It is time again for our glance at the week gone by. But let us look forward a little as well.
Martin Emmerson, of BBC Radio Newcastle, brought me the sad news about Ian Laws, the much-admired Sunderland Echo man who died last night (Thursday). This is his own tribute, to add to the ones already published at Salut! Sunderland and elsewhere …
At high levels of the world of journalism, it used to be commonplace to find people who had started off as bright young reporters on their local newspapers before falling for the lure of Fleet Street, TV or radio and moving away in pursuit of whatever dreams they had.
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.
Rob Mason’s work as the editor or author of Sunderland-related publications is so packed with statistics that you feel he must have been good at maths at school.
Colin Randalladds his £3’s worth to the praise heading Rob’s way …
Snatches of a BBC local radio interview with Rob Mason, editor of the Sunderland matchday programme, Red & White, prompted me to dig into my pockets and stump up for the edition on sale for the Arsenal game.
I do not always buy programmes these days as I find their prices are usually on the steep side. But R&W kept me going for a good 30 minutes and I have dipped into it a couple of times since.
If I therefore feel I wasn’t robbed after all, that is in great measure due to the efforts of Rob.
As passionate a SAFC fan as you are likely to meet, Rob is also a talented and conscientious man whose hand has been evident in various SAFC-related projects. He also edits the Legion of Light and is the author of the priceless reference book Sunderland: the Complete Record – my edition stops at 2005 but has proved an invaluable source of facts and figures on countless occasions.
What I like about Rob’s editorship of the in-house publications – the programme and Legion of Light – is that he quite evidently works hard to overcome the obvious and understandable constraints to produce strong, professional works of journalism.
In a recent article at Salut! Sunderland, Echoes of the Past, I praised the skill and ingenuity of Graham Anderson and Ian Laws in presenting comprehensive and lively coverage of the club, a task that involves walking a tricky tightrope between the need to retain journalistic integrity and the need to stop doors being shut in their faces.
No one will turn to Red & White for a challenging report exposing some less than admirable aspect of club policy, for example the unjust and – as it would be if Britain had a written constitution – unconstitutional banning of supporters who may be suspected of football-related disorder but have been convicted of nothing.
But that is the role of independent media, the Sunderland Echo included. What Rob and his team do particularly well is to package bright, entertaining and often well-written material of interest to all Sunderland fans, and probably many who follow other teams too, with a sharp eye for design and contrast.
It is easy for such publications to be so obsequious that they insult readers’ intelligence; whenever I read something with which Rob is involved, I gain the impression he has taken care to avoid any such pitfall.
In the copy I bought before the Arsenal game, Doug Weatherall’s column was devoted to a tribute to the achievements and style of Arsene Wenger.
It was a good read once you got past a confusing typo in the opening paragraph, but was also a welcome reminder of my own occasional encounters with this veteran of North-eastern sports journalism. Doug was my introduction to the world of Fleet Street decades ago; as a Daily Herald football reporter, he called to speak to my father, who was secretary of Shildon AFC, to talk about a first-round FA Cup draw away to Oldham Athletic. Dad was at work so he made do with the secretary’s snotty 13-year-old son who may well have predicted a giantkilling Shildon victory.
The last time I saw Doug was 17 years ago, on the pitch at Roker Park as we both interviewed players about the then imminent FA Cup final against Liverpool. Astonishingly, he keeps pumping out the words and I was pleased to see in R&W that in a warm appraisal of the Sunderland programme, the November issue of Programme Monthly had singled out Doug’s column as a highlight of a good all-round product.
Whatever minor quarrels I have had with them in the past, Rob and his team deserve the plaudits. Perhaps they are on their way towards a third successive “Best Read in the Premier League” award.