Where does the regional press fit into football coverage in the 21st century? Long gone are the days where Saturday night Pinks were the only place to get the first match reports from a 3pm kick off.
TV rights and the desire of clubs to communicate directly with fans via their websites have meant, in many cases, access is more restricted than every before.
Online, it’s simple for someone to set up a professional-looking website or blog which covers a football club, even if the closest they get to the club is watching them on the TV every now and again. The illusion of an inside track can be easy to create.
Then there are transfer rumours. Massively popular but also generally complete bobbins. How does the regional newspaper and its website compete with all of that?
To me, it’s quite simple: Shout about our assets. And our edge over all of the above is that most regional newspapers remain the only people to employ at least one journalist full time to cover that club. Not someone who loosely covers three or four club and drops in and out of the club for press conferences, but someone who lives and breathes that club, knows all the staff, has multiple contacts and knows what fans are thinking.
And despite the competition out there, football still drives sales – especially when you are ahead of the game on a story. Just ask the Birmingham Mail, which broke the news that Gerard Houllier was leaving Villa ahead of the rest. Various national outlets dashed on to Twitter to dismiss the story – only to correct themselves later on. Only they didn’t apologise to the Mail, they just ignored what they’d said earlier.
We need to be shouting louder about how we cover football clubs in a way no other media does – be that large corporation or fan-based site. We can strike that balance between being in tune with fans yet providing detailed coverage from inside the club day in, day out.
Chris Lepkowski, the West Brom writer at the Birmingham Mail, has blogged about the challenges he faces in the new world – and how he’s plotting his way through. It’s a brilliant read and I would urge everyone with an interest in football reporting to read it.