The Sunderland Echo, as I have argued before, has to walk a precarious tightrope. It must please the fans while not displeasing, too much, Sunderland AFC, and no one should underestimate how easy it would be to fall from either side of the rope.
Because of the sheer amount of material about the club – not just match reports but interviews, features and more besides – that the newspaper wishes, and is expected, to provide, it relies heavily on the goodwill of the club.
Whether or not football clubs fully realise it, the benefits run both ways. This is especially true in Sunderland where to their great credit, the publishers of the Echo maintain what has been lost from almost all other towns and cities, a Football Pink. I see most editions and it is hard to believe the content does not generate more interest in, and therefore revenue for, SAFC.
In order to provide adequate coverage, local newspapers require their clubs’ assistance in ensuring a much greater level of access and cooperation than most other media outlets could ever expect. The clubs, in return, expect anything from healthy respect to obsequious acquiescence.
I have no direct knowledge of how the balance works between the Echo and SAFC. But I do feel that Graeme Anderson and Ian Laws fulfill with some honour the duty of honesty and independence they owe to readers, even if their writing sometimes reveals the restraint that is the other part of the equation. Graeme has addressed these matters in a past article in which he described relations with an especially difficult former manager (I honestly forget which one).
Fanzines, independent websites and blogs have no need to observe such niceties. By and large, they have no access to lose, no favours to return. That is certainly the case in so far as Salut! Sunderland is concerned, and it is perhaps right that it should be so.
Graeme and Ian have a trickier brief, and handle it well.
So today we offer congratulations to Ian, who is leaving the paper’s sports team to take on a new role as online editor. Since it sounds like promotion, the plaudits are well merited.
I do not know Ian well. We first met several years ago at a match in Norwich, when he was a news reporter on the Echo but otherwise just a fan of the club. It must be a great second best, if you cannot actually play for the club you support, to write about it day after day. That is the role that a little while after our meeting fell to Ian.
Now he’s back to being a supporter. Bravo Ian. But as you suggest in your farewell piece in the Pink, you must mind your language now that you can once again be as loud as you want in saying what you think.