Rick Waghorn
After 14 years at Archant's Norwich Evening News, sports reporter Rick Waghorn used his redundancy package to establish his own online sports news service, myfootballwriter.com, which now boasts sites for Norwich City and Ipswich Town football clubs.

Having celebrated its first birthday this summer, Waghorn talked to Journalism.co.uk about the challenges and freedom of swapping print for online.

What made you decide to launch the website?

If there was a seminal moment, it arrived on my 40th birthday [January 16 2006]. There was a piece in the Media Guardian in which Clay Shirky, a professor of journalism at New York City University, drew a fascinating analogy between the newspaper industry and the music industry.

He said that people still want to listen to music, they just don't want to buy it on a CD or an LP. Likewise people still want to read good writing, they just don't want to buy it in a newspaper – they want it online.

There was a redundancy process going through the Archant sports desks and subs desks at that exact moment – with a one in three chance of redundancy. My wife is a sub-editor at the Evening News – so when you’ve got a seven-year-old boy and a mortgage, it concentrates your mind.

What differences have you noticed in writing news for online?

When it's a passion [what you are writing about] people will read every spit, dot and comma. So if part of your business model is based on page impressions, write 1,000 word pieces and make it two parts, because you know readers will always turn the page.

When you go to a football press conference there are reams of quotes that hit the cutting room floor that punters would still like to read. You free yourself from that spatial constraint placed on you by a newspaper.

I don't have deadlines – they don't exist. In theory I aim for an office market. We aim to put the first big piece up for your first coffee break and the second piece up for 4:30pm to 5:00pm for your final logoff. But then, if we put up something at 11 o'clock at night that might be the first coffee break in Sydney or in Hong Kong.

Does being online allow you to break sports news before your competitors?

Unless every local and regional newspaper in the country starts publishing a Sunday newspaper, we're going to beat them.

But football clubs all own their own websites, so in theory they've all become mini news providers. Whenever it's an official news story they will break it, because they have the means to do it. All you can hope to be is first with the fuller quotes, the better analysis, the bigger comments. What you create is a rolling news service for that specific club.

How do people come to the site?

Initially in the first year I was a kind of mini-brand. But the biggest marketing tool we had was the message boards, because they just link to you. They may not agree with what you write, but by default they're marketing you.

What are your plans for the future?

I'm looking to recruit for a Colchester United site - it's just getting the journalist. It is clearly a leap and there's an element of a generational thing.

In a way my hand was forced, so maybe it's slightly unreasonable of me to expect people in a similar position family and career-wise to just leap out. I have to go for the 24-year-olds - maybe they are the first generation coming through who've known nothing but the internet and likewise aren't expecting 40 years on to be writing for a newspaper.

As a journalist running a website, how have you handled the promotional aspect of the business?

Marketing it virally via the messageboards gets you so far, but there are still old fashioned marketing opportunities that I didn't have the time, the knowledge or the experience to follow up on. Hopefully the functionality of the site will make up for the brand weakness.

Local advertisers are all fumbling around, just as we are, to find that new generation of customers. They need to find a new outlet to promote their brands and we give them a helping hand in doing that online.

I've had the [Norwich] Evening News advertising on my site since last month, because they're looking to promote their going out supplement. They're looking for that younger demographic and where are they going to be? Probably reading the football.

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