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Roker Report's NewsWipe: A Guide To The Media Who Represent Sunderland, Pt 1

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To celebrate the re-branding of our regular roundup feature, reviewing the day’s news and airbrushing it until it is fit for the consumption of Sunderland fans, Mr Henchard brings you a potted guide to the media responsible for portraying our club to the world. Part 1: the local news outlets – TV, radio and the old fashioned print media known as ‘newspapers’. Tomorrow it’s the national big-boys.

Steve Welsh/Getty Images

Football media is a curious beast. The good old days of the sheep skin-coated hack, who could transport you to the cold and foggy night under the floodlights with a flick of his/her pen, are fading.

The grand anticipation for words has never waned, but the nature of its presentation has undergone a revolution.

In recent memory, match-day was not complete until you had queued with half a dozen like-minded souls for the first reports in the pinky-white pages of Saturday evening’s Football Echo. Nowadays football is everywhere, published 24/7 but the saturation levels are putrid.

There are still some awesome writers, presenters and authors out there. But, there’s also a plethora of crap - click-bait, egos and agendas abound. There is no such thing as unbiased content. Every outlet which broadcasts about your football club, has some agenda or sabre-rattling skeleton in its closet. Some are more blatant than others; some quietly chip away insidiously, while others wave their colours and disdain right in your face.

Let us introduce you to the bodies who bring you Sunderland news, and explain what they’re all about.

In Part One, we consider the local news outlets – TV, radio and the old fashioned print media known as ‘newspapers’. Tomorrow it’s the national big-boys.

The BBC @ Newcastle

The BBC in the north east are housed in a pink-palace on the outskirts of Newcastle that they tell everyone is affectionately known as the ‘Pink Palace’ – Doh!

‘Cept it’s not really pink anymore, and the only ones who view it with affection are those introverted Geordies who work within its walls. The Newcastle sunshine has turned it a sort of stale peach colour and it looks like a 1970s-built comprehensive school.

The proper name for the licence-fee paid broadcaster is ‘BBC North East & Cumbria’, but the moniker of the Radio Station gives the game away nicely, because the ghost of Mike Neville, the ultimate Geordie still pervades.

BBC Newcastle it most certainly is. The flagship programme – Look North, is a delicious blend of Newcastle culture, Newcastle lifestyle, Newcastle sport and Newcastle current affairs.

Fondly referred to as ‘Look North Korea’ by a section of the Sunderland faithful, it remains incapable of acknowledging Wearside, Teesside or County Durham as part of its geography. BBC Newcastle is a long way from reinventing itself as a tax-payers’ broadcaster representing the varying peoples that make up our region.

Sports news is fronted by the Newcastle-loving Dawn Thewlis who has presented football content forever and ever. Sunderland fans often put a watch on Thewlis during periods of great celebration or epic mourning on Tyneside just for the giggles of it. Think Spitting Image-does-Gabby Logan; with a fixed smile forced from years of derby defeats, Ms Thewlis is a curious caricature.

Her partner, Jeff  Brown, is reputed to have been a Sunderland fan once upon a time. Some even claim he used to enjoy a pre-match pint in the Cambridge. It’s a long time since Jeff admitted his colours for fear of being kicked all the way down Barrack Road.

BBC Radio-unashamedly-Newcastle sometimes, by decree of it being funded by the tax payer, has to transmit live Sunderland matches. Nick Barnes and Sunderland legend Gary Bennett are your hosts. Gary suffers from Saturday-cough, a cursed condition which blights him one day a week, and he can be heard most weeks ordering a half time sandwich live on air.

Mr Henchard’s Verdict: If the peoples of Wearside and County Durham had a choice over whether to fund BBC Newcastle by subscribing to it, I doubt they would bother.

The Sunderland Echo

Since 1873 The Echo has represented the town of Sunderland. A once gloriously rich representation of Wearside life, the institution has not been well cared for in its old age.

Football has always been a massive part of the Echo’s makeup. The post of sportswriter, ("Argus") was only ever held by four men from the paper’s inception until 2014 and the Football Echo was long an institution on Saturday night. The paper’s football-loving little brother, the ’Footy Echo’ sold 95,000 copies the day Sunderland won the cup in 1973.

But, with dwindling figures and influence in the years that followed, by 2016 the Echo had lost its last decent writer - Chris Young, who fled aboard the Titanic to America.

So the Echo bosses launched a desperate bid for publicity and employed a rabid Newcastle United fan in the position of SAFC reporter. The prank was breath-taking in its simplicity and audacity, ‘Liam Kennedy’ was the name given to the fall-guy and the resultant blaze of publicity was massive but it very nearly burnt down Echo Towers once and for all.

In the post-Chris Young/Liam Kennedy wake, football news appears to be shared between a few bods drafted in from elsewhere and a couple of students. Richard Mennear has recently graduated from covering Hartlepool to dabble in the world of Premier League footy. The rest may well be Liam Kennedy pseudonyms – Miles Starforth is surely a made up name as is Benjamin Park. It is surely only a matter of time before Ken Maidenly appears (work it out).

The Sunderland Echo is now printed in Sheffield, having flogged its printing presses off to the scrap man in 2012, and its offices are housed on a business park nearer Durham Cathedral than it is to the Stadium of Light.

Mr Henchard's Verdict: The Echo may have done its utmost to kill off football coverage - its last golden goose, but it occupies a unique position as the lead media outlet in the city and it has access and contacts within SAFC that make it well worthy of a glance. Just don't hold out hope of anything too enlightening.

The Evening Chronicle

The absolute definition of media-madness, The Newcastle Evening Chronicle hasn’t got a clue what to do with itself. Traditionally sold across the region beyond the boundaries of Tyneside, the Chronicle continues to liberally feature Sunderland AFC news.

It even employs a full-time reporter to cover SAFC – James Hunter. Mr Hunter appears to be a superb journalist with an eye for football and a neat turn of opinion. Probably the finest local football man working in the north east print media, James must spend every day treading a diabolical tightrope.

On the one hand, he has a job to do – to cover Sunderland, report news and provide match analysis to a standard sufficient to attract the good folk who follow all things red-and-white. On the other, his newspaper often gets its kicks pandering to the black-and-white populace by laying the boot in to SAFC and its supporters.

The problem with the Chronicle, is that it lacks the fundamental wit and humour to stimulate the rivalry between Newcastle and Sunderland in a genial fashion. So more often than not, it descends into a sneering, nasty, vindictive piece which panders to the basest reaches of the Geordie-nation.

The Chron, Kron or Chronic has a tendency to flirt with the puerile and the juvenile in its pursuit of self-gratification. Positioned somewhere just above toilet-humour, the Chronicle can be a peculiar newspaper, perhaps reflective of its Robert Maxwell inspired Trinity-Mirror roots.

It was recently forced to apologise after accusing Sunderland fans of mimicking Nazi salutes outside the Central Station. The innocents were merely replicating Fabio Borini’s derby goal celebrations and the acute disappointment the newspaper felt over the fact that the people of Wearside are not all Hitler-fanatics continues to fester inside a news team who seek retribution.

A cursory glance over recent attempts at baiting Sunderland supporters reveals a few throwaway examples of their continued hope of one day hitting the spot which will enrage Wearside:


The Others

The Northern Echo

May be the pinnacle of sports journalism for all we know, but hidden behind a paywall, the Darlington-based newspaper remains beyond our reach behind a South Durham curtain.

ITV – Formerly Tyne Tees

The ‘Tyne Tees’ moniker was largely dropped a few years back. The glory days of the 1990s, when live north east football was regularly broadcast on the channel, are long gone. Duncan Wood and Roger Thames shuffled off elsewhere.

Roger was last seen standing in for Brian Murphy on George and Mildred. Duncan Wood abandoned the north east many years ago, having been scarred for life by the dire production quality of the football shows he presented.

ITV might still feature local sports news on their evening bulletin for all we know, but Tyne Tees’ evening bulletin hasn’t been the same since it stopped being the tea-time prelude to 1980s hit-soap, Crossroads.

Tomorrow: The National Press, a warts and all expose - from Luke Edwards to Louise Taylor.