FOOTBALL FINAL: The changing face of my old local newspaper’s reporting of Stoke City and what you can learn from it

whelan

Absolutely nothing teaches you the change in the media landscape more than how local newspaper cover their local team.

It’s the story of how an industry sat on a 3-0 lead, gave away three own goals and appear to have pulled ahead again.

My own team is Stoke City. I’ve supported them for the past 35-years. I’ve seen us go 2-0 up away and lose 6-2. I’ve seen us lose 8-0 at home and I’ve seen us win majestically an FA Cup semi-final 5-0.

My lifeline to my club has always been through the media. Especially the North Staffordshire media.

This is a post about my obsession with Stoke City and what I’ve learned.

Newspapers go 3-0 up… a century of near as dammit monopoly

Back in the day, every town had a newspaper and every big team had a sports reporter to cover them. The town newspaper as near as dammit had a monopoly. You want the football club news? You head to the local paper. Me? I cycled to the paper shop on a Saturday evening to buy a late edition of the Evening Sentinel. Veteran reporter Peter Hewitt’s match reports were deadline skewed and would start with lengthy descriptions of injury news with the last 10 minutes of play condensed into four paragraphs.

I’d plough through a long account of how Chris Maskery (ankle) had been replaced in midfield by John Devine who had passed a late fitness test before racing through to the perfunctory late goal flurry.

Monday’s paper would feature a more considered match report and some breaking news on the backpage. That formula had lasted for a hundred years.

As a teenager, I’d cut out each report and stick them into a scrapbook. I could hold them in my hand and re-read them.

I couldn’t do that with page 312 of Ceefax.

Newspapers slip to 3-1 up… GOAL! Scorer: Fanzine Culture (47 mins)

Martin Smith rises like a salmon at the far post to plant an unstoppable header past the despairing dive of the keeper.

On a wet Potteries day in 1988, Division 2 Stoke played the Division 1 champions Liverpool in the FA Cup 3rd Round.

That day, 32,000 packed into the Victoria Ground with me on the Boothen End terrace. Pre-Hillsborough crowd surges at the game were all part of the tradition. Something was not right. An hour before the game, the crowd was horribly over capacity and moving freely was impossible. Trapped, worried and seperated from my brother I had a feeling that if I’d have fallen there was no way I was getting up again. On Monday, all the Evening Sentinel carried was 10 paragraphs on an inside page about how a man had died of a heart attack because St John’s Ambulance staff couldn’t get to him. Football supporters had no voice. At worst, hooligans and at best ignored.

Around that time The Oatcake fanzine started a 30-year print run. That publication gave fans a voice. Published every home game The Oatcake for years was the best thing about watching Stoke City. Newspapers had lost the monopoly.

In the last few years, the excellent Duck Fanzine has picked-up the baton.

Newspapers slip up to 3-2… GOAL! Scorer: The Internet (55 mins)

Lee Trundle fires one in after a mazy dribble.

Most of what I learned about the internet I first learned from The Oatcake’s online messageboard. This old-style forum emerged in the late 1990s and I no longer needed to go to the paper shop for Stoke news. I learned how not to trust every rumour.

My mate says he’s seen Lee Trundle in an estate agents in Trentham? He must be signing!

I learned instead to weigh-up credibility. I learned how to deal with online snark, how mobs develop and Ithat without decent admin an online community will go to pot.

It also taught me how the internet could be viciously funny.

Around this time, the character of Valiantitus emerged. Apparently, a Port Vale supporter he was a hoax with a screen grabbed picture who would welcome each Port Vale goal on a League Two online Forum with…

BOOM! BOOM! BROOKER AWAG! LIQUID FOOTBALL GOAL EXPLOSION.

Little of his writing remains on the internet although some can be found here. It remains some of the funniest stuff I’ve ever read online.

Newspapers slip up to 3-3… GOAL! Scorer: Fans’ use of social media (87 mins)

Twitter scores an easy goal as the opposition appear to have dozed off.

When social media first emerged newspapers were left as flat-footed as Stoke reverse legend Paul ‘Donkey’ Dyson at an inswinging corner. Defensive of their print product it was left to fans to fill the gap. Breaking goal news on Twitter? See if more than a couple of people have posted a YEEEESSSSSS!!!!! 1-0 STOKE!!!! and leave the print edition gathering dust.

Newspapers go a goal up 4-3… GOAL! Newspaper use of social media (89 mins)

Pete Smith and Martin Spinks combine to score a well-worked set-piece.

They’ll be jumping for joy in newsrooms as newspapers finally learn how to make sense of the changing media landscape.

This is where it gets interesting.

Across 35 years, The Evening Sentinel has changed to The Sentinel in print and Stoke on Trent Live online.

There are now two dedicated Stoke City reporters at what I still think of as The Sentinel. Pete Smith and Martin Spinks are web visionaries and should be revered throughout the newspaper industry and by Stoke fans As an ex-journo and Stoke fan I deeply admire their work. Why? Because newspapers now have a creative use of the internet. Thorough, exhaustive and with high accuracy they’ve taken the best of internet culture, social media and journalism to tap new audiences.

So, Smith and Spinks have match reports on the newpaper website and in print. They also have a Facebook Live after the game to debate the main points. They’ll post to their Facebook and Twitter profiles. But they’ll then take the URLs into the places where Stoke fans hang out and seed a discussion in those groups too.

On social media, they’re Stoke City – Sentinel with 45,000 on Facebook, a share of 130k on the Stoke on Trent Live Facebook page, a Stoke City Facebook group of 3,000. The news room also use their own profiles with reporter Pete Smith using his Twitter account to reach 7,500 followers.

There must be a personal cost to such near 24/7 coverage as others who have done the job have spoken about. That’s something to be aware of. Being exposed to comment around the clock must be wearing. But public sector comms people who look after a page will know this.

But if there is a single over riding lesson from Stoke City in the media to communicators it is to go where the audiences are.

If there is a lesson to supporting Stoke City its patience.

And that Robert Huth is a better centre half than Paul Dyson.

And that beating Cardiff City in the play-offs remains truly beautiful.



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