ONE of the reasons for setting up Inside Snooker was the questionable attitude towards coverage of the sport shown by one or two (and it is not all, by any means) national newspapers, and there was a classic example of this on Friday.
It is pretty common practice for a freelance, if they are at an event where there are no agencies such as the Press Association, to ring up sports editors and inform them of breaking news stories that they might want to cover.
Following Ronnie O’Sullivan’s world record-breaking display against Ricky Walden with 556 unanswered points one such senior figure, whose blushes are going to be spared at least for now, replied rather pompously: “We don’t have a big contributions budget, and we wouldn’t want to use it for things like that.” ‘That’, of course, was one of the most brilliant displays of even Ronnie O’Sullivan’s illustrious career that left Walden describing him as “unplayable” in one of the biggest tournaments of the season, taking place in the UK and being covered on the BBC. The story not only received widespread coverage on TV, radio, online and in the written press, but O’Sullivan was trending No1 on Twitter UK during the match.
Newspapers have a basic plan for the day, but if you are good at your job, you react to breaking news even close to deadline. And this wasn’t, being around 3pm.
The broadsheet newspaper concerned – and let us swiftly exonerate The Times, who cover snooker very well - decided to use copy from PA who astonishingly were not even represented at the match featuring the world champion and game’s biggest draw taking place in London. Presumably they relied on the BBC and the World Snooker web site from afar. The paper used 45 words in the newspaper, or two paragraphs. In the later edition there was no mention of the points record. And they didn’t bother putting it online.
The problem here is not even really with PA. They are a commercial organisation who must make tough spending decisions, they probably would like to staff and attend everything but they can’t (although this one still looks an oversight). Even reporters on the beat cannot get to every event, especially with the rise in the number of tournaments in Asia. The coverage you would get does not always merit the financial outlay.
The agency’s only real ‘crime’ is not to pay expert journalists who are present to do the job when they aren’t there, because without that it is hard to see how they can possibly argue they are providing an adequate news service to their clients. Relying on the World Snooker web site, good as it is, is ridiculous. It would be like a football reporter taking news only from the official Premier League web site. No newspaper in their right minds or with an ounce of integrity would consider that for a second, so why do they think it is okay for snooker? The tiny amount of money needed for a paper to pay for a piece on O’Sullivan’s wizardry would pale into comparison next to the vast sums lashed out on supposedly star columnists, and the budget for any ‘story’, however banal and routine, connected to Premier League football, and I say that as someone who also covers football and has done for 12 years.
So much for the money side of it at some newspapers, what about the judgment aspect? It is about sports news editorial decision-making, and overcoming negative prejudice. If a snooker story is good enough and would interest the readers, it should be covered properly, whatever the personal views of the editor. Snooker regularly draws TV audiences that put most other sports to shame, and this was the game’s biggest star running record-breaking riot at a major tournament on the BBC. In tabloid newspapers, with less space, it got hundreds of words and full online coverage.
Would it surprise you to learn that the individual in question was on the panel that barely considered O’Sullivan for the BBC Sports Personality shortlist of 10 last year? I’m sure it wouldn’t.
Photographs by Monique Limbos.