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ECB cuts set to impact county coverage

Reporters Network service will be stripped back due to Covid-19's financial hit

George Dobell
George Dobell
Jason Kerr and Jack Brooks in an end-of-play virtual press conference at Taunton  •  Getty Images

Jason Kerr and Jack Brooks in an end-of-play virtual press conference at Taunton  •  Getty Images

The coverage of county cricket looks set to be hit as a result of cost-cutting at the ECB.
Over recent seasons, the ECB has paid for journalists at each of the first-class counties to produce agency-style, impartial reports which are then provided free-of-charge to other media outlets. The system, named the Reporters Network, was set up to counter the reduction of coverage in newspapers at local and national level and ensure the sport retained some visibility.
The reports are used by, among others, ESPNcricinfo, the PA news agency, the BBC and a host of regional publications. Up to 20 journalists have been involved in writing them.
However, the ECB have now announced the decision to cut the number of reporters contracted to just six. And while they insist that every game of men's and women's cricket will still be covered, it is clear that journalists will no longer be expected to attend all of the games on which they report. Instead, they will be expected to monitor the live feed of some matches.
The ECB also believe the development of better live streams has reduced the demand for traditional match reports. They claim analysis of reading patterns suggests much shorter reports will better serve modern demands.
"It has been clear through this process that the consumption of domestic cricket content is changing, especially following the advent of live streaming and video highlights, and that a necessary evolution is required for our written content," Kate Miller, the ECB's director of communications, wrote in an email to those involved in the Reporters Network.
"The financial situation has demanded that the service must be leaner and more efficient but also, following feedback from those who use the service, it is apparent that we need to change the way our service operates."
The ECB has recently announced more than 60 redundancies as a reaction to the financial challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. They estimate the virus has cost them £106m in 2020 with the prospect of further losses to come if crowds are unable to return to games in 2021.
Another ECB spokesperson admitted the cuts were "not what we want" but insisted they "are necessary as ECB embarks on significant cost cutting in order to try and withstand the financial impact the global pandemic has had".
While it was never an especially healthy reflection of the domestic game that the governing body felt the need to provide coverage - it raised questions about independence, among other things - it is a greater concern that even that governing body is now cutting that coverage.
It might also be noted that matches in the Hundred will not be impacted by these cuts, which will do nothing to dispel the perception that the ECB is prioritising that competition at the expense of traditional existing domestic tournaments. The Hundred retains a separate budget.
"We are cognisant of the difficulty the ECB faces in trying to maintain a valuable written content service, whilst needing to now cut its own costs," Alison Mitchell, the chair of the Cricket Writers' Club said in a statement to its members.
"We intend to remain in contact with the ECB over the coverage of the domestic game, and will urge that the number of journalists be grown in future whenever feasible against this backdrop, or that other solutions are considered, to enable eye-witness integrity in the reportage of the domestic game and those playing it."

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo