A STAFF shortage on our sports desk meant that I dipped back into football reporting at the weekend to cover Sunderland’s FA Cup match at Arsenal. 

The Emirates is about as good an away trip as you will get. The facilities are first class, the hospitality lavish, and I got to see behind the scenes as Arsene Wenger, Sam Allardyce and reluctant players were frogmarched from the changing rooms – murmuring under their breath that they needed to get on the coach – to face TV, radio and newspaper reporters. 

Compared to a typical day on the Echo’s business desk it was pretty glamorous stuff. The main drawback was the match itself – not the action on the pitch, which was an entertaining contest, but the demands that social media now makes on football reporters, and on all reporters for that matter. 

During the 90 minutes I was expected to tweet about any significant incidents. Sunderland fans will know only too well on most afternoons this season that wouldn’t stretch you too much, but during an FA Cup tie with myriad chances, four goals, six substitutions and a memorable senior debut from keeper Jordan Pickford I was tweeting like a budgie, as well as writing my online match report and taking notes for the piece that would appear in Monday’s Echo. 

The one thing I wasn’t doing enough of was watching the match itself, worth bearing in mind when you read today’s reports of last night’s Newcastle or Middlesbrough matches and wonder if the authors were watching the same game as you. The fact is they were trying to serve two audiences at the same time – print and digital – and the latter is increasingly deemed the more important. I understand why, but if I’m honest few of the tweets I made on Saturday added much insight to my followers. Rather like Sunderland this season, there was a lot of hard work that didn’t lead anywhere in particular.

The same could apply to the social media reaction that splurged out following the utterly depressing news on Monday morning that the great David Bowie had died. I noticed one North-East newspaper tweeted a message linked to an article entitled ‘11 things you didn’t know about Bowie’ (why 11, why not 10, or better still none?) and another that linked to YouTube clips of ‘8 Bowie songs you need to hear today’. Neither list demonstrated any understanding, insight or love for a man whom I regard as the greatest pop artist this country has produced.

These interminable clickbait lists are enough to drive a lad insane.