Swindon Media: (Too many places to) Read All About It!
There’s now even more choice for Swindon Town fans to get their daily news of goings on at the County Ground. Ron Smith reflects on the changing face of the media in the town and how the club need to improve their own output…
Long gone are the days of waiting for the Swindon Advertiser to arrive at your doorstep for your daily (yesterday’s) news fix from the County Ground. Reminiscing of walking down the Parade in town and hearing the chorus of “AAAAdvertiser…AAAAdvertiser…!” from the seller outside Debenhams now seems like aeons ago. Sports news today breaks instantaneously and is discussed immediately via social media, however Swindon in particular has witnessed a surge of web and print news outlets eager to report the few actual newsworthy stories at Swindon Town.
For many years ‘the Adver’ and sister titles had a print monopoly on reporting matches, transfers, relegations, demotions and promotions; in its daily guise or through the Football Pink. The Adver’s thisisswindontownfc.co.uk website has been the first point-of-call for any Town news and still generates significant comment and discussion if you can stomach reading the usual bile.
2014 has seen one newcomer, FLIC Wiltshire enter the market, while Swindon Link has been taken over and expanded their operations. For both, alongside the Adver and BBC Wiltshire, regularly reporting on events at Swindon Town Football Club remains integral to their strategy for driving readership / listeners.
I was delighted to see one of our first writers, Andrew Steele-Davis, become FLICWiltshire’s Sport Editor last December. Initially having to put up with undue criticism of the very existence of his job and reporting, Andrew remains defiant and active in his pursuit of breaking Town news. For those unsure what ‘FLIC’ means, I don’t know either; but they certainly seized an advantage earlier this year from the Adver’s ban at the County Ground. However the main issue with this solely web based outlet remains its cumbersome website, no mobile friendly version, lack of an RSS feed link and a general lack of interaction and discussion; leaving you wondering whether you are the first person to have read the article.
Meanwhile in the past week, following his departure (along with many in a sporting exodus) from the Adver, Lee Power’s favourite Sam Morshead has become Joint Head of Sport at Swindon Link Magazine. The monthly print magazine has been with us since 1978 and has expanded over the years with 25,000 copies now being distributed monthly for free in north and west Swindon. Link has an active web presence, competing with sites including Total Swindon and SwindonWeb in letting us know what’s going on in the community; rather than being known for breaking news.
Its recent purchase by James Phipps of Excalibur Communications fame has seen investment and a new direction now towards news, leading to the launch of a new sports focused website ‘Link Sport’. This platform, it is promised, will “provide sports fans with an unrivalled offering, putting you at the heart of the action” and “the go-to place for sport in Swindon”. The initial user experience of the website is positive. It’s user-friendly design is easy to navigate, however bafflingly when reading an article within the Swindon Town section the left hand navigation bar reverts to the homepage links; plus no RSS links are available. I’d like to think TheWashbag.com has heavily influenced the Link Sport offering seeing that their use of a blog format, chatty style, a supporter content focus, ambitions for a podcast and articles such as “five things we’ve learnt..” echo what you enjoy here. The lack of advertisements is a surprise, however I’m assuming they will appear once traffic increases as Sam needs money to pay for his burgers.
The success of FLIC or Link Sport depends on moving the online auidence from the Swindon Advertiser and thisisswindontownfc.co.uk and that won’t be simple. Those media channels our ingrained in our local consciousness, first in our bookmarks and feeds. It has been clear for a number of years that the editorial direction of that publication hasn’t fully grasped the social media age and what the web actually allows publications to do and how to present information. All it takes if for someone there to wake up and make the newcomer’s lives difficult; despite any loyalty for the quality of those who provide their content.
In the meantime we’ve now reached the stage where we have information overload. Where do we turn for the best Swindon Town news and opinions? I certainly don’t have enough time to read the Adver, BBC website, FLIC or Link Sport, particularly when all four have access to the same and somewhat limited information and content – presumably now that Sam has kissed and made up with Lee Power. I’ll have to pick and choose, in doing so I’ll undoubtedly miss good journalism, or at least be late to reading it. With multiple media accounts and journalists typically tweeting instantaneous updates of identical information I may now need to purge those I follow – a reason why I decided a long time ago not to provide you with minute-by-minute match commentary.
New media outlets have a place in the market because of the complete inability of the club itself to deliver the fullest supporter media ‘experience’. I want to make clear this isn’t a criticism of the club’s press officer, instead there have remained long term and structural issues, typified by an inward looking institution and a general mistrust of the media. That mistrust also extends to supporters, the club’s official Twitter handle doesn’t interact with supporters in any way by means of reply or retweet.
Given that the club is not interested in reporting or breaking news, this feeds the situation leaving leaks of information from inside and outside of the club feeding journalistic needs. Content, features and analysis are non-existent on a club website that adds little to our knowledge and love of the club. Instead we are all treated to an excellent matchday programme, which is clearly where the limited resources are directed towards. And it is this, rather traditional publication, which provides the rounded view of the club within the community it serves. If much of the information within the programme is available, or at least reported, on the website it would provide a proper modern platform for us to interact with and dispel myths about the club.
In writing this article I do understand the irony of hinting there may be too many media sources seeing TheWashbag.com is part of this burst of web-based content about the club. Also that you have a greater choice than me, seeing we are part of your regular feed of Town opinions and analysis – although we do try to stay away from ‘news’. We hope we can survive and maintain the Town’s leading independent views of the club given the focus of others to provide supporter-led content.
I always look at this on the basis that the Adver, FLIC or Link Sport wouldn’t print this suggestion for promoting matches, in-depth analysis of the club accounts, exposing Adidas for flogging STFC rebranded clothing, let alone this about Neil Ruddock, the private diary of Leon Clarke, or unmasking the true identity of a trialist. So hopefully our place amongst the crowd in and around the County Ground will be there well into the future…