Media Week: Life either side of the great divide
As a regional football journalist covering both Championship side Cardiff City and newly-promoted Swansea City, Chris Wathan is better placed than most to talk about the rewards and challenges in covering the Premier League and the Football League from a media perspective. Chris was kind enough to answer a few questions to kick off Media Week on The Seventy Two.
Swansea kicked off their Premier League campaign at the Etihad Stadium. How did the Manchester City press box experience compare with Wembley?
I’m very lucky to have been to Wembley several times before for different reasons but it’s always a joy covering games there. That said, I’d heard some incredible stories about the hospitality at the Etihad Stadium and I’m glad to say none had been exaggerated. The food laid on for the hacks like myself was superb: a three-course meal, a help-yourself snack and drink bar and – best of all – coffee and pies brought to your seat at half time or pick n’ mix available back in the lounge.
The pre-match food is always a good talking point for journos, but I have to say what impressed me most about City was the attitude there. It could have been very easy for staff to look down their noses at media, let alone one of the new clubs’ assembled press, but they couldn’t have been more helpful. As I was dashing between the working lounge where I was gathering quotes from TV while on deadline and the conference room to check if the managers had arrived I was stopped by one steward who kindly informed me there was no need to panic and that he would fetch me when the managers were on their way. Manchester City have all the money in the world, but you can’t buy that kind of attitude.
And how do both of those measure up against the best facilities in the Championship?
It varies. In terms of facilities, most Championship clubs are up to scratch with wi-fi and press room facilities. It’s pie and pre-match tea at most places in terms of food. A few in the Championship have got TV screens for replays which are a godsend – far removed from the League Two and Conference days where if there was a doubt over a final touch or an assist then the journalists all agreed on one player so we could be wrong or right in unison.
You can’t always say the best are those relegated from the Premier League but the new grounds obviously tend to be better. I’ve always been a fan of Portman Road – nice set-up, good food, good people.
Is it generally easier covering games at the bigger or newer grounds rather than places like Oakwell or Vicarage Road?
Covering games is certainly easier due to the views, the screens, the wi-fi and connections – even electricity which is by no means guaranteed at Barnsley where you’re squeezed into wooden, school-style desks with a distinct lack of power all around. Accessing players and getting one-to-ones is a lot harder in new complexes than little corners at the older grounds, but while the romance is always with the older venues the newer ones are obviously a better fit for modern reporting purposes.
Do you prefer covering Premier League games to Championship ones?
Yes, so far by any stretch. There is that sense of occasion. But some of that is probably because it’s shiny and new. I don’t treat covering a Cardiff game any differently because it’s in the Championship. And even before this season, it’s always nice to get a variety and I’ve enjoyed covering Newport County, Wrexham or even Welsh Premier League games over the years for different reasons.
Putting it simply, I enjoy writing about football for a living. I did 78 games last season; I’m not saying I didn’t moan along the way or get fed up of driving up the M5 but I know deep-down it beats a 9-5 job any day of the week and I’m always thankful for that.
Have you noticed any significant changes behind the scenes at Swansea since their promotion?
Press conferences have been moved from the training ground to the stadium to cope with the number of people attending, which is a shame as one of the big pluses with Swansea was the amount of “face time” you shared with players. Even a quick ‘hello’ goes a long way in terms of building relationships while it also gives an avenue to air any grievances on either side without it building up.
Generally, Swansea are still a fantastic club to cover and player access is still very good. Press facilities (and food) has improved in line with Premier League rules and we even get the benefit of a separate Monday paper briefing with the manager after the game to cope with the demand for instant quotes and stop it impacting on what we deliver after the weekend.
Is Cardiff’s setup geared up to the Premier League or is there anything they need to tweak?
Very much so. Facilities-wise, Cardiff is top notch and while there have been issues in the past with accessing players, the media department there are clearly making strides to improve that area of things. Clearly the previous manager had much-publicised issues with the local press which made things difficult on both sides, but things have changed for the better.
Do you think the Football League is well-marketed? Is there anything it could improve?
It’s getting better, certainly since the rebranding of the First Division to the Championship. They have some good tie-ups with national newspapers and use sponsors well so I think it’s better than it has been.
What do you think of other channels/outlets coverage of the Football League?
I’ve always been a fan of Sky’s coverage, even if it’s not often enough for my liking. The Football League Show is a bit of a joke at times – I think we were all expecting some deeper analysis than just some obvious Soccerbase stats thrown in after highlights – but at least it is out there for a national audience.
I think there’s more for fans of Football League clubs to access than ever before – especially if you include the sideways look blogs can offer on top of traditional outlets. I feel there is a danger of official club sites trying to control what gets out in terms of interviews and news but that’s a whole separate debate.
What’s the biggest challenge in meeting the expectations of supporters when covering clubs in the Football League? Is it easier to cover Premier League teams with the greater access to highlights, live matches and analysis?
I’ve found it a challenge to start with in the Premier League as you do get this sense that readers on a Sunday or a Monday will have seen highlights, goals and read numerous online or other newspaper reports by the time they get to yours. That’s never going to be the case with League Two and League One matches.
I’ve tried to be a bit more analytical as a result so at least we’re offering something different that you won’t get anywhere else – none of the nationals are going to focus so much on Swansea’s performance. If they – or things like Match of the Day – do, then it’s very often picking up on points well known to fans from seasons past and going over old ground. We can bypass that. We’ve upped our coverage of Swansea both before and after games and hopefully that is being noticed.
The biggest fear is always about getting scooped by nationals for something which is on your patch. But being scooped is any journalists’ nightmare whatever division you’re covering and what drives you to get the next story.