Can 'The Athletic' transform the sports journalism industry?
The Athletic launched to great fanfare recently with a number of top journalists leaving the comfort of Fleet Street and national publications to join the online sports publication.
The Athletic, which has been running successfully in the US for the past three years, focuses on long-form sports journalism, with no adverts or videos to clutter your reading and positively no clickbait.
Senior Editor Laura Williamson joined The Athletic from the Daily Mail, where she had spent more than a decade covering football, athletics and a range of other sports.
How have you found it working as a female journalist in the sports industry?
I was given a chance on a national newspaper at a fairly young age and was offered brilliant support along the way.
But I didn’t look like anyone else because I was young and female so when I was sent to cover football, I would walk into a press conference and everyone else was male. I stood out.
I had to quickly get used to being different from almost everyone else and there was no one to ask for advice who had been in the same position.
I had to learn to use it to my advantage because people I interviewed would remember my face.
When I talked to people such as players or managers, they were sometimes surprised if you asked a question because there was an assumption that you didn’t know what you were talking about.
People often assumed I was the marketing person or maybe used inappropriate language, but I never experienced anything that stopped me from doing my job. I also learnt that when you try to make a new contact, go for a coffee rather than something later that could be misconstrued.
But the pack of London reporters treated me like anyone else – a colleague or a rival.
Women’s football has had a real boost in recent months, particularly with the Women’s World Cup featured on prime-time television…
As a viewer, I really enjoyed the tournament and it shows the power of terrestrial TV.
The matches reached audiences that couldn’t have been dreamt of not so long ago and they were talked about in offices and school playgrounds across the country.
I thought the Lionesses team were fantastic on the pitch and brilliant off it, and pictures and access on social media were fantastic.
The challenge for the sport is going to be translating it to bums on seats in the Women’s Super League (WSL) – being consistent with kick-off times and publicising them would be a good start!
It can only help the sport’s profile that WSL games are now going to be streamed live and I hope it helps to keep the sport in the public focus.
Barclays have invested heavily in the women’s game now – do you think that women’s sport will finally start to get the same exposure as men’s sport?
I think we are still light years away, to be honest.
It is getting better. I think The Telegraph's Women’s Sports section was a brilliant idea and a good way to try and own women’s sport journalism, but we are clearly still at the stage where it is being bracketed as "women's sport" rather than just sport that happens to be played by women. You can easily read a whole sports section without a single picture of a female athlete in it.
Part of the problem is that there are so few women in the sports newsrooms making decisions. There's nobody saying “hang on, there’s no one that looks like me in the paper.”
In broadcasting, great leaps have been made and there are so many female faces – on panels and in presenters’ chairs, so there is definitely momentum.
You have joined The Athletic – what made you move on from national newspapers?
It came at a perfect time – I had been at the Daily Mail for nearly 11 years and had done a whole range of roles, pretty much everything apart from being the tea lady!
The Athletic plays to my strengths, I think. We sometimes have a habit in the media of having a churn mentality, getting out stories for the sake of them, and there is a gap for detailed authoritative reads. I was excited by the chance to combine news with in-depth pieces.
It was a chance to jump into something that has worked in US and I feel will work here as well.
What makes The Athletic different from other internet start-ups?
We are confident that our content is good enough that you have to pay for it.
We won’t bombard you with ads or pop-up videos and this is going to be what fans want to read.
If you are a fan of local clubs, where do you get your news from?
Papers have finite space and resources, so then it is the clubs with their own agenda or fan sites, so we believe that The Athletic will be the vehicle that you use to read about what sports news matters to you.
The hyper-local nature of the platform is something that others can’t service. It’s impossible to give as many in-depth reads on the things that matter to Bournemouth or Watford fans as to other Premier League clubs, for instance.
Because we have people covering each Premier League team and other major clubs, fans will be able to read what matters to them.
We have a dedicated women’s football writer as well, providing three to four pieces a week about the women’s game domestically and from an international point of view.
The app is designed to be very clean and looks lovely on your mobile which is what people are glued to most of the day, so we are tapping into that with some of the best sports writers in the country.