In the week that the county cricket season gets underway, PA Sport is involved in a dispute over its handling of long-time correspondents in the south of England, in one case ending more than half a century of coverage by one family of reporters.
The name Arlidge will be missing from PA’s rota of county reporters this season for the first time in more than 50 years, after Andrew Arlidge was dumped as PA’s man at Hove in favour of Kent and Sussex Sport, a company formed last winter by Mark Pennell, after he had taken redundancy from the Kent Messenger, and three partners: Mark Baldwin, Paul Weaver and Bruce Talbot.
The same quartet has also taken over from PA’s Kent, Middlesex and Surrey freelancers â€“ Andy Jalil, Stuart Weatherhead and Adam Hathaway.
Andrew Arlidge’s father, Jack, began the tradition of reporting on Sussex county games for PA back in the 1950s, his son joining him in the press box at Hove in 1977.
Even a month ago, neither Arlidge nor his three ousted colleagues had received official word of the impending change from PA’s sports editor Ashley Broadley. Eventually, long after planning their diaries for the summer and arranging their accreditation passes, they heard the grim news through an unofficial tip-off.
â€œIt’s heartbreaking and I can’t believe it’s come to this after more than 50 years,â€ said Andrew Arlidge, who last year also lost his Wisden commission to review Sussexâ€™s season to Talbot, the deputy sports editor of the Brighton Argus.
Paul Trow, a former PA sports editor and past SJA chairman who works with Weatherhead and Hathaway, received a similar call from Broadley.
â€œHe stressed the decision had nothing to do with the quality of our work. He told me that PA wasn’t immune from the financial crisis and he was under pressure from his higher-ups to cut his budget,” Trow said.
â€œI asked why, if the decision was purely financial, he hadn’t approached us about cutting our fees. But he said he couldn’t keep ‘pratting around back and forth over a few hundred quid’. I pointed out that was exactly what he’d already done.â€
For full coverage of a county’s home games throughout the 2008 season (usually at least 45 days), Trow says that PA paid just over Â£3,000. â€œIf Kent and Sussex Sport has undercut that rate,â€ Trow added, â€œthen they must be prepared to make a loss as none of them lives close to Lord’s or The Oval.
â€œAs a result of Broadley’s statement that the new agency had initially approached him, I fired off a toxic text message to Baldwin, with whom I’d worked at the PA. His reply read: ‘It was PA who made the offer to Mark [Pennell].’
â€œWhat concerns me most is that Stuart Weatherhead has lost the bulk of his projected income this summer and he only found out about it once it was too late for him to fix anything else up.
â€œI dread to think when the PA would have got round to telling us. Perhaps they wouldn’t have bothered at all and left us to squabble about it on the first day of the season.â€
Jalil agrees. â€œBroadley told me the PA wasnâ€™t obliged to inform any of us as our contracts with them automatically expired at the end of last season,â€ Jalil said.
Baldwin said that when Pennell left the Kent Messenger after 16 years of covering the county’s games, home and away, for the paper, he looked at other ways to maintain his work as a cricket reporter. “It became clear very quickly to us that PA was looking to make changes in their coverage of cricket in the south-east,” said Baldwin, the former cricket correspondent of PA.
“That’s PA’s prerogative – any employer has a right to employ who they want. It made sense for Mark to explore the options, and PA then made an offer to Kent and Sussex Sport because they wanted to deal with just one agency to cover the area.”
The new agency has already developed work with other outlets for its cricket coverage, including Cricinfo, and Baldwin said, “We will be looking as an agency to employ people to work for us on those days when we cannot cover county games.”
When contacted by sportsjournalists.co.uk, Broadley paid tribute to the reporters who had covered Kent, Middlesex, Sussex and Surrey county cricket for PA Sport over the past few years. Broadley said: “The decision to replace them is by no means a reflection of the high standard of coverage they have produced for us.
“I have to review how we cover sport with freelance journalists on a regular basis and it was decided that, purely on commercial grounds, to cover the four counties in question with another group of reporters. These changes will not affect the level of county cricket coverage provided by PA Sport.”
PA’s move on cricket follows recent cutbacks in its use of snooker stringers, opting instead for desk-based reporters in PA offices to provide much of the agency’s coverage of that sport based on the governing body’s own website.
Jalil, Arlidge, Weatherhead and Hathaway say that they intend to write a letter of complaint to the committee of the Cricket Writers’ Club, of which they and some of Kent and Sussex Sport are members.
“The SJA and the Cricket Writers’ Club are caught in the cross-fire here,” Steven Downes, the secretary of the SJA, said, “since we have members among those who used to work for PA and others involved with Kent and Sussex Sport. Our members are often in direct competition with each other for work. But now, there is much less work to go around.
“No one is entitled to keep a job or contract indefinitely. All we at the SJA can ask in all cases, not this one specifically, is that our members have their contracts fully honoured and that they are kept properly and promptly informed.”
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