18.11.08

PRESSING ISSUES

This story on the media guardian website provides the background to a major fallout between the regular snooker press and World Snooker.

What follows is a long, somewhat self-regarding explanation of what it means and why it matters.

I fully accept that it will bore many of you to tears but this is an issue important for myself and my colleagues in the press room.

The Press Association is the UK’s national news agency and supplies copy to virtually every national and regional newspaper in the country.

These papers rely on the PA copy for a whole range of stories, including in sport, as they cannot have a journalist covering every single event everywhere in the world.

It is therefore important that the PA copy is informative, impartial and gives an accurate account of any particular story.

For the last 44 years, Everton’s News Agency, run by Clive Everton, the editor of Snooker Scene, has supplied snooker stories to the PA and covered tournaments for them.

Another agency, Lancaster and Crowther, has done so for around 25 years.

Earlier this month, each agency received a letter from the PA sports editor to inform us that he would no longer be requiring our services.

When asked why, he replied that they would be doing the coverage in-house from now on. Furthermore, they said they will be taking most of their stories from worldsnooker.com in future and that the PA had ‘enhanced its relationship with World Snooker.’

According to worldsnooker.com’s terms and conditions, users of the site cannot “modify, copy, reproduce, re-publish, upload, post, transmit, rent, loan, sell, lease, license, sub-license or distribute any material on the Site or create in any way content and/or derivative works based on the content of the Site or the Site itself or services provided by, or on behalf of World Snooker in whole or in part without our prior written consent.”

The governing body readily agreed to the PA’s request. It seems to suit both sides. PA get free copy and therefore save money and World Snooker get to have their spin on events on the main news wire.

In a letter to World Snooker complaining about this new arrangement, the Snooker Writers Association said: “Worldsnooker.com is a corporate website that does not give an accurate account of what happens at tournaments. Any controversy is basically played down or even covered up. The bland tone of its coverage will result in PA stories that are not going to interest sports editors in carrying copy on a sport that is already struggling for coverage.”

World Snooker responded that the approach from the PA came as a “complete surprise” and appears to believe they had no choice other than to accept.

Well actually they could at least have considered the knock-on effect for the sport as a whole. They could have contacted the SWA to talk it over with them or demanded certain requirements from the PA as to the scope of their coverage.

I have personally covered the qualifiers as conscientiously as I could for the PA for a decade, either at the various venues – Blackpool, Newport, Burton-on-Trent and Prestatyn – or from afar. To be ousted in this way is very upsetting.

What sort of coverage is a guy sat in the PA office going to give them now bearing in mind worldsnooker.com offers only scant reports on them and sometimes none at all?

When something controversial (ie interesting) is said or happens at a tournament, only those newspapers with specialist correspondents present will carry coverage because worldsnooker.com won't mention it.

The regular snooker press are a committed (some of them should have been) group of people who have written about the sport for many years, often from a position of deep affection for it.

Now this cosy new relationship between the PA and World Snooker will result in even less coverage of a sport already struggling for space in newspapers.

When I started in this sport, The Daily Telegraph and Times were guaranteed to carry a reasonable sized report on a day’s play from any tournament no matter what had happened.

Now, it is rare for either paper to include more than a paragraph.

It has to be a really good story these days for sports editors to be interested. Uncontroversial PR of the sort fed to PA by worldsnooker.com is not going to appeal to anyone.

Some of my colleagues are even talking about no longer going to tournaments.

Players are now warned that they will be disciplined for even the mildest of statements. At the Northern Ireland Trophy in August they were all given a letter advising them to answer ‘no comment’ to even routine questions.

By the time of the final in Belfast there were no journalists present at all.

World Snooker in their letter to the SWA write that “We very much appreciate that we need to work together with the snooker writers.”

That’s assuming there will be any snooker writers left.

28 comments:

Monique said...

I read that story yesterday and was wondering wether to post it on TSF... I didn't as I think most people there wouldn't get or be interested in the implications.
This is extremely serious even if it's probably driven by economical considerations (on PA side) and no deliberate will to make the game further invisible, odorless and tasteless. We all know what happens when there is only "the Single Version of the TRUTH" around... It just takes to ban Higgins (for his latests statements) and Ronnie (fer whateva, yanno, yeah...) and we will get there.
The sport will be clean, sanitised ... and dead.

RichP said...

As the above poster points out it's an unfortunate sign of the times and certainly isn't anything against you or any of your fellow writers.

Dave, you point out that the papers are including less and less coverage of snooker. Therefore surely it's not financially viable for the Press Association to be splashing out on specialised writers, who I guess don't come cheap, week in week out at the tournaments.

The reality is that we're in very difficult times at the moment and people would rather read about football or rugby than snooker. Therefore the people to blame, if anyone, are the sports' editors or the people that buy the newspapers.

Hope things work out for you though as I think you're a good commentator, this is a great blog and snooker scene provide good coverage of the tour.

Dave H said...

This story - http://www.sportinglife.com/snooker/news/story_get.cgi?STORY_NAME=snooker/08/11/10/manual_223424.html - on the PA website is a perfect example of how this is going to work. Read down to the bottom where Mark Allen says how great a job the governing body are doing of running the sport.

This is PR, not journalism.

Janie Watkins said...

As a fellow member of the SWA, it's another nail in the coffin of snooker reporting and it affects every strata of the sport - the dedicated snooker journalists, the sponsors, and the players.

The sponsors want column inches so that will have an immediate knock on affect on not only WSA but the other promoters and NGBs trying to attract funding.

The same applies to the players who also need publicity to assist them in gaining their personal sponsors.

Much of this useful coverage came in the many local and regional papers across the uk.

Now those outlets won't get anything unless we all become altruistic and pump copy to them for free, or they pro-actively contact journalists to provide copy on certain players and events.

For the fans who wnat to know what the players really said or did at an event you will have to wait until your monthly copy of Snooker Scene or CueSport drops on your doormt or rely on the independent websites that take real copy on events, not the watered down stories that you've already read on wsa site. So Sporting Life site will no longer have lively, timely content, they'll lose viewers too and I'm sure they rely on their visitor count to attract their advertisers. Someone at PA hasn't thought this through properly.
They've looked at a short term fix not a long term solution.

I'm off to revamp the Global Snooker T&C and if PA lift as uch as a comma from my site they'll be getting an invoice!

I fully support all my SWA colleagues and the sport in its battle against the bland political correctness we're now faced with.

GSC will be ramping up its news pages very soon!

Anonymous said...

Controlling the media output is something WPBSA (I always refer to them as such because it’s always been they who have tried to sue me) have always dreamt of controlling, even back to my days there.
I – dare I say it – instigated a process whereby newspapers and radio stations would be able to pick up copy free of charge. What it did do was greatly increase the number of column inches from particularly regional and local newspapers.
What it did NOT do was impinge upon the journalists who were earning a living from providing words of their own, because the papers I supplied had not previously taken the freelancers output, or that of the Press Association, because they had to pay for it.
‘Proper’ newspapers, broadsheets, tacky tabloids and the likes, all had their own ‘stringers’ because snooker was big and they wanted their own take on the stories.
That last paragraph probably sums everything up.
Snooker is not seen as being big when it comes to the print press, and, there are not too many stories around.
When there are ‘stories’, they tend to be the more sensationalist, such as Ronnie’s outburst in China, or York, or players criticising the running of the game.
And you can see where this is going. PA feeding the party line out to their outlets, who are happy with their fours pars plus results because that’s all snooker is worth – until a scandal breaks, and when the newspapers want the ‘inside story’ on a particular line and employ freelance journos to get it – who will then probably get banned for writing something World Snooker find untoward or negative.
The thing is, newspapers these days probably don’t sell one extra copy on the back of carrying snooker. People can pick up results online, assuming they are interested.
And to be honest, given that snooker bosses who have their thumb on the pulse are more likely to employ a ‘suppress officer’ these days to stifle anything that damages their growing ‘world sport’ (which the people in Bahrain obviously didn’t hear about) they’ll be happy with the reduced exposure, especially when the only real stories around are about mismanagement, vanishing sponsors and alleged betting scandals.
In fact, in the 12 years that have passed since I left the Bristol bunker, it appears nothing has changed very much.
Stewart Weir

Janie Watkins said...

Wow everyone's coming out of the woodwork on this one David.
Nice to see you Stewart.
I like the "Supress" comment

Have you and David yet formed a club for ex-wpbsa suppress officers?

Janie

Anonymous said...

Solidarity. A word associated with Poland - where snooker takes place!
Not formed the club yet Janie.
Still, even select clubs can have undesirables who could can lay claim to membership.
http://www.blogger.com/profile/08887781783459657757
Stewart Weir
And if the above reads it, xx ...

said...

i just found this blog before the bahrain tournament started, and i was really really happy to be able to get up-to-date snooker news here as i found very little in the newspapers and the world snooker website.

It's such bad news about what the PA has decided to do. Hope things improve, but meanwhile, thanks for posting so much here. Everyday, I look forward to reading this blog.

Anonymous said...

I can understand the SWA wanting to protect their interests but surely it is equally their responsibility to sell their stories to media outlets?
What is stopping journalists from doing this?
The approach and decision of WSA/WPBSA is twofold.They want to control the image of the game and also cut costs.This is hardly surprising and shouldn't come as a complete shock to any member of the SWA.
These are very competitive times for most careers so journalists will now have to work harder to earn their crust.At least some of the complaints about this are because some journalists are notoriously lazy and cannot be bothered to chase a buck.Unfortunately they will now have to do this or find another job.
This might seem harsh but it's happened to millions of people around the world and there is no reason why journalists should be exempt.
This blog and the many sites which give snooker news/results have made a subscription to Snooker Scene seem superfluous so perhaps this latest development can work to its advantage.The only thing exclusive to Snooker Scene is the inside dirt it publishes and the more there is the more people will remain interested in subscribing to what is a dying form of media.
Perhaps the SWA and its members should look at this as a new beginning.There are many things you can do. For example,a new players union is being set up so you can form a close working relationship with them.I'm sure the national and local press will want the inside story from the players and there is no reason why you cannot provide this for them.
There are ways for you to survive ,and perhaps even flourish,but you are all going to have to adapt to the changing conditions.
Good luck.

Fred

Ruthie said...

I'm increasingly concerned that the current economic downturn will be used as an excuse for the beginning of the end of snooker as a whole. Little credible news coverage, tournaments few people go to and no new sponsors make me think the TV contracts are the next thing to go. On the PA situation, it's worth remembering that many radio newsrooms also get sport copy from PA and like newspapers, may not have the time or inclination to find the real stories elsewhere; and is World Snooker going to provide early morning feature-style copy for evening papers as has been done by the snooker press corps in the past?
There has never been a more important time for the players to speak up - not in the media where it comes across as yet another snooker-in-trouble story - but by demanding accountability from the people who are supposed to serve them.

Dave H said...

Just one point about this blog following on from Fred's post - it is not intended to be a replacement for the magazine. It is intended to do things we can't do in the magazine, which I still think is required reading.

Janie Watkins said...

Fred
This is not about SWA protecting its interests.
The SWA members are worldwide, not just the UK and embrace all aspects of the media, tv, radio, internet, as well as print media.
Some, like me, also act as Press Officers for various clients.
Many of the journalists are multi-faceted, reporting on other sports, or have full time positions with people such as BBC.
A very few dedicated individuals, and we're a dwindling band, are primarily dedicated to snooker.
If PA cut off a vital revenue stream then it may well be that the Media Centres at events will become even more sparsly populated than they already are.
Regional and local papaers who derive their content(not just snooker) from the PA wires are not going to suddenly turn round and pay the stringers to supply specific snooker content, particularly in the current economic climate.
So, as I said earlier, the end result will be few column inches and far less variety of coverage of snooker than we've seen in the past.

Stewart - it's nice to see Bruce with a smile on his face, probably because the pair of you are divided by a large ocean!

Rich P said...

Janie said - 'If PA cut off a vital revenue stream then it may well be that the Media Centres at events will become even more sparsly populated than they already are.'

The PA don't owe snooker journalists a living do they? I read every day about building companies shutting down and bankers being laid off. This is just another unfortunate example of the pending recession. I think people are blaming the WSA incorrectly here. Everyone, everywhere are tightening their purse strings.

Anonymous said...

Fred wrote;
"I can understand the SWA wanting to protect their interests but surely it is equally their responsibility to sell their stories to media outlets?
What is stopping journalists from doing this?"
The answer is nothing. You are correct. Except the only ‘fresh’ or ‘exclusive’ content newspapers would be remotely interested in is the salacious or the damning or the sensational stuff – which given world snooker’s paranoia, would probably lead to the said journalist being banned. So, it’s potentially a lose-lose situation for journalists.

As for Rich P stating; “I think people are blaming the WSA incorrectly here,” your thoughts are best kept with yourself. You obviously have little or no knowledge of the workings within world snooker. With this action, world snooker are reverting to type, which is, basically, if you don’t allow people to come close to you, you have half a chance of stopping tales of the unwanted variety coming out in the press. Only propaganda and party lines will survive.
If the output of snooker stories had been left entirely to world snooker, would we have learned anything about the allegations levelled against Peter Ebdon?
I think not. But you seem happy just to know one side of the story.
You are correct is stating that this is to do with the current financial malaise, especially within the print media. But World Snooker are attempting to use that to their advantage.
And the fact that there are certain management companies employing propagandists to try and send out what are effectively non-messages, means even fewer opportunities for freelance snooker writers.
Again, fine. But those freelance journalists have often acted as a buffer or a safety net when it comes to stopping potentially damaging stories getting out. Take that away, and live with the consequences.
If you want an example, just see how Ronnie’s ‘Chinese Whisper’ made the front page of The Daily Star. It took something like that from them to take their usual brand of ‘titillation’ from the front cover.
The hard truth is, that the very reason newspaper editors are willing to take what are no more than spun press releases from WPBSA, is that snooker features so low on most sports editors radar now, probably around the same slot dedicated to elephant polo and ping pong.
As for “The PA don't owe snooker journalists a living do they?”
The follow up surely has to be that the world doesn’t owe snooker or its players a living either. Which, if exposure is reduced any more, may become reality. Or would WPBSA be blamed incorrectly for that as well?

Stewart

Anonymous said...

This is bad.

I can't help feeling that the end of the road is not far away for World Snooker now. Can the Snooker Writers Association not lead a boycott of all WPBSA events and throw their weight behind a new tour?

The top players need to organise and stop this nonsense. The sponsors are out there -- it's just that they look at the game in its present state and think: not this time, mate.

AW

RichP said...

Stewart, in response to 'your thoughts are best kept to yourself' I thought I was entitled to free speech. I'm merely commenting on the facts that were presented to me via the link on this blog and the blog itself. It stated that the PA no longer required the services of Everton News Agency and would take copy off the WSA site instead. Ok if the WSA instigated all of this then I understand your points but it doesn't state this in any of the info that's been provided here. The PA are responsible for their actions at the end of the day. They've found a cheaper method of obtaining copy and that's that. Can you really blame them for that? and more importantly can you blame WSA for that?

I appreciate I don't know about all the internal wranglings of the WSA and you, having been there do, but I still feel I can pass comment on items on this blog if I feel compelled to do.

On the point of the world not owing snooker players a living I agree it doesn't. However, I still watch snooker and if I need to read about it i'll check the internet for info, i've never actively brought a newspaper to read about snooker. Tell a lie I buy the Racing Post for betting previews but that's it.

I just think blame is thrown too quickly in the direction of the WSA, sometimes i'll add, and the current struggling economic climate really does exist and should be accpeted that freelance journalists will be the first to go.

Anonymous said...

Historically, WPBSA have always wanted to control the press, hence the reason they have spent so much in failed legal cases and libel writs whenever they have thought they had a case.
Now, through circumstances, they appear close to getting their way.
The point in all of this is that it’s only world snooker’s voice that might be heard. If you are happy with that, fine. I prefer a more rounded, unbiased approach, which I am afraid to say, is unlikely to see the light of day given that newspapers haven’t really focused very much on snooker in the last ten years and hardly at all in the last five.
Snooker has sold its soul to TV. But not every sponsor is interested in only one medium.
Given world snooker’s prowess at landing themselves in it when it comes to written attacks on individuals who they don’t like (a certain Mr Everton springs to mind), if PA are going to lift copy from WPBSA’s ‘mouthpiece’ I suggest one of the first things they invest in is a good lawyer – and there are a few I could recommend.
But I reiterate, would we have heard anything about the allegations against Peter Ebdon if the only source was world snooker's website.
I think not.
Stewart Weir

Anonymous said...

The onus is now going to be on the SWA/Journalists to go out and sell their stories to whatever publications they can.
A defeatist attitude,which has been displayed by some members here,is certainly not going to assist them.
Because of the disdain towards snooker by the general press this might prove impossible but it is up to those most affected to change this outlook.
Unfortunately you won't be able to rely on the governing body for support but,as I previously mentioned,there is no reason why you cannot have a mutually beneficial relationship with the soon to be players union.
This could be the beginning of the end for all/most SWA members but there is also the possibility that it could lead to something more rewarding.
The time for mourning is over.It's time to come up with a viable plan for the future.

Fred

Dave H said...

My 'plan' will be the same as it's always been - to write about snooker as much as possible

This development is related in part to economics but it is also an indication of how low snooker's stock has fallen in the British media

I can assure you this is not through a lack of effort or commitment on the part of snooker journalists

Anonymous said...

Dave - On a slightly different subject (though still related to the reporting of snooker matters) can you tell us why Snooker Scene chose not to repeat/report on Ronnie O'Sullivan's comments which he made in the BBC studio after beating Liang Wenbo in the Grand Prix? Where he stated that:

When I was 2-0 down people may have thought I was "doing an Ebdon".

This was a clear reference to Peter Ebdon's 5-0 defeat to Wenbo in Ireland, which attracted unusual betting patterns. Snooker Scene quoted O'Sullivan:

"I was worried people would think I was throwing the match..."

This was far less controversial. Did Snooker Scene choose this quote in order to avoid upsetting O'Sullivan?

Anonymous said...

Fred says;
"The onus is now going to be on the SWA/Journalists to go out and sell their stories to whatever publications they can.
A defeatist attitude, which has been displayed by some members here, is certainly not going to assist them."
Okay, so you’d be happy then to read;

• Betting scandal involving the then Chairman of world snooker
• Revealing the suppression of an internal report in to the finances of world snooker
• The story of the writ being served on The Mirror because of the above
• The exposure of the internal report
• The exposure of individuals involved in that internal report
• The revelation of irregularities in the WPBSA Benevolent Fund
• Rex Williams slagging off Steve Davis and Tony Drago
• Rex Williams slating Stephen Hendry
• Exposing a smear campaign launched by the then world snooker press officer against certain players
• Revealing the cover-up of failed drug tests

Because this is what was directed towards world snooker in retaliation as they systematically decided to rid themselves of undesirable journalists from their press room a decade ago ... and those were just MY stories!
Now, if you are saying the onus is on SWA/Journalists to sell stories, are these really the kind of stories you want them to be selling?
Or are you going to say that for the good of the sport that’s aiming to kick you in the b*lls, they shouldn’t do it – and just starve quietly ...
SW

Anonymous said...

So SW wants to dictate to papers what they can publish?
No wonder the SWA seems to be in such a mess.
You are reliant on what the papers are willing to buy and,it appears,run of the mill snooker scores and reports aren't high on their agenda.
Is it fair?Of course not but I'm sure you are all old enough to realise that sometimes life treats you like this.
If you don't want the despicable actions of the governing board to defeat you then do something about it.

Fred

Anonymous said...

"So SW wants to dictate to papers what they can publish?"

Please point out where I have said that Fred?

As for your "then do something about it" line, please, I seek your advice.

Thanks in advance, and I am sure there are many journalists looking forward to reading your vision of the future ...
SW

Anonymous said...

I've reread your earlier post SW and it implies that you only want to write the stories your way.
If you find a topic distasteful then don't write about it but stop complaining about the fact nobody is interested in snooker.
You are the ones complaining about the situation so you are the ones who HAVE to do something about it.You are the ones who chose the challenging career of journalism,where the conditions have become more and more difficult over the last decade,so if you are now unprepared for the difficulties that lie ahead then you have to accept responsibility for that.
Snooker hasn't been a priority for any daily paper for a long time.The governing body has been trying to silence negative press for a long long time.
Eurosport has provided journalistic opportunities in the last few years and the emerging markets because of this coverage could/will provide others.The new players union could also provide some prospect of employment.
I've only spent a few minutes thinking about it,and have zero contacts in this field,but I'm sure I could make a decent effort trying to enhance my snooker writing prospects.
However if you just want to complain about the situation any sympathy will soon evaporate.
Perhaps you could enlighten the readership by telling us what plans you and/or the SWA now have?

Fred

Anonymous said...

Firstly Fred, 'implies' is only your take or opinion on something. It is not, therefore, fact.
As for "I've only spent a few minutes thinking about it, and have zero contacts in this field, but I'm sure I could make a decent effort trying to enhance my snooker writing prospects."
Now that I’ve stopped laughing, feel free to apply for accreditation for the UK Championship in a few weeks and see how much work you can generate.
Remember, you’ll have to pay for your travel, accommodation, telephone line etc. So you are down right away. No hardship there, as you expect others to do it. Talk is cheap, words cost money.
I think if you read my last posting, properly, you might see that I actually sought your advice on how snooker writers might generate work?
I would have little trouble – I’d just write negative stories as 90% of the headlines from a decade ago are still happening within snooker. But you would know that – so why don’t you write it, seeing it is so easy ...

SW - watching for your byline

Anonymous said...

Thanks for defining implies for me.
I have zero wish to be a journalist but thanks for the offer!
If I had suffered a career setback I'd certainly take a different approach than your rather negative one.You chose the challenging career of journalism and therefore knew the risks when you started.Unless you have been napping for the last decade you'd also be aware of the difficult conditions all journalists now face-let alone snooker ones.
All journalists have to cater for their audience otherwise they don't last long.If the majority of people only want to read the sensationalist stories then you'll have to write them or you won't get the gig and someone else will.
If you don't want to write this type of story then fair enough.I certainly have more respect for someone with morals but,unfortunately,that isn't the way to profit for the vast majority of "entertainment" journalists today.
Instead of expecting someone else to hand the next opportunity to you perhaps you should actually go and get it yourself.
The good old days are long gone.

Fred-waiting for you to actually do or say something positive instead of snipe at everyone else.

Anonymous said...

Fred says;
“I've only spent a few minutes thinking about it, and have zero contacts in this field, but I'm sure I could make a decent effort trying to enhance my snooker writing prospects.”
Then says;
“I have zero wish to be a journalist”
Make up your mind Fred ...

Barney Rubble

Anonymous said...

Fred says;

... not a lot!