The Sun’s North East football correspondent has told how his newspaper turned down the chance to become an official media partner of Newcastle United.
David Coverdale was among the journalists to voice their discontent last week when the Mirror and Sky Sports News were offered interviews with new manager Steve McClaren.
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Other North East football reporters claimed that McClaren was "banned" from speaking to them, and the Mirror and Sky Sports News were described as the club's "preferred media partners".
The outcry came less than a year after The Sun was accused by other journalists of having become Newcastle’s “media partner” after the paper ran a series of exclusive player interviews.
Speaking to Press Gazette today, Coverdale revealed that The Sun was given special access to the club, but that this stopped when the newspaper turned down the chance to enter into a “commercial” arrangement with the club and Sports Direct, which shares the same owner, Mike Ashley.
He said: “What happened last year was Newcastle wanted The Sun to be their media partner. So this time last summer, I was being invited exclusive interviews with new signings, which I wasn’t comfortable with, but I did.
“However, every time I checked ‘is this a deal, or is this them trying to get a deal?’ and it was always just them trying to. Nothing was ever signed.
“So effectively we were doing interviews through no ties at all to Newcastle. They were giving us tasters, almost.”
He added: “We took all the tasters, we took all the freebies – because effectively they were just giving us interviews, [with us] giving them absolutely nothing in return…
“And then when it got to the stage where… a deal was on the table, are we going to sign it or not? That’s when we stopped it because we knew how bad it is and devastating to the industry.
“My bosses went out of their way to make sure it didn’t happen.”
Coverdale believes that the club then turned its attention to the Mirror, which is the third best-selling daily newspaper in the UK after The Sun and Daily Mail.
He said that more and more player interviews were “creeping in” to the Mirror over the season, and Coverdale was among the sports journalists to speculate about a deal between the parties last week.
Coverdale said: “In the coming season we expect them to get be getting interviews with players and the manager on a regular basis when Newcastle are going to go out of their way to strip our access back.”
Coverdale, a former News of the World news reporter, has worked as North East football correspondent for The Sun for two years.
He said that Newcastle were a "good" club to work with until half way through the 2013/14 season when player interviews, which he said are important for sports journalists, started "drying up".
At that stage, he said the newspaper was made aware that Newcastle's owner wanted journalists to pay for access to the club.
On the alleged partnership between Newcastle and the Mirror, Coverdale said: “We think that what’s happening with Newcastle and the Mirror is bad for the industry, it’s bad for journalism.
"We think it sets a really dangerous precedent about the future of covering football clubs for the newspapers.
"Now Newcastle have done this, what’s to stop Manchester United trying to do a deal with the Daily Mail or Liverpool trying to do a deal with The Daily Telegraph?”
On Friday last week The Sun, which was accused this time last year of having an exclusive relationship with the club, told owner Mike Ashley: "We won't dance to your Toon!"
Coverdale wrote in the paper: "Newcastle would love the Toon Army to believe everything is rosy again on Tyneside.
"They have a new manager and coaching staff, with new signings to follow.
"The message screaming out of St James’ Park is this is a fresh start, a clean slate from the troubles of the past season.
"But this message is being controlled by Newcastle via their preferred media partners.
"So only independent newspapers — like The Sun — can really be trusted to hold the Toon to account."
Newcastle United declined to comment.