When will Winter, Holt, Cross and co. decide enough is enough and create their own digital publishing network?

31st January 2017 by George Cullen

There is no denying that print journalism is in decline. The Sun has lost 400,000 readers in two and half years, the rest of the industry has shown similar decline apart from The Times who have bucked the trend increasing their readership by 60,000 (thanks to a very slick multiple device digital product).

With more and more consumers picking up free-sheets like the Metro and the Evening Standard, my millennial brothers and sisters now believe they have a right to free media. We can certainly discuss the so-called decline of quality journalism but the simple fact is that with 24/7 news, millennials want news in video and 140 characters.

Advertising revenue has also plummeted with traditional media, while digital and mobile has increased astronomically. In 2015, national newspapers reported an 11% (£120 million) decrease in ad spend – while mobile advertising rose by a whopping 66%. With the closure of Coach Magazine after 13 months, will anyone launch another print title?

Despite the decline of the newspaper, print football journalists are still amongst the most respected voices in football, this sentiment is still shared by other areas of the media as we see with shows like The Sunday Supplement on Sky and regular guest spots on 5 Live and talkSPORT.

As someone that consumes football news through Twitter, I will always look to see what Henry Winter has had to say on a subject. I’m not alone as 1.2 million other fans also do the same. Fans want to hear genuine insight from the likes of Henry, John Cross and Oliver Holt, that’s why the three mentioend have a combined Twitter following of almost two million football fans.

I’d love to spend five mins analysing the Twitter analytics of Henry, John and Ollie’s accounts to understand their engagement rates and exactly how much traffic they drive to their employers. It will certainly be more than the official newspaper accounts when Oliver Holt has over 100k more followers than Mail Sport on Twitter.

What’s also important here is that these social communities are the IP of the journalist and not their employer. When Henry left the Daily Telegraph to join The Times, it took Henry all of five seconds to edit his bio and insert The Times handle. Would he have lost some loyal Telegraph followers? Probably, did he care? I doubt it.

Why don’t the Twitter big-hitters ditch their print jobs, join forces and create a breakaway sports news website? With all that social engagement driving traffic to a new independent publisher – could this be the future of journalism?

JOE.co.uk are the prime example of what I believe to be an interesting trend. Formed 18 months ago (The Times has been in circulation since 1785), the digital publisher prized Tony Barrett from The Times to join their millennial revolution. Dean Jones said goodbye to The Sunday Mirror and sought pastures new at Bleacher Report.

The tides are changing and I can only see more of the same happening over the next year or two. I took a look at who the biggest Twitter influencer is at each newspaper, and if you combine the following of the top hack at each title, it gives you a reach of over 3 million – which would put any start-up well on their way.

I believe there is a real opportunity here for the tier one ‘media galacticos’ to disrupt the industry and set a precedent for the future of sports journalism. After speaking to one industry legend, I was informed that this topic was floated a couple of years ago but didn’t gather any momentum. Is it now the time for Clifford French to play ‘Zizou’ to your galacticos?