to these questions are, that this year should end on such a sour note is disappointing, yet in some ways apt. Just as in the game itself, the world of the football bloggers has had a fractious year and the constant background hum of Twitter only magnifies this. In overall terms, though, none of us are worth so much as a hill of beans. Ninety-nine per cent of football supporters have never heard of ninety-nine per cent of football blogs, and that isn’t a statement made out of any sort of malice – it is merely the way that it is. Ultimately, if we can’t write for the love of writing or for the love of the game itself – and the climate of the last year or so, in several different respects, has come to make this considerably more difficult than it used to be  – then there is little point in doing it at all, whether paid or not. Life, ultimately, is too short.

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    8 Comments

  1. I’m becoming of the opinion that writing for a living, especially as a freelancer, is a pipe dream. That ship has sailed, and as long as blogs and free sources of written content exist that’s how i’s going to stay. Time to train as a plumber, methinks

    terry daley

    November 17, 2011

  2. I think some of this feeds into the discussions and arguments about providing free content on the net, whether you’re a small(ish) blog or you’re a national daily publication. There’s an almost insatiable demand for content that was created by the internet and perhaps only by charging for that content will everyone who produces it get their slice of the pie. Charging models on the net seem destined for failure though, unless some fresh angle can be found from somewhere.

    As long as you enjoy doing it, keep doing it. When the love is gone, don’t. Keep up the good work. Hopefully 2012 will be more harmonious.

    Tom

    November 17, 2011

  3. Ian, it’s a very fascinating topic. I’m not in favour of what The Guardian is doing. What they’re doing (whether by design or not) is creating a football section where the public can get “all of the news” they desire in one place.

    Ultimately that could hurt the rest of the football blogs out there, especially if readers don’t have time (or are too lazy) to find blogs that cover an array of subjects that The Guardian and GSN don’t touch on.

    The sad truth is that blogging (especially blogging about football) is hard work. Football is 365 days a year, so there are few breaks for bloggers to take a breather. And most football supporters are unforgiving, have high expectations and want everything for free.

    It’s a great environment for a football supporter, but a different story altogether for the content creator (in this case, the football blogger).

    At the end of the day, it’s the survival of the fittest. It’s a slog, the pay is awful but the tools available for writers with a passion and commitment are readily available, so I don’t see football blogs dying out or diminishing even with The Guardian’s attempt to build a sports empire online.

    Cheers,
    The Gaffer

    The Gaffer

    November 18, 2011

  4. The fact is that newspapers and magazines are struggling. The Guardian loses millions of pounds a year; it simply cannot afford to be dishing out proper freelance rates for all the football writing their is. If you are not working full time for a large news organisation, as a reporter rather than as a blogger/columnist, then you are not going to make a living out of writing. That much is clear.

    So like Tom and THP say, do it for the for the love or don’t do it at all. And don’t give up the day job

    Terry Daley

    November 18, 2011

  5. I’m afraid this boat has long sailed. The second sites like this one (despite how good most of the articles are) were born it started the long decline for paid football writing.

    Why should the Guardian/HuffPo pay for work that people are writing for free? Quality football journalism has been made totally by the sheer amount of people giving it away for free. If I can read excellent articles here and on other blogs I won’t pay £1 to read what the Guardian is saying.

    This is just the bigger companies getting in on the act now, see also unpaid internships and so on.

    Although people ‘selling out’ to the Guardian while getting nothing in return is particularly unpleasant. You say there’s a possibility of paid work from the Guardian at some point, but over time they won’t bother to waste that money when they can get everything for free.

    Dan

    November 18, 2011

  6. One of the main problems a lot of bloggers have, and by this I mean the likes of 200%, is that they go into a lot of time and effort and dig deeper than virtually any journalist ever would from a paper.

    Yes there are people that do write well, Jim White for instance, or David Walsh on the Sunday Times who spends a lot of time with his doping in cycling exposes.

    And that is where the bloggers have almost shot themselves in the foot, and why the Guardian has done what they have done.

    They have effectively said “Our journalists lack detail in their work (the need for quantity over quality?), some bloggers dig deep and do a lot of work normal journalists don’t have the time or inclination for, so therefore, let’s top up our writing with the best of the creative bunch out there that are likely to do it for free”

    Sadly it will all start to mean the demise of blogs. As someoen who co-wrote a fanzine in the 90′s I know how time consuing it all is.

    jertzee

    November 18, 2011

  7. I’m still torn about the Guardian concept – on the one hand, I’m happy to see a great site like RoP get more exposure (disclosure: I write there from time to time). On the other hand, I’d love to see Brian get enough money from advertisers to go full-time and just edit and write for it. And not necessarily need to run his site’s content other places. Still, if RoP replaces the AP newswire, the world is probably better off.

    Looking at the big picture beyond soccer writing, ultimately, we are all still very much in a slow growth/tip of recession global economy, so any website based on PPC is going to have trouble. All newspapers are hurting in some level, although the NYT paywall strategy is supposed to be doing well (and reflects a respectable compromise). On a personal note, I’ve made more off a single eBook in a month than I ever got from PPC ads on my two year old site (disclosure: I dislike PPC ads and admittedly they are not placed in the “money spots” at the header or long column).

    I’m not surprised that newspapers aren’t hiring in this economy – nobody is.

    I’m convinced that for niche blogs that go in-depth or off-base (or both) with their writing style and topics, that eBooks are probably the best bet at this particular point in time.

    elliott

    November 18, 2011

  8. As I’ve said before:

    - It’s not their choice. Well, it is, but it’s not one that should solely be considered on their terms. It affects everybody else by driving down the price of labour. If they view it as something that affects them and them alone, they’re being ignorant or selfish.

    - Free labour is inherently wrong, particularly in a unionised industry, for so many reasons.

    - It’s perfectly possible to expect a financial reward for what you correctly state is a lot of work. Our own site turns a profit, and therefore a very sizeable percentage of that profit goes towards paying our contributors. To my knowledge, we are the only blog that has a proper payment system in place. We get more hits than IBWM and RoP but we’re hardly the biggest blog out there.

    Callum

    November 23, 2011

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