A couple of weeks ago when discussing English newspapers, I mentioned that I’d much rather consider paying for the Guardian’s football coverage than The Times’ (of London), as the latter embarks on a probably doomed paywall experiment.
What’s interesting to note, though, is that the Guardian’s own financial problems are beginning to impact on the bottom line that determines the quality of its football coverage.
Buried in the comments to this Guardian piece announcing its “Fan’s Network” is an interesting response by Sean Ingle, the sports editor of the Guardian’s website, to complaints about the falling quality of the site’s content in general.
The exchange began with a comment by WillQuinn that lamented the decline of world football coverage at the Guardian online:
Not so long ago this site used to have the best world football coverage of any major website in the world. There were weekly reports on Argentine football, from the wonderful Marcela Mora y Arujo, Brazilian football from Fernando Duarte, Dutch football from Leander Schakelens, French football from Paul Doyle, USA football from Shaka Hislop (!), there was even some Middle Eastern football anaylsis (can’t remember the chaps name, apols).
I came here because I knew that if I wanted something different to what was on offer everywhere else, I would find it. The site seemed to be hosting some of the most intelligent, diverse football journalists from around the world.
All of these columns have disappeared. I imagine there are two possible reasons for this a) a change of editorial policy or b) a lack of money. Given the guardian’s well publicised losses, I reckon it has more to do with the second. More and more your blog pages are just stuffed with articles taken out of the newspaper, invariably on England and the Premiership. What has happened to all those other features you used to do? Like On Second Thoughts and the Forgotten story? That was some of the best sports writing on the web.
And now you reveal that you will be paying for blogposts from amateur fans! You may uncover the odd gem – some of the bloggers are excellent – but to be honest I would far rather read more Marcela, more Jon Wilson, more Rob Smyth, more Paul Doyle, more Barry Glendenning and more Scott Murray.
Sean Ingle’s response to this comment is honest, and accepts that severe financial constraints at the newspaper have meant quality writing that does not attract huge readership has had to be sacrificed:
I’ve been sports editor of guardian.co.uk since 2004 and I receive at least a couple of emails like yours every week, wondering where this feature or that has gone, or lamenting what was. The problem, as you suspect, is resource. Last year the Guardian lost £100,000 a day. Freelance budgets have, necessarily, have had to be slashed. Many people have taken voluntary redundancy. Given the sorry state of the economy, it’s impossible for me to go cap in hand for a regular column on Dutch football, say, when it’s read by just 5,000 people.
One has to feel for Sean Ingle. When your company’s losing £100,000 a day, you can well imagine the response his bosses might give when he asks for a few grand for a year’s coverage of Mongolian football, or whatever.
The problem, of course, is the perennial one we’ve discussed many times here about today’s media landscape: how is good writing going to be paid for? Answers on a postcard to Sean and I, please.