Following CWC’s Open Letter of 11th March, the Cricket Writers’ Club has received detailed testimonies stating that a huge drop off in coverage is to be expected as a result of cuts to the ECB Reporters’ Network – the body of reporters who provide the nation’s media outlets with reliable agency-style reports on men’s and women’s domestic cricket. 

The following report has been shared with ECB and County Chief Executives. For transparency, all feedback received, which amounted to more than 7,500 words across outlets and individuals, has also been shared with them in full.

Significantly, the report highlights a suggestion that came from within the game, as to whether Counties could collectively contribute to make up the shortfall and fund a full Reporters Network - at least while ECB funds recover post Covid. The figure would amount to circa £2500 per annum per County. The report includes a statement from the PCA that they would contribute like a County if there was collective support from the clubs.

Feedback to CWC Open Letter on ECB Reporters’ Network

CWC has received input from users and beneficiaries of the Network, including:

- (3 x winner of the ECB’s Domestic Journalism Award for Best Online Coverage 2018/19/20)
- Guardian Live Blog
- BBC Sports News, Talksport, Times Radio News, a local commercial radio network
- / Wisden Cricket Monthly / Wisden Cricketers Almanack
- More than 40 local and regional news titles including Manchester Evening News; The Gloucestershire Echo & Citizen (winner of ECB Domestic Journalism Award for Outstanding Newspaper coverage 2020); Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and Sunday Mercury; Western Daily Press; Bristol Post; Brighton Argus; Reach PLC (multiple titles including Nottingham Post); Newsquest (multiple titles)
- Cricket Supporters Association
- Hundreds of individual fans on social media, plus dozens writing fuller responses on email
- The Professional Cricketers Association
- Senior County Club source

Summary Report

Constructive and, at times, passionate feedback has been received from a wide variety of outlets across local, regional, national and international media, including newspapers, websites, digital/non-digital magazines, radio networks and other supporters of English cricket.

Compelling arguments have been put forward in favour of ensuring a full network of eye-witness reporters at grounds, plus reverting to levels of previous coverage, ie more than the planned 180-300 word reports, and ensuring features and quotes are provided as last season. It is clear that features, quotes, session updates (Co Championship matches), and 600 word match reports are highly valued by the users of the Network and provide wide and significant visibility for the domestic game. Feedback from two outlets suggests reporters could be asked to write with more personality in order to improve this reliable and relied-upon upon service, but integral to the use of the Network material is retaining neutrality, consistency and reliability of copy through a central service, which outlets can then augment where they are able.

Solutions have been suggested as to how to fund additional reporters to the ECB pool to achieve this. The most realistic put forward is to invite the 18 Counties to co-fund the ECB shortfall, either on an on-going basis, or this year only, given that losses due to the pandemic have been cited by ECB as the reason for the cutbacks. This allows a season for recovery and will ensure the widespread media coverage of all forms of the domestic game, giving the sport increased visibility, not less.

One Senior County Marketing and Communications source estimates that the shortfall of £45-50k equates to roughly £2,500 per County and suggests that if the 18 counties value the service and appreciate what it means to the game, the ECB would surely be hard pressed not to see things the same way.

Moreover, the PCA has informed CWC that it would be willing to contribute in a similar way to a County if there was collective support from the clubs. This would mean extra funding could be split 19 ways, thus reducing the amount each County would need to contribute. The regional women’s game is also covered by the Reporters Network, thus introducing another section of the game whereby the overall amount per entity could be reduced, if small contributions are able to be made for the greater good. It has also been suggested that the game’s wider stakeholders, including sponsors, media and broadcasters should feel a responsibility to ensure the integrity of the written word.

The Digital Editor of a leading online outlet (over 1 million unique UK visitors in 2020, for which domestic coverage was a major driver) expresses concern for the reliability, consistency and authority of what is being proposed this year, and from personal experience says he would not feel confident to use reports written by remote journalists: “I know how easy it is to miss an important element of the game when relying on streams and social media feeds.” He urges the ECB to ensure there is an on-ground presence for every professional domestic match, to allow those writers to write with personality, and to continue the previous feature wire to allow the personalities in domestic cricket to breathe.

“Help the media get through this year,” he implores, “when advertising revenue has dried up and budget cuts are limiting the scope of our coverage, and ensure that we can continue to take part in inspiring generations, and making sure cricket really is a game for all.”

A Senior County source shares that Counties have been told by ECB that they can appoint their own journalists to cover matches. However the source, understanding the nature of the use of the Network copy, is concerned “that a county appointed and paid for journalist is more likely to provide biased copy, which favours the home county, therein losing impartiality, losing integrity, and becoming far less appealing to media outlets who are seeking neutral copy that provides an unbiased balanced view on the game.”

The appreciation for the impartiality, accuracy and wide dissemination of eye-witness Reporters’ Network material is demonstrated by feedback from BBC Sports News, who confirm they use the wires service to inform their bulletins about injuries, record feats and unusual occurrences; from a BBC Reporter/Commentator who states the information and narrative conveyed during domestic commentaries on 5Live Sports Extra will be severely impacted;  from Talksport and Times Radio, who state they rely on wires for their copy and thus losing trusted domestic cricket updates would be a worry; from a Guardian live blog journalist, who states that the detail in the eye-witness Network Reporters’ copy filed at lunch, tea and close of play of County Championship matches ensures nothing is missed in the accuracy of the blog or in bringing the game to life (sentiment shared by a journalist who spent two years working on the BBC’s live County blog online); from the editor of a prominent cricket magazine who states that they lean heavily on the Network when domestic cricket is the focus, and states their upcoming season previews “wouldn't be nearly as informative or authoritative without access to the Network’s reports from the last couple of years.” This demonstrates the value of the written word as historical document to the game, enriching coverage for the future, as well as the present.

Regionally, the story is repeated across the print media, who demonstrate that they rely heavily on the Network to provide their domestic cricket coverage. The Sports Editor of a paper covering two of the biggest counties states that County cricket would usually be a page lead almost every day during the season. “But with the reduced wordage and lack of quotes after each day's play, that will no longer be the case.” This demonstrates that reports need to be substantial enough to warrant being a lead, and feedback is that 180-300 words is not enough, automatically relegating domestic cricket from a page lead. The responses received also shows the pressure the regional news industry is under. Editors are passionate about featuring domestic cricket for their market, but do not have funds to each individually pay reporters to attend games. One sports reporter who works across 4 publications states, “the reports and quotes pieces from Somerset and Western Storm matches have been an invaluable resource in us being able to offer in-depth, quote-driven coverage that you cannot get from a live stream or a scorecard.”

An unexpected benefit of the wide dissemination of trusted and detailed reports is identified by a local Commercial Radio network in the Midlands, who states that they rely heavily on the wires service for reports and quotes, and says, “from our audience research we know that including the reports we got on the professional game helped the many clubs in this region to encourage many young people into cricket when some were struggling to draw new members.”

Additional suggestions CWC received regarding solutions ranged from crowdfunding, to adding a pound to every County members’ subscription, or applying a 1% levy on players’ salaries in the Hundred to raise funds for more reporters.

One newspaper (part of Reach PLC) reports that it is exploring hiring the previous ECB Network reporter to provide bespoke coverage for them. However, those reports would only serve that particular paper, and Reach state that their preference is to be part of an ECB Network with a full quota of reporters offering a guaranteed standard of coverage, quotes and features across the media as before.

A critical analysis of the Network was received by one outlet which doesn’t use the reports (opting instead to lead with their own opinion and incident led pieces) but had feedback nonetheless. The suggestion was that the reports, written anonymously as ‘ECB Reporters Network’, leave little room for balanced analysis or opinion. It has been queried as to whether ECB Network reports could carry the name of the reporter (eg Jane Smith, ECB Reporters Network), thus increasing accountability for the quality of their work.

The Cricket Supporters Association replied to CWC to state that fans have contacted them with concerns over the quality of reporting under the new plans, concerns that the The Hundred is being prioritised in terms of coverage and marketing spend, concerns as to how the domestic game can grow if it isn’t being covered in full, and questions on the research behind the Reporters Network changes and whether fans were asked what they wanted as consumers.

CWC knows that live streams, social media platforms and individual county-produced content are extremely important platforms to inform domestic cricket’s audience – but just as important are the many and various media outlets who depend on trusted, eyewitness and independent written-word Network coverage established over the past seven years to provide context, detail and an historical record to the widest audience possible.

As explained by a leading Digital Editor:

“Given rightsholding restrictions, it is the written word which will always be the most easily accessible documentation of sport - that is a truth that is only more true in the internet age, given the prolific nature of a Google search - and that will not change, despite the obvious benefits of streams and other digital innovation to encourage more interest and participation in our game.  

CWC urges the ECB and the Counties to consider the co-funding solution put forward through this research exercise to:

1) Fund a full quota of reporters for the centralised ECB Reporters’ Network to ensure an eye-witness reporter at every domestic men’s and women’s match in the 2021 season and beyond

2) Supply users of the network with the full match reports, features and quotes they have been accustomed to receiving and wish to continue to use, as demonstrated by the breadth of responses received.

CWC would welcome being informed as to the feasibility of such a proposal.

CWC Chair Alison Mitchell, Lead Secretary Will Macpherson and the
Cricket Writers’ Club Committee