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RR's NewsWipe; The National Press, Is This The Reason SAFC Get A Hard Time?

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 guide to the media responsible for portraying our club to the world. Part two: The national press, and is the very reason for their stance on SAFC simpler than you think?

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Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

A Riddle for you:

Q. What do you get if you cross the Newcastle Evening Chronicle with the Daily Mail?

A. Let’s find out….

Yesterday, in Part 1 we took a detailed look at the local media who portray Sunderland AFC and its supporters; and in truth, the findings were not pleasant.

It was former Sunderland Echo 'Argus', Graeme Anderson who recently commented on the issues faced by us sharing the same airwaves as Newcastle United. Sadly, the issue runs deep. The term 'magedia' is one used to summarise a certain perceived paranoia among Sunderland fans about the black-and-white leaning in many media outlets; but, as with most jocular terms, there is an evidential grain of truth to it.

Anyway, the national press - An absolute hotchpotch of the crazy, the brilliant and the down-right insidious, you would be forgiven for expecting a certain standard of writing, if nothing else, amongst Britain’s daily newspapers.

You may also expect that huge million-selling publications would be above the regional, local and partisan rivalries and prejudices that dog football in Tyne & Wear. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

The Telegraph

Luke Edwards is the North East football correspondent for the Telegraph, and something has gone horribly awry with this one. Like referees who claim to support some non-descript club that no one really follows, Edwards boasts that he is a Leyton Orient fan. Presumably he believes not having any proper footballing allegiance will excuse his obvious prejudices regarding just about everything else (just kidding O's fans).

Luke Edwards’s newspaper persona appears to vehemently believe it is better educated, better raised, better placed, better looking and better at being better than every single person who manages, plays or follows football in the North East of England. Our region is terribly beneath his persona, and his work seethes with a contempt which is bordering on an alert of grave concern. Edwards has a thing about the ‘working classes’ with subtle hints of a puritanical, Victorian belief system lurking beneath his prose.

Edwards has a long history of perceived slights against Sunderland and Sunderland fans. There is theme you will see develop throughout here – Luke used to work for the Newcastle Journal. A background in the Groat Market and a style honed at the Telegraph are a curious mix.

It was he who was forced into an apology and a charitable donation for bizarrely claiming a certain Adam Johnson celebrated a derby-winner by mocking the MH17 tragedy. It wasn’t so much Edward's words, more the context - which added an additional layer of poison in an already-explosive situation.

He had a strange meltdown during the summer dishing out stick to ‘customers’ on social media, and he was most recently seen backing a potential bed-fellow in Liam Kennedy, before realising he hadn’t furnished himself with the full facts of that story and deleting all trace of his comments.

Edwards remains tarnished by a twisted chip on both shoulders, the origins of which no one can quite trace. For a North East football correspondent, who isn’t from the North East and who should be way beyond tribalism by virtue of his position, he seethes with something quite strange when it comes to SAFC, and more precisely – its fans.

Mr Henchard’s verdict: Best avoided. Why a national newspaper believes a North East football correspondent, who slates half the North East, is a good way to sell newspapers is way beyond comprehension.

The Daily Mail

A sort of Luke Edwards-lite, Craig Hope is as exactly how the Daily Mail likes it, a preaching moral high ground that pervades all material. Mr Hope is a native of the North East and a former reporter for the Evening Chronicle, so he struggles to conceptualise the world in the same manner you or I would.

A Newcastle fan, he has gone berserk since his beloved Toon were relegated and has ramped up his scathing Mail-esque rhetoric, criticising Sunderland whenever possible.

Craig Hope did an interview with Roker Report last year and it was littered with digs at Sunderland, before he concluded with a neat summation of his perception of the role of media in the region, and a frank admission about his lack of knowledge around North East football:
"NUFC are more appealing to London-based sports desks because of the history of the club..."
Astonishing. You do not need me to summarise the histories of Sunderland and Newcastle to rip such a statement to bits.

Hope clearly enjoys stirring the pot though, and as a result he is regarded with equal suspicion by Sunderland and Newcastle fans. It was Craig Hope who Steve McClaren kicked off with last season and Newcastle fanzine, The Mag, summed him up nicely earlier this year.

There is very little content in the Daily Mail which can be taken at face value and sadly the same is true of Hope’s contribution to it.

Mr Henchard’s verdict: Take with a whopping pinch of salt, deconstruct the snide-filled Daily Mail rhetoric and he's little more than a wind-up-merchant.

The Guardian – Louise Taylor

Everyone likes Louise. She is unique amongst the male-dominated egotistical vindictive world of North East football media because she appears to possess the valued characteristics of intellect, empathy and an innate understanding for the region.

Louise Taylor also happens to be a Sunderland fan which, of course, helps. She has been a part of North East football for ages and first took in a game at Roker Park in 1973. Her first break was getting an article published in the Observer about life as a Sunderland supporter and she cut her teeth for Match magazine and the Times.

Louise Taylor has a certain sharpness in her writing and has never been afraid to take the club or its long list of failed managers to task. She was particularly devastating in her estimation of Steve Bruce once the oaf had exited the Stadium of Light.

Sometimes wiser after the event than she originally deserved credit for, Louise Taylor has, on occasion, given more slack than was polite to risible elements of Sunderland’s recent history - Steven Fletcher and James McClean are two that spring to mind who received glowing tributes way beyond their abilities or character.

Mr Henchard’s verdict: Louise Taylor is a good read - grounded and with a sharp opinion; she has been pretty close to Sunderland for many years and retains a skilled watching-brief over the Stadium of Light.

The Times – George Caulkin

Unashamedly a Newcastle supporter, George Caulkin is arguably the finest current writer covering North East football. Caulkin has a warmth to his prose and a keen humour to his observations. Generally pretty fair in his coverage of Sunderland, only occasionally does his mask slip to reveal a black-and-white leaning.

Caulkin has covered North East football since 1998 and produced some great stuff about Sunderland’s recent history. His article last season featuring Sam Allardyce and George Forster, chairman of the Supporters Association, was a wonderfully warm hearted affair; and his coverage of the 2014 trip to Wembley was a joy to behold. You really should have a read of this if you have Sunderland at your heart.

He had Gus Poyet’s tenure at Sunderland completely sussed and he eked out every strength and every flaw in the Uruguayan’s character with consummate ease. Admittedly he failed to grasp the mood on Wearside when Steve Bruce was removed. Caulkin fell too easily into the default ‘because he’s a Geordie’ hook that everyone wanted to fixate on because it was convenient.

Mr Henchard's Verdict: 'Gorgeous George' is well thought of amongst Sunderland fans, which is all you need to know considering his Newcastle background. It is perhaps a shame he has been 'promoted' to covering all of northern football of late; and of course the Times is hidden behind a paywall.

The Tabloids

If the above are the stand-out crowd for both good and bad reasons, the tabloid correspondents are generally not even worth the bother of us commenting on.

Simon Bird of the Mirror is routinely appalling and as the ‘official media partner’ of Newcastle United, he hasn’t written much in the way of 'intelligent' in his putrid musings. Also formerly of The Chronicle, occasionally he has produced some reasonable critiques of our long list of failed personnel, but throw enough misery at Sunderland and usually some of it rings true.

He wrote an open letter to Gus Poyet once, which was one of the most embarrassing things ever seen in a national newspaper. Joe Kinnear once delivered the most accurate assessment of him, by openly calling him out as a c***.

As for the rest: The Sun – doesn’t even register on our radar. The Star – snap.

The Conclusion

There is a theme here, and it is curious that the more obnoxious elements of the national press, who report on Sunderland, have a certain grounding in that enormous mess that is The Newcastle Evening Chronicle and Journal.

Imagine then, a schooling in the Geordie-propaganda machine of those two titles, and mix it with the prejudicial rhetoric of the Daily Mail or the Telegraph; a heady cocktail of righteous froth, completely devoid of balance, objectivity or inclusivity.

The illegitimate love-child of the Daily Mail and the Evening Chronicle - Craig Hope; or his step-sibling Luke Edwards - parentage the Telegraph and the Journal.

The other factor which sadly leads to the cacophony of crap press that blights Sunderland is, of course, our own doing. Currently the go-to piece for 'club in crisis' stories, the media have developed a hard-to-break habit of filling idle column inches with tales of Sunderland woe. The annual stagnation in the bottom three, constant managerial turmoil and an occasional miracle tale of survival against-the-odds is now an annual routine for pressmen.

Also, Sunderland's management of the media has been lacking for decades, stretching back through the Murray and Cowie years. If The Niall Quinn-era enabled some respite, SAFC have reverted back to its innate introversion in recent years. Indeed, the club-in-crisis repeatedly retreats within itself and pretends the wider world does not exist.

And, as we have seen - there are plenty who need little excuse to get a dig in.