Cricket Writers’ Club release open letter in appeal to ECB to re-think jobs cull

The Cricket Writers’ Club have appealed to the ECB to rethink cost-saving plans which would slash county cricket coverage and involve a mass cull of their Reporters’ Network.

In an open letter, released today, the CWC warn that the decision to reduce the workforce from 18 to six in the County Championship, as well as halving the number of reporters covering the women’s eight teams from four to two, would have a devastating effect.

Chair: Alison Mitchell

To make their point, they have put together an in-depth analysis of how these cuts will impact coverage.

The Reporters’ Network, set up in 2014 with the help of the CWC, provides written-word match reports and features, which are read by supporters in their local and regional newspapers, websites and digital/non-digital magazines including The Cricketer, Wisden Cricket Monthly and Cricinfo.

Now those 18 freelance cricket writers will have to re-apply for six jobs – at £80 a day with no expenses for food, travel, or accommodation. The successful applicants will be asked to cover two matches at once.

The CWC fears that remotely-provided reports means a risk of missing detailing and context, that there will be inaccuracies. The ECB’s budget in 2019 – pre-pandemic – was £89,000. The new proposals will cost £40,000.

The letter is signed by chair Alison Mitchell, lead secretary Will Macpherson and the Cricket Writers’ Club Committee and is re-printed here in full.

11th March 2021

The Cricket Writers’ Club is deeply concerned about cuts to the ECB Reporters’ Network, which will see local, regional and national media outlets lose significant provision of domestic men’s and women’s cricket coverage across digital and non-digital platforms in 2021.

CWC believes an estimated 70% reduction in coverage and a requirement for reporters to cover matches remotely will severely impact the integrity of the reportage, the visibility of domestic cricket outside of the Hundred, and diminish the profile of players and clubs to their supporter base and commercial partners.

In the absence of further direct funding from ECB, CWC sees an urgent need for the game to collaborate to find a way to fund a full quota of reporters. ECB are willing to listen, even as the start of the season approaches, and so we urge users and beneficiaries of the Network to speak up if you share these concerns about the changes, and to consider how a solution can be achieved.

The Reporters’ Network is the body of journalists engaged by ECB to provide the written-word match reports and features, which are read by supporters in their local and regional newspapers, websites and digital/non-digital magazines including The Cricketer, Wisden Cricket Monthly and Cricinfo. Material is provided as a wires-style service, and is additionally distributed nationally into newsrooms via the Press Association (PA). PA subscribers include the BBC and Sky Sports, with the service informing radio, television and online coverage. Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack also relies heavily on the presences of Network reporters to supply copy for around 400 pages of the book each year.

The Reporters’ Network was set up in 2014 with the help of CWC to ensure the domestic game received written coverage at a time when media organisations were cutting jobs, PA ceased sending reporters to domestic matches and some press boxes threatened to be empty.

Since then, ECB Network reports have provided coverage to over 200 media outlets, ensuring the domestic game has remained visible across mediums, maintained connections with supporters, ensured players’ feats are recorded for history, and ensured the integrity and accuracy of eye-witness, neutral reportage. It is an essential resource. Additionally, the presence of an accredited journalist at every game was a chief concern of the ECB with regard to anti-corruption security, as the reporter was an invaluable set of eyes and ears.

In 2021, rather than a roster of 18 reporters, only 6 will be engaged to cover all 18 First Class Counties in the LV= County Championship and Royal London One-Day Cup, and whilst 2 dedicated reporters will be engaged to cover the 8 teams in the Rachael Heyhoe Flint Trophy and Women’s Regional T20, these reporters won’t be able to cover every match in person, as was the case when the Network covered the KSL. Reporters on all competitions will often be required to report on two matches at once, one of them remotely, using a mix of live streams, video highlights, scorecards and contacts with county communication teams to cover the match they are not attending. The wordage is being severely cut (see accompanying document), meaning minimal details will be reported and recorded. Network coverage of The Blast and the Hundred is yet to be confirmed, but whilst we understand there is an intention to fund a reporter at every Blast match, wordage of match reports is expected to be similarly reduced.

CWC fully understands, and is sympathetic to, the massive financial challenges faced by the ECB due to the Covid-19 pandemic. We are aware of the significant investments being made in the Hundred, opportunities for new talent via the Hundred Rising initiative, investment in live streaming, social media content and digital clips, which will make immediate action more accessible than ever. However, this needs augmenting by the written word, which provides the detail, the context, and the permanent historical record of the game and those who play it. The Club seeks not to interfere with the administration of the game, but our constitution mandates that CWC – now in its 75th year – should work for cricket’s best interests.

CWC understands some Counties are considering engaging their own reporter to fill in gaps in eye-witness coverage, but it is unclear whether these reports will be provided Network-wide. Moreover, after now learning the full detail of the cuts to the wordage, we urge ECB to re-think the strategy to provide the detailed coverage that outlets have been accustomed to receiving from reporters on the ground.

It is of great regret that the ECB did not communicate with CWC prior to deciding this Reporters’ Network restructure, given the role CWC and members have played in it and our desire to help find solutions. ECB has informed CWC that the decision to reduce output is based on a consultation with users of the Network and feedback was that content provided previously was too long, particularly for online outlets. CWC has not been shown the specifics of this research but the club has spoken to several media outlets who say they weren’t consulted and maintain they would still prefer to receive full match reports and features, in the absence of being able to afford to send their own individual reporters.

We urge all recipients of this letter to consider closely how the reality of these upcoming cuts in wordage, content, and method of reportage will affect you. If you are concerned by these changes, please make it known, and consider how the situation can be improved for all.

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