Conflicted: Thoughts On the Role of the Echo

Much ire has been aimed at the Echo in recent weeks, particularly on social media, but the nature of the paper's existential realities and its ownership by Trinity Mirror put it in a Catch-22 situation.

Lyndon Lloyd 14/06/2015 31comments  |  Jump to last

As I mentioned at the start of my recent "Slumbering Giant..." series into the present and future of Everton FC, the Blue corner of cyberspace for want of a better, less twee term has been reverberating with growing discontent in recent months at the club's apparent lack of direction.

Roberto Martinez's second-season struggles coincided with a slew of anniversaries of past glories, not least the passing of 20 years since the Blues last lifted a piece of silverware, and was punctuated by CEO Robert Elstone's tacit admission that the proposed move to Walton Hall Park remains a distant and, perhaps, untenable prospect without placing a potentially damaging debt burden on the club. That has stirred renewed criticism of the Everton Board of Directors and, in the absence of direct contact with the Goodison hierarchy, many have channelled their frustration towards the Liverpool Echo of late, questioning the clear imbalance in the way the paper reports on the respective problems at the City's two clubs.

Many Evertonians took to social media last month to lambast the Echo for splashing the back-page of their first edition after the final matches of the season with claims of crisis at Anfield in the wake of the reds' 6-1 humiliation at Stoke. The defeat, another amusingly sour note on which Steven Gerrard departed the Premier League, ensured that Liverpool fell from 2nd in 2013-14 to 6th this past season and not only missed out on the lifeblood of the Champions League but also guaranteed entry to the group stages of the Europa League.

Everton, of course, suffered a similarly precipitous drop in fortunes, falling from 5th in Martinez's debut campaign to 11th this time around losing 7.47m in merit revenue in the process and earning an unwanted club first by being knocked out of both domestic cup competitions at the first hurdle. The inquest into why was, of course, less robust in the case of the Blues, prompting more and more supporters to take the paper to task over the issue.

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As infuriating as that episode was to we Blues, it reflected some uncomfortable economic realities, not least the Echo's need to focus it's football coverage on it's most lucrative topic Liverpool FC. It's painful for Evertonians to admit but Liverpool are a bigger draw than we are, both nationally and locally, and a look at the content most consumed and promoted on their website on any given day provides a stark illustration of that fact:

Recent screenshots from an Everton-related article on the Liverpool Echo's website shows how much the coverage is unmistakably and necessarily skewed towards Liverpool

As Chris Feeley explains in his latest piece for ToffeeWeb (A Mission of Disengagement), if the Echo is to avoid the demise that befell its sister paper, the Daily Post, in an increasingly treacherous environment for print publications and where click-bait is the new order for the generation of online revenue, it necessarily needs to cater to its biggest audience. (That doesn't mean there isn't scope for altering the balance of promoted content on Everton-related articles, of course how many Blues reading about the latest on John Stones are going to be "upsold" on anything penned by Michael Owen or Jamie Carragher?!)

Of course, in a twist of irony that cuts to the heart of the current disgruntlement with the paper, many of the reasons for why Liverpool continue to dwarf us in terms of profile and coverage are the very failings to really kick on at Everton that an increasingly vocal number of fans are imploring the Echo to cover and fully investigate. Citing the local media's extensive delving into Liverpool FC's boardroom crisis during the Hicks and Gillette ownership controversy on the one side of Stanley Park and sycophantic promotion of the Destination Kirkby debacle on the other, some Blues have demanded more action from the Echo in asking tougher questions of the long-silent Goodison regime.

It prompted the Evertonian arm of the paper, led by David Prentice and Greg O'Keeffe, to invite leaders of some of the fan groups and websites to an Everton Symposium at Old Hall Street last month, a sit-down with the dual aim of allowing supporters to air their grievances and for the conversation to form part of a podcast released soon thereafter. ToffeeWeb was among the invitees and had to pull out at the last minute due to personal reasons, but some of those who did attend felt betrayed by the fact that the final audio that the Echo released contained just 40 minutes of a 75-minute conversation.

A frank exchange was encouraged and the case for digging deeper into the goings on behind the scenes at Everton and the lack of movement on investment or a sale of the club was vehemently made so it was unrealistic to expect the Echo to air the meeting in full not only because of the need for journalistic balance (the podcast included two telephone interviews with supporters more sympathetic to the Board's point of view) but also because, for the same reasons behind the meeting at Echo HQ in the first place, they couldn't.

Following on from Simon Paul's equally articulate but withering analysis of the Echo's "Catch-22" for NSNO.co.uk, Chris outlines many of the reasons why: The paper's publisher, Trinity Mirror, print both Everton's matchday programme and the club's official magazine, and they also own Rippleffect, the digital agency responsible for Everton's online presence. It represents a clear conflict of interest that precludes any serious investigative journalism into the running of Everton FC by the publisher's employees. Furthermore, while the same risk presumably exists at Melwood, reporters don't want to lose access to players as a result of them penning critical pieces (there is precedence here but it was quite a few years ago), thereby starving them of the very information they need to most effectively do the bread-and-butter aspect of their job.

That's not to mention individually-held views and beliefs and the complexities inherent in covering a club you actually support without the detachment afforded by working for national media to the likes of Phil McNulty and Tony Barrett. My own personal conversations with David have revealed both the balance with which he naturally approaches matters Blue and the same caution and fear of the unknown when it comes to the ownership issue at Everton that he expounds in the podcast... and, indeed, his own writing. It's in sympathy with that dilemma and the wider context of conflicting interests under which the journalists at the Echo operate that this website will not be actively supporting any calls to boycott the paper, though we acknowledge any Evertonian's right to "vote with their feet"... or web browser, twitter feed or wallet should they feel strongly enough to do so.

Given all of the above, it's unlikely that the pressure that more and more supporters are demanding be put on the Everton Board to show forward progress or the exposé of information that they hope will spread to the "fan on the street" is going to come from the local press. Naturally, sites like ToffeeWeb exist in the vacuum of such critical coverage where it's warranted but tribalism between various supporter sites and accusations of negativity and perceived agendas has fostered scepticism between Blues and created obstacles to an individual site ever being anything as unifying or far-reaching as papers like the Echo used to be in terms of the fanbase. You sense that only matters getting significantly better or significantly worse at Goodison will bring anything close to consensus... or more coverage of the Blues in the local paper.


Addendum

In response to a couple of the early comments below, it's worth pointing out something that I meant to add to the original piece was that I don't agree with the assertion that the Echo has become irrelevant when it comes to reporting on Everton.

As really the only outlet apart from the official site that has regular access to players and club staff, they have a very obvious role to play in disseminating news on our club. That access and those relationships that they have forged and maintain at the club provide a unique context and frame much of the kind of day-to-day reportage that no fan-run operation can match.

There may be merit in querying the commercial ties that bind the paper to the club by way of its ownership, but you can't simply dismiss the Echo's importance when it comes to reporting on EFC because I believe a large vacuum would be created were it to go away.

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Reader Comments (31)

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Alan Clarke
1 Posted 14/06/2015 at 08:37:57
I don’t live locally so I don’t buy the Echo but I stopped clicking their links a long time ago.

One thing I’m worried about, having looked through twitter, is the focus is actually shifted from our inept chairman and board to the inept Echo ’journos’. That plays right into Kenwright’s hands.

The point about Trinity Mirror shows things won’t change with the Echo and their cosy relationship with the board... so all we can do is stop buying it and stop clicking their links (read ToffeeWeb instead!).

Ian Smitham
2 Posted 14/06/2015 at 09:25:34
A piece that is most interesting, thanks. The only pity is that along with Chris’s contribution, the two running alongside each other will, I fear, water down the impact they may have.

Two excellent contributions both deserve full consideration. Maybe they could be somehow made in to one?

Both have, in my opinion raised a subject that looks murky, hidden behind smoke and Mirrors (no pun intended).

I imagine the Commercial details of the arrangements are confidential, is there agreement that the paper will not criticise the club? Does this guarantee access to the club? Does this help the levels of readership of the paper and therefore its commercial viability? If so, does anyone get any sort of kick back? Does the paper pay a commercial rate for its presence in the ground? Do Everton pay a commercial rate for the work the paper does for them?

Maybe I am being a bit cynical, but these cosy looking relationships look like the share ownership issue that raises its head on here so frequently. Maybe the paper could look into that one and publish its findings...

Phil Walling
3 Posted 14/06/2015 at 11:32:05
Were Trinity to give up or lose their contract to publish Everton’s programme and magazine, I suggest it would precipitate the redundancy of several of their journalistic staff at least. The cosy arrangement thus protects both parties. Elstone has them in the Club’s pocket whilst the Echo has the additional income stream to avoid further cut-backs.

Of course the situation provokes allegations of pro-club bias and spits in the face of journalistic integrity but how many businesses choose integrity over expediency these days?

Ged Simpson
4 Posted 14/06/2015 at 13:29:57
As a trained journo but no longer "practicing", the sadness is this:

"Furthermore, while the same risk presumably exists at Melwood, reporters don’t want to lose access to players as a result of them penning critical pieces."

There lies the paucity of all journalism these days.

Gareth Fieldstead
5 Posted 14/06/2015 at 17:08:47
I stopped buying the paper regularly after Royle left. I just think the way the paper hung him out to dry and allowed McNulty to insult him at every opportunity was a disgrace. They would never have attempted to undermine a Liverpool manager like that.

I rang the paper on the Monday after the Tranmere debacle, demanding to know why there was not the same headlines that was regularly aimed at Royle for Smith.

I accused them then that they were desperate not to fall out with Kenwright. It has not been any different for the last 15 years. Regular readers would be able to remind me of an article that has questioned the direction this club has gone since Bill took over.

Christine Foster
6 Posted 14/06/2015 at 17:19:54
Lyndon, there are commercial self interests at work as you rightly indicate, certainly with several contractual agreements in place. The result being one of "You scratch my back and I won’t shake the boat!"

But seriously, what do we really expect? Commercial pragmatism at work. The days of investigative journalism in provincial newspapers doesn’t exist in my view.

What we are left with is no voice, no means of applying pressure and no way of determining the truth. One might add it’s a disease of capitalism where the only objective is money, not truth.

Whilst ToffeeWeb and it’s ilk are important, they are also toothless as unless it can point and verify truth, there will always be doubt. It’s not meant as a criticism; it’s reality. Without some way of holding the club accountable or applying pressure, then the situation will not change.

As much as The Blue Union and ToffeeWeb were criticised for the pressure on the board, it did more to change and pressure for truth. Sadly it wasn’t enough and wasn’t followed through. The club weathered the storm and it’s business as usual.

I am more surprised none of the nationals don’t pick up the baton and dig but frankly who outside of Merseyside cares?

Derek Thomas
7 Posted 14/06/2015 at 22:38:40
’The Echo’; newsprint is a deadman walking, they just haven’t woken up to the fact and will go the way of blacksmiths and bus conductors via Digital Distribution.

The ’News’ was just printed to get you to buy the Ads... Cars, Houses, Jobs.

Even the time honoured secondary uses (recycling before it was fashionable), the fish-and-chip wrapper, and hung on a nail at the bottom of the yard have gone. Although, due to the RS bias, the bog paper option is still the best use of it.

Though I would be sorry for those who lost jobs and income if it shut down. If I never saw, read or God forbid, ever bought one... ever, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid.

Dick Fearon
8 Posted 14/06/2015 at 22:52:00
Lyndon,

Myself and probably many more do not decry the importance of the Echo’s Everton news etc. We are though angry at its connivance with the powers that be at the club. We are more and more infuriated at its all-too-obvious attempt at sweeping under the carpet anything that might in the tiniest way be embarrassing to the club’s heirarchy.

Regardless of financial links with the club, reporters should not be obliged to toe the official line. To do so would be a clear break of journalistic integrity.

I almost choke on my porridge whenever Martinez is allowed to spout the most ridiculous fatuous stories to the Echo and not be taken to task. Whatever happened to ’Publish and be Damned’???

Martin Mason
10 Posted 15/06/2015 at 16:40:53
Very interesting but I see no solid evidence of its connivance with the powers that be at the club or its all-too-obvious attempt at sweeping under the carpet anything that might in the tiniest way be embarrassing to the club’s heirarchy. These aren’t facts, they’re opinions based on a completely legal business relationship which exists between owners. To be fair, if I were the owner of the Echo I think I’d be expected to have the paper biased towards the RS and on any interesting goings on in the boardroom of the club especially given the franchise nature of the club. I’d hazard a guess that the majority of Echo buyers are RS fans?
What’s interesting about Everton to write about? A mid table club in a period of managed decline. What the Echo should write about is that Liverpool are also joining that group of clubs to inject a bit of reality to a group of fans whose expectation of success is orders of magnitude more outrageous than ours.

I’d guess that the Echo paper will continue a natural and expected decline to closure whatever we fans do about it.

Eugene Ruane
11 Posted 15/06/2015 at 18:14:01
The paper is a comic - ’journalism’ by numbers trash.

Seriously, it could be knocked together in an hour by an intelligent (but scruples-free) ape.

In fact should you miss your copy, here is every copy ever (more or less)

"DRUGS SOLD TO UNDERCOVER COP IN STING"

(picture of what appears to be a cadaver)

"Tommy Pitiful-Adikt of Tuebrook was today sent to jail for 2 years for attempting to sell cannabis to police officers in an undercover sting operation. Pitiful-Adikt, 32, who has no teeth and looks like a 12 year-old consumptive but with the head of an 90 year-old, said "I sincerely regret what I done." He has 14,987 previous convictions.

"COWARDLY ATTACK ON CITY STUDENTS"

(cctv still of blurred shaven heads and...no can’t make it out)

"A fun night out for student Toby Toffington ended in terror as he was attacked by four of those lads - you know the sort - those trackie-wearing feral shit-houses with their heads shaved down to the wood. Anyway..er..it was awful and we’re sure you can fill the rest in yourselves"

- SPORT -

"BAINES SAYS SOMETHING OR OTHER - ALTHOUGH WHEN YOU READ IT, IT’S NOTHING REALLY"

(pic of Baines)

"Everton’s Leighton Baines is looking forward to something probably. When we pushed him for anything we could fill this space with, he said "Er..yeah..whatever, look just put what youze like"

’REDS STILL A BIG TEAM’ INSISTS REGIONAL NEWSPAPER.

(pic of former reds side parading league title on an open-topped penny-farthing)

"Despite Liverpool not being a big team anymore, or the fact that flared kecks have been in and out of fashion a staggering 11 times since they last won the league, a regional newspaper is maintaining ’they’re still big’ - PLUS read the full story of Stevie G’s rise from Huyton council est....zzzZZZZZZ"

(why not add your comment to the other million made by knobhead kopites from Ormskirk).

And there you are, The Echo

Add a few T.J’s sale ads and Robert’s your mother’s bother.

Peasy!

Dick Fearon
12 Posted 15/06/2015 at 19:38:20
Martin, just a few recent examples of connivance and under-the-carpet stuff.

Gung Ho for destination Kirkby. A public enquiry tore ruddy great holes in that shonky plan. At a time when most other clubs received substantial financial input from their owners we found that other than the cost of shares BK nor any member of his board while basking in public acclaim had not contributed a single penny.

Another Gotcha moment came when early bird ticket sales closed our CEO let the cat out of the bag by pricking the WHP bubble. Without any kind of genuine criticism from supposedly knowledgeable reporters, Martinez was allowed to deliver an unending supply of utter bullshit.

Where was the Echo’s investigative reportage when Kings Dock fell over. Many years later, Joe public knows the full story of that debacle.
Year on year, usually around the time of ticket sales, the Echo and the club are complicit in ticket boosting tales of which few turn out to be true.

Martin, do you need more facts?

Dick Fearon
13 Posted 15/06/2015 at 20:26:22
Martin, appropo where I mentioned the KD debacle.

it should have read "Joe public knows LESS about that particular steaming turgid mess" simply because those powers that be still keep us in the dark.

Steavey Buckley
14 Posted 15/06/2015 at 23:09:13
London has two major newspapers for the capital, the Metro (morning) and Evening Standard, both are given away free mainly at underground tube stations. Their revenues are generated by advertisement. It’s a pity that the Daily Post and Liverpool Echo did not follow suit.
Andy Meighan
15 Posted 16/06/2015 at 11:59:03
Eugene, spot on. It’s been like that since the first consignment of brown arrived in the city. Seriously though I’ve always found the Echo patronising towards us; it’s like we are an inconvenience to them. And I personally don’t know many Evertonians who buy the rag now...

Maybe the rise of the internet has seen that off. I know I haven’t bought it for many years and I’d say only old school Blues of 60+ buy it now. It’s the same old shite and if you want to read tomorrow’s copy, read Eugene’s post.

Mike Powell
16 Posted 16/06/2015 at 20:42:03
I’ve not bought the Echo for about three years. I used to get it every night. The Echo is supposed to be neutral to both Reds and Blues but, as we all know, it is far from it. All my mates call it the Red Echo.
Lee Mandaracas
17 Posted 17/06/2015 at 10:51:43
Lyndon

The irony in your screen-grab contained in your article is that we have, to a large extent, caused that scenario. Our understandable frustration with their blatant bias (mine included as much as anyone’s) has resulted in reduced ’Blue’ traffic. That means we have contributed to the decline in interest in stories about our club. So the more we ’vote with our feet’ as you put it the more we contribute to the decline in interest and perception that we are ever-smaller than them. #nowinscenario

Chris Regan
19 Posted 17/06/2015 at 12:43:59
Commercial relationships aside, it is the general weighting of reports in favour of Liverpool that annoys me. For instance when referring to both clubs LFC are listed first then Everton. The grammatical convention is to list such entities alphabetically. There is no other grammatical convention (I am aware of) in the English language to put LFC before Everton. Then we have the dismissive comments from LFC journalists towards Everton after each derby. That really annoys me.

I have been surprised over the last few weeks to see this outpouring of discontent towards the Echo. I thought it was only me who got annoyed and that I was just over reacting. I only read the Echo online and even then I’m glad I haven’t purchased it. I also stopped going the match 2004-05 due to my discontent with the Board.

It seems like they have structured their commercial media relationships very defensively.

I wonder if there is a similar link between any of our board and our other commercial deals? Green & KitBag? StubHub & Earl? May be I am wrong?

Probably, but I suspect another Blue will know more than me and I am just over-reacting again.

Chris Regan
20 Posted 17/06/2015 at 12:57:14
Martin Mason (10). You could be right and we’re all just paranoid, but the Echo does grate with me in their patronising tone and I agree with your ’managed decline’ statement. I have felt that we are a zombie-club for a long time.

I think the focus on the Echo is more of a last resort as too many people are dissatisfied with the apparent apathy the club displays with regard to getting back to winning trophies.

Chris Leyland
21 Posted 17/06/2015 at 13:02:11
Chris Regan, I agree with you. I sometimes listen to Radio City Talk on the radio on my way to work. They always say ’Liverpool and Everton’ or ’red and blue’ and always in that order on everything and it annoys the hell out of me to the extent that I switch over when ever they do it. There is no way to explain this other than ingrained institutional bias.
Chris Regan
22 Posted 17/06/2015 at 13:20:19
Chris (#21), So I am not the only one! Thank god for that.

You’re right, TalkSport and Radio City do it and it annoys me as well.

Especially when Graham Sharpe is on. He never says anything about it. (Although he also has another job at Everton so probably helps keep Radio City ’in the know’ or ’inline’ with Everton depending on your outlook.)

And that Fat Ex-Red (Quinn), on TalkSport, loves having a dig at us. Being fair, though, TalkSport could be called Talk-utterbollocks.

Dave Abrahams
23 Posted 17/06/2015 at 13:59:42
Derek (7) but if the Echo goes, what about the "Death Column"!!!!!!
Ste Traverse
25 Posted 17/06/2015 at 20:12:11
Chris Regan #22

Graeme Sharp... don’t get me started on that brown nose. Cut me off for slagging off Kenwright and the Board back in 2008 when he hosted the legends phone-in on Century FM. Heard him dismiss many other Blues’ similar criticisms over the years.

He shouldn’t work in the media and for the club, imo.

As for the Echo, I don’t often buy it, seldom visit their Everton messageboard these days and I’m not even arsed about their obvious LFC bias. It’s the easy ride the likes of Prentice, O’Keefe etc have given Kenwright over the years.

It sums up what they think about us when for years we had to put up with a dyed-in-the-wool red like Dominic King as the Everton correspondent. Someone who did nothing but patronise and put down blues fans, and fed us ridiculous club spin.

Ged Simpson
26 Posted 17/06/2015 at 20:59:03
Ste – he works for the club. Of course he did that.
Chris Regan
27 Posted 17/06/2015 at 20:58:09
Ste #25, Sharpie has no idea how to debate with people, he reminds of when Radio City had Hatton for a season doing the co-commentary. Anyone who had or has an alternate opinion is/was shouted down. Technically, as a listener, you’re their customer and a customer of the club. And they don’t understand why you walk away with your cash.

And Dominic King is a terrible hack imo. His lazy style of reporting never seems to reflect the mood of the fans or the tempo of a game. Unless we get beat.

Tony Abrahams
28 Posted 17/06/2015 at 21:12:48
I remember Sharp on Century FM, when this Red rang up going on about players not being tired when they are winning. He agreed with the caller, even though I thought it was a load of shite.

He was at an Everton dinner the following week, so I asked him why he thought we lost to Man Utd in the 85 FA Cup final?

"We was knackered," he said.

"Why didn’t you say that, to that red cunt last week then?" I asked.

Martin Mason, you said we was a very well run club the other week, but now we’re in a period of managed decline???

You can’t have it both ways!

Jim Jennings
29 Posted 18/06/2015 at 09:12:46
"What's interesting about Everton to write about? A mid-table club in a period of managed decline."

Therein lies your answer...

Andrew Ellams
30 Posted 18/06/2015 at 09:24:22
Everton’s situation should be irrelevant to a local paper. Everton supporters cover a huge portion of the paper’s fanbase and they should be featured in equal measure. If they see the club in decline then they should be asking why that is, as has been mentioned on these threads many times.

For some reason, the RS are the darling of the nation, in fact I have even read today that people are threatening to boycott the latest version of the FIFA video game series because Jordan Henderson could be the face on the cover.

Phil Bellis
31 Posted 18/06/2015 at 09:35:13
Spot on Jim (29)
That one whooshed over Martin’s head
Ray Roche
32 Posted 18/06/2015 at 10:38:27
I fairly regularly look at the "NewsNow" website for things about EFC. Whenever I click on an Everton story from the Echo, all the tagged stories in the Echo’s "Recommended in Sport" section are about the RedShite. So I thought I’d do the opposite, look at the LFC section on NewsNow and then at the "Recommended in Sport" bit. Funny, they were all about the RedShite, too.
Tony J Williams
33 Posted 18/06/2015 at 12:14:45
The last time I bought that shit rag, it was pink and we had just beaten the RedShite.

Wouldn’t pay a penny for it now, even the Litherland Champion has better investigative stories in in now.

Harold Matthews
34 Posted 21/06/2015 at 17:37:07
I’ve only ever bought the Echo for the next day’s racecards which I tear out and chuck the rest away.

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