Utter the name 'Blake Welton' to some Huddersfield Town fans and you will likely illicit a negative response. The former Huddersfield Examiner journalist became somewhat of a lightning rod for criticism during his time with the paper.
Objectively it seems likely that Welton was the unfortunate recipient of misguided ire that should have been levied at The Examiner itself. With that in mind we got in touch with Welton to get Blake's Take (see what we did there...) on The Examiner, Huddersfield Town, criticism from fans and journalism in a broader context.
Here's how the conversation went...
It’s been a while since Town fans have been able to read your views on the club, can you let us know what you’ve been up to since leaving The Examiner?
To be honest it seems like a lifetime ago – I moved down to London to be with my partner in September and soon after started working at SKY Sports.
I was also developing a project called ‘London Football Scene’ from the start of the season which finally launched last month after discussions and collaborations with a number of clubs.
This is all in conjunction with Northern Ireland’s ‘Happy Days’ magazine which I am also Editor of – so you can say I have been pretty busy!
Looking back on your time at The Examiner, how would you characterise it and how does your current role differ?
I would describe it as an ‘experience’ – plenty of positives, a few negatives but more importantly a lot which has helped me learn and develop moving forward.
It gave me a platform to showcase the quality of my work and do what I am doing now as well as made me realise a few things that I vow to never accept or go back to again.
My life now is just not comparable – instead of being a big fish in a small pond I am now just a small cog in a massive media wheel.
I have worked in Canary Wharf in the past and I always thought that was a big deal but when you arrive onto the SKY HQ campus you are just blown away by the sheer scale.
Yet despite the scale I have had more support, encouragement and enjoyment than I have for a long-time and it has also given me the flexibility to work on my own projects – such as ‘London Football Scene’.
For anyone looking to get into sports journalism, what advice would you give them for the future?
Don’t get into it! Ha! No seriously, ‘London Football Scene’ is very much a mentoring scheme for aspiring journalists and I have always said – prepare to be over-worked, underpaid and never appreciated.
It’s a grim portrayal but it’s only now do I feel it’s perhaps not 100% true but the thing with sports journalism, particularly football, is that it is like a drug – however hard the situation is, it’s like an addiction and you are constantly living for the highs among the lows.
With regards to not just Huddersfield, but most other small towns, what would you say the future is for local papers and in particular their sports coverage?
I think a lot of the issues local papers face are universal and not just specific to small towns like Huddersfield.
The upshot is print journalism in its traditional newspaper form is dead – I pretty much realised that after graduating in 2007 which is why the majority of my career has been digitally-focused.
That’s not to say specialist print products are going the same way – the likes of quarterly publications such as Mundial are booming because they offer something different.
But the future for the last 5-10 years has been about digital technology – the problem is that a lot of provincial places are still probably about 5-10 years behind it in terms of their views as well as the technology itself.
On social media and forums we often see fans complaining about the coverage that Huddersfield Town receive from The Examiner. Some feel that there’s been too much of a shift from insightful pieces to more ‘clickbait’ style articles. Do you agree with this view and if so, why do you think we’re seeing this shift from The Examiner?
First of all let’s get the definition of ‘clickbait’ correct because wherever you are or whoever you are it’s a term that is bandied about with little understanding of what it actually is.
It’s any article that offers something in the title that’s not delivered in the actual content.
So for an example if there’s a piece titled ‘Why Rajiv van La Parra is an embarrassment’ but the content goes on to explain why the writer believes this to be the case then it’s not ‘clickbait’.
Instead it’s an informed opinion that is also, positively or negatively, likely to cause a reaction – which is something some people can’t seem to take, handle or grasp.
Of course, if you don’t agree, you don’t agree – if you don’t like the content, don’t read it. It’s as simple as that.
I can’t speak for anyone else but personally I have never written ‘clickbait’ and never will – having an insightful opinion yes, but then again what a reader deems as ‘insightful’ is also very much subjective based on their own unique background, thoughts and tastes.
Your time at The Examiner coincided perfectly with the club’s remarkable promotion to the Premier League. What was it like to cover the club at a time like that?
It was an absolute whirlwind experience that left me physically, emotionally and mentally drained – but WOW! What an experience.
I arrived to cover a small, struggling side in the second tier of English football and left with them drawing against some of Europe’s elite week-in/week-out.
Due to a number of factors I ended up single-handedly covering the department in the last few months of that incredible Championship season and as I said, it was a lot of work and pressure but a massive learning curve.
With such a sudden change in status, did you notice any differences in covering the club once they reached the Premier League?
I think it was a learning curve for everyone involved – including the club.
Press exposure went from cosy chats with David Wagner in a school room with two or three people to filled-out halls with numerous cameras.
At times like that it is perhaps easy to forget the past and the potential ramifications the future may hold and just focus on the present and all those cameras and different press attention.
But that is endemic of media as a whole - a lot of it is short-termism - people, clubs, organisations don’t think about what happens when the cameras stop rolling and the interest has died down.
At the start of the Premier League campaign I pro-actively sought to speak to people who had covered the likes of Middlesbrough in the top-flight to find out what worked, what didn’t and make sure I was sufficiently prepared and knew what to expect.
Of course, more media attention means more content and it is sometimes hard for local media to compete with Nationals and the likes of SKY but I think my coverage and it’s quality more than held its own.
There will be a lot of Town fans reading this now wondering why I haven’t asked you the most obvious question of all, who do you support?
HA! You’ve learnt well about warming up your interviewee before hitting them with the tricky questions!
Half my family are Manchester City and the other half are Sunderland but the shitter Sunderland get the more I’ve become a Mackem over the years.
In all my life I have had a season ticket at Sunderland for three years, one at Manchester City for a season and one for Huddersfield Town in the Premier League which I donated back to the club throughout the season to give back to deserving fans.
So not Bolton or Leeds then as a lot of people guessed?
That always made me laugh – once again, just showed how wide of the mark some people are. Although I did spend time with Bolton years ago when I was working towards my coaching badge.
During your time at The Examiner you developed a bit of a toxic relationship with a small section of the club’s fans. Why do you think that happened? Do you have any regrets about that?
I think it goes back to what I was saying before – a lot of people weren’t used to someone actually coming in and having an informed opinion that may differ from theirs or the club.
There are a few sycophantic journalists out there that don’t help the situation but what I found most disturbing was how some of these fans got so obsessed with me.
They would actively seek me out on social media to tag me into tweets to prominent members of the club asking for me to be banned! It was just ridiculous.
To me the quality of my work and the number of people that continually read it spoke for itself so why would there be regrets over a mindless minority?
Did you receive Christmas cards from Mark Hudson, Tommy Smith or DATM last year?
Ha! Mark’s having a great coaching career after my recommendation to David Wagner isn’t he?
To be honest, the professionals really don’t care – Mark spoke to my family when I bought them hospitality for a game and Tommy, slightly inebriated, was taking the piss with me about player ratings at last year’s End of Season awards.
The only player there was ever a slight problem with was Philip Billing after I echoed Wagner’s unhappiness with him.
But at the time Phil’s ego perhaps preceded his talent and I think this season he’s really knuckled down. We also cleared it up at the End of Season awards before I left which was a nice way to leave.
DATM? I won’t waste too much time on a small-minded minority of Huddersfield Town fans but instead point out I still keep in touch/speak to those fans who matter.
From our point of view, there seems to be a misunderstanding between fans and the media in general at the moment. Could you explain some of the difficulties facing modern journalists nowadays?
I think I have covered most of this already – and there is a deep seated lack of understanding between the media and the general public overall.
But I also think a lot of the industry don’t actually know what it is doing themselves which adds to the confusion.
We all agree digital is the way forward in delivering daily content – but how do you monetise it? How do you reach people and continually reach more of them? Why does one thing work for one set of people or an area but not another?
There’s so many different trends and they are changing all the time due to the nature of technology and society.
It means what works one day may not work the next and too many people are too scared to actually say ‘You know what, I don’t actually know what the f**k we are doing but that’s OK.’
Just embrace it, continue to try new things and the key to everything else is remain true to yourself – don’t let general consensus or opinion sway you.
Obviously you can judge Town from afar now, what have you made of their season so far and the appointment of Jan Siewert?
It’s been a funny one and I think there’s been a multitude of factors that have come together to see a perfect storm of inevitable relegation.
I remember being in the press conference when David Wagner signed a new deal after gaining promotion and Dean Hoyle was saying the side ‘would give it a real go’ that season.
He then went on about the real challenge of a second, third or fourth campaign in the top flight being the real difficulty and I think sub-consciously the club set themselves out to fail after that one season.
The summer recruitment policy seemed to echo that – overall the signings have been poor in terms of quality, quantity and expenditure if the club had any aspirations of maintaining their league status.
I also think the lack of a decent Sporting Director finally caught up with the club while also emphasising what an important role Stuart Webber had played in Huddersfield Town’s success.
While David Wagner has appeared tactically inept at times in his unwillingness to adapt, Stuart Webber has been at Norwich City very much replicating the same success the Terriers had.
Jan Siewert’s appointment seems to be a desperate attempt to recapture some of the special formula of first time round but I really can’t see that happening next year in a Championship more competitive than ever.
I could be wrong, and hope I am but only time will tell!
Thanks for taking the time to speak to us, it’s been really insightful and Good Luck for the future.
It’s been a pleasure – and it’s been a real privilege to speak to you as well.
Many thanks to Blake Welton for taking time out of his busy schedule to speak to us and answer some difficult questions. As mentioned above London Football Scene is Blake Welton's latest project and you can find it here.
The site provides a refreshingly different take on football journalism and is well worth a read, althoug beware. London Football Scene has the same ability as YouTube to take you down an hour long exploration of topics you'd never coutnenanced before!