How did you get where you are now?
Having completed a postgraduate diploma in newspaper journalism at City University in 2003, I worked as a local news reporter and pretty much accepted that was going to be my lot after numerous unsuccessful attempts to break into national sports journalism. I was OK with that as I largely enjoyed what I did, but then in the spring of 2007 a friend told me that The Guardian ran a sports trainee scheme and applications for that year had just opened. So I went for it and, that summer, I was hired. It was only on a one-year contract, but I’ve been here ever since doing a mix of writing and editing.
How does dealing with sport press officers differ from other sectors?
It varies depending on the sport – in football, and particularly in the Premier League, the process can be difficult. By and large the press officers you deal with are friendly and polite, but you get little out of them in regards to information and opportunities (such as interviews with players). Partly this is because they deal with a lot of media enquiries and therefore have to be, and can be, selective. In general, the smaller the sport, the more helpful and accommodating the press officer tends to be, which is probably similar to other sectors.
Which individual, team or organisation in sport is best at handling PR, in your view?
The Football Association has hugely improved its PR operation in recent years, [a prime example being] the access that it gave the media to members of England’s World Cup squad prior to the tournament last year. Matt McCann, head of press at Liverpool FC, is also very good, offering a level of communication and accessibility that is quite rare at such a big club. Bayern Munich and Juventus are other big football clubs that are surprisingly good at dealing with the media.
What are the most important social media channels for your job?
In my role as a commissioning editor it’s important to know which stories are developing and gaining traction during the working day, and there is no better way to keep an eye on that than through Twitter. I open my TweetDeck as soon as I log into my computer in the morning and have at least half an eye on it until I go home that evening. As a writer, Twitter is also a great way to promote your work as well as gain feedback – some of which can cross a line into outright abuse, unfortunately.
What makes a great PR?
It may sound obvious, but someone who gives you what you want or, at the very least, something you can realistically use. We are forever bombarded with calls and emails for story opportunities that we would not cover in a million years, often because they have nothing to do with sport. I remember a PR calling me once to pitch a story about a new type of whisky; when I asked why he thought The Guardian’s sports desk would be interested in that, he replied that former golfer Colin Montgomerie was an ambassador, so it may be of interest to us. I ended the call soon after.
Is PR a career you’d ever want to move into?
Increasingly so, yes. Specifically I would be interested in working for the PR/press department of a major football club. I’m intrigued to see the inner workings of these institutions first-hand and could potentially help them become more accessible.
Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the future of journalism?
A bit of both. On the negative side, I’m concerned about how the desire for immediate and ‘click- able’ online content is affecting the industry – it’s all about being first and having snappy headlines, which in turn leads to a drop in accuracy and quality. On the positive side, the scope of online means being able to do really interesting things with video and audio, as well as giving content producers – editors, writers, broadcasters – platforms to do really interesting work. One thing I’m convinced about is that in 10 to 15 years’ time, there will be no more newspapers; print is on the way out and, as someone who trained as a print journalist and remains passionate about it as a means of producing and accessing journalism, that makes me sad.
Who will win the Premier League this season?
My heart says Liverpool, my head says Manchester City.