It’s time online boxing writers got the respect they deserve

PressIt’s often been said that sports writers are just fans with keyboards.

That fact has become more and more apparent in recent years as so-called “citizen” journalists have risen through the ranks to ingratiate themselves amongst writers working for national newspapers and broadcasters.

The face of the boxing media in Britain is constantly changing.

In years gone by, it was members of the national and local press alongside the major broadcasters that dominated used to fill their column inches and sports section with boxing.

However, nowadays the national press merely feature boxing as a footnote and the overwhelming majority of boxing-related content is now published online.

Asides from the blockbuster events such as Carl Froch’s victory over Mikkel Kessler at The 02 in London last May, boxing does not get a fair deal in regards to exposure of fighters and promotion of events.

The UK’s flagship terrestrial broadcasters the BBC and ITV now steer well clear of showing the sport live in any form despite decades of covering some of the biggest fights in sporting history.

Since the national press by in large want to distance themselves from boxing, the onus now lies with online writers who have now become the backbone of the sport’s coverage and many have built their reputation purely online without having any work featured in print.

However, cyberspace is now an unfortunate breeding ground for individuals claiming to be boxing writers when in actual fact they simply attach their name to gaudy, American boxing websites clogged with press releases.

They are often blessed with the opportunity to cover a show live, meaning that they will be watching a fight ringside and free of charge.

They are the kind of people who persistently pester and bug boxers on social media sites almost every hour of every day, looking for retweets or incredibly, for a boxer to send them autographs or free merchandise.

Talk about a brass neck!

The sad thing is that some of these so-called journalists are now the growing face of the online boxing media. Many of the legitimate and professional online writers are being overshadowed by fans just looking for something to fill their time.

I was lucky enough to be sat in the press row alongside some of the most respected boxing journalists in the country to watch Ricky Burns defend his WBO lightweight title against Jose Gonzalez at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow.

There were reporters from the national press, the Scottish daily’s, the national broadcasters and the boxing magazines.

However, seated directly behind me were two men who have made quite an impact on the boxing media in such a short space of time.

Despite not being writers or journalists by trade, Kugan Cassius and James Helder of IFilm London have been an overnight success story in British boxing.

Their videos of press conferences, interviews with fighters and unique style of coverage on YouTube have amassed hundreds of thousands of viewers.

The pair have become popular figures in the close-knit boxing circuit on these shores and in addition to covering the major events, they have given much sought after exposure to dozens of young fighters and small hall promoters across the country.

The IFilm London brand has even branched out stateside to follow British fighters such as Carl Froch and more recently Lee Purdy in America and Cassius himself travelled to Las Vegas to cover Floyd Mayweather’s clash with Robert Guerrero back in May.

However, despite the acclaim they have received, some of the old guard of the boxing press continue to undermine their presence on the sport.

From seeing them at work I can only say that they have been a much-needed breath of fresh air to the boxing press, which was stuck in the dark ages up until very recently.

They should be commended for the work they have done for the sport and they have become the poster boys for the success of online boxing reporting in the UK.

It was a strange atmosphere in the Burns-Gonzalez press area. I was in the second row behind some notable figures in the boxing media including Gareth A. Davies of the Telegraph, Jeff Powell of the Daily Mail and Kevin Mitchell of The Guardian, who were all busy about their work.

However, to my surprise and annoyance, some of the Scottish press were clearly overawed by the event taking place before them.

Wide-eyed, middle-aged men acting giddy with excitement over the fight, many of them clearly viewing boxing as some kind of novelty, expecting to hear “Eye of the Tiger” play at any given moment.

It was irritating to see that kind of behaviour from men who are supposed to be professionals but it just gave you the sense of how the sport is viewed by some of the mainstream press in Scotland.

The term “proper” boxing writer has been bundled about a lot. In an era where there are fewer permanent writing jobs with national or even local newspapers, online is the most natural port of call for any aspiring writer, especially since the sport is growing online by the day.

To say an online boxing writer is not a “proper” writer purely based on the platform they write for is ridiculous.

There are some terrible, terrible boxing writers out there, let’s get that straight.

Inexplicably some of these fanboy scribes have managed to build a large following on social media sites and gained a lot of traffic on their websites or blogs.

But there are those who have paid their dues and spent years climbing the ladder hoping to break the proverbial glass ceiling.

Naturally many of them have created a little clique on Twitter, where they often share and retweet work to help each other out and gain a bit of exposure to a mainstream audience.

Websites such as Seconds Out, Fight Hype and Live Fight along with British boxing’s flagship magazines Boxing News and Boxing Monthly have been pivotal in providing a platform for some of these writers.

Despite the doom and gloom scenario painted about the lack of boxing coverage in print, there are signs that a return to the glory years may not be too far away.

Renowned boxing journalist and broadcaster Steve Bunce had a fantastic feature on the British small hall circuit published in The Independent recently which received a glowing endorsement.

The build-up surrounding Froch-Kessler II was a throwback to fights involving the likes of Chris Eubank, Naseem Hamed, Lennox Lewis and Ricky Hatton as many casual observers clamoured to see the fight instead of simply the boxing diehards.

Boxing is on the brink of something big. There is a new era of crossover appeal on its way. There are big fights to come, such as Floyd Mayweather’s mouth-watering clash with Saul Alvarez in September and the possibility of an all-British heavyweight showdown between David Haye and Tyson Fury.

I have no doubt in my mind that those fights, particularly the latter, would fill the column inches in the paper’s but I’m sure the bulk of the work will come from online.

It’s time the online media mob got their dues. It’s not a full-time career being an online writer, there’s simply no money in it. But their passion for the sport and determination to climb the ladder deserves the utmost respect. Ask any promoter, fighter or fan, they are keeping the game alive.

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