The write-it-off-the-telly approach of many national papers’ sports desks and using “click bait tossers” – actually, we were ruder than that – came in for especial criticism, while the shedding of hundreds of experienced subs’ jobs was also blamed for the fall in standards.
The all-consuming obsession with football (see last week’s column) doesn’t help. Too often, sports desk staff can tell you who played left-back for Accrington Stanley in 1967, but look blank if you ask them to name the current Wimbledon women’s champion or the British men’s record-holder at 1,500 metres.
Two recent examples that crossed m’desk at work highlighted the issue.
PA Sport was putting out some copy from the European swimming championships in Berlin. It was unclear whether the national agency was actually staffing this one-time must-cover event, or whether they were just pumping out what I call “talking six-point”, and having someone in their Yorkshire office writing lacklustre copy based on nothing more than the results appearing on the organisers’ website.
In a single session, the Great Britain swimmers managed to win three gold medals, including breaking a world record. First mention of the world record came in the ninth paragraph of the PA copy. There was no mention by PA that this was the most successful hour in the history of competitive British swimming.
Maybe the reporter didn’t know that. They might have done had they’d been in Berlin. But surely PA Sport still employs some sub-editors who can manage a quick re-write to nose on the news and manage to ensure that the home towns or club affiliations of the six medal-winning Britons that night are properly mentioned, for the benefit of the local newspapers who actually pay for this crap?
No better over at the Little Shard and the shiny new offices of The Times, which always prided itself as being a paper of record. For the three-day event at the World Equestrian Games, the 400-word report was written not by a specialist correspondent at the venue in Normandy, but by a stringer in the Home Counties watching the telly.
The intro suggested that William Fox-Pitt, the world No1 rider, had “exceeded all expectations”. Fox-Pitt finished third. Maybe they just had low expectations of the world No1.
Suitably deferential, since the British team included the Queen’s grand daughter, Zara Phillips, the reporter praised them for winning silver medals. But the reporter failed to mention until very late in the piece that one of the team’s horses dropped down dead after the second of the three days.
It was not just the reporter who missed the story, but the sub-editor and the sports desk’s copy-taker, too. Or are we just flogging a dead horse over this?