Sports Journalism degree: a reflection, two years in

To study journalism was always going to be a bit of a grind. The profession is so often ad hoc and whimsical that to learn the basic skills over a three-year period based primarily in a classroom seems almost inappropriate. Continue reading


Have the media been unfair on Chelsea?

Andres Villas-Boas has had a tough few months. Appointed Chelsea manger under a sea of comparisons to Chelsea God Jose Mourinho, the 34-year-old was given the task of building a legacy at the Blues which would, eventually, see Chelsea return to the top of the English football pile.


Before Saturday’s win away at Newcastle, Chelsea had managed just four wins in ten games. They’d lost to QPR, taken a battering from Arsenal and lost to Liverpool twice. It hardly means the club are in crisis, but it certainly warrants comment.
There has been much talk about the eccentricity – and, at times, stupidity – of centre-back David Luiz. Mikel Jon Obi has taken some flak for being an ineffective midfielder. Aging stars such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole are, seemingly, nearing the end. The form of Fernando Torres has been beyond a joke now for months and there is a genuine possibility that we will never see the Spaniard back to his best again.
But there has been very little criticism of Villas-Boas, and any criticism of Chelsea has – on the whole – been justified.
It is well-known that to win the Premier League is vital to Chelsea, and winning the Champions League is something at the very forefront of Abramovich’s mind. Villas-Boas himself said that not winning titles at Chelsea would be unforgiveable.
After last night’s comfortable and impressive victory over Valencia, the manager sat down for his press conference and, basically, attacked the press. He criticised what he saw as the “continuous persecution of Chelsea”.
“We have become your target,” he continued. “We accept that. But you have to accept that today was a brilliant win.”
Villas-Boas named Gary Neville amidst his rant, which is odd given that Neville has backed the manager in the past – although AVB is perhaps still unhappy with Neville’s description of Luiz.
Now, some points need to be made here, mainly regarding Villas-Boas’ astuteness. This rant takes the limelight away from his players, something that most managers do and is becoming more tedious with every passing press conference.
Villas-Boas protects his team and almost creates an ‘us against them’ mantra, something his constant shadow Mourinho is famous for. Again, this stance is getting old and tiresome.
The timing of the outburst is also rather odd. The ‘Ha! In your face!’ retort could have at least been saved until after Chelsea come through some difficult fixtures: Manchester City, Tottenham and Fulham all the before the New Year. Just as Chelsea’s form this season does not mean the club are in crisis, two 3-0 wins on the bounce is hardly enough to start readying the trophy cabinet for a new instalment.
Even so, on the whole, the press have been rather calm in terms of Villas-Boas’ managing of the club. Various writers at The Telegraph have stated that Villas-Boas is the right man for the job, and that Villas-Boas is not the problem at Chelsea – the players are. The Sun has led with a similar line, whilst also slating the Chelsea defence.
Villas-Boas, then, is clearly thinking of what is best for his team – whether that be in moving the limelight elsewhere or taking criticisms of Chelsea to heart. He has – compared to managers in the past who have been criticised by the press early on – got off lightly but the criticism of Chelsea has been continuous, something that AVB maybe sees as unjust.
On the whole, the press have been supportive of Villas-Boas but critical of the Chelsea team and wary of Abramovich. And those three stances are justified. AVB should be supported, certain aspects of Chelsea’s squad have either underperformed or simply cannot play at such a high quality as they have in the past, and Abramovich has a history of short-termism when it comes to managers.
Mourinho quit in September 2007 and, of the managers hired by the Russian billionaire: Avram Grant lasted the season, Luiz Felipe Scolari was sacked nine months into his tenure and Carlo Ancelotti was given the boot after his second season.
It is hardly surprising, then, that the majority of the commenters on Villas-Boas’ appointment back in June stated that he should be given time in the job and it is even less surprising that Abramovich’s short-termism is mentioned now when Chelsea perform below par – and produce below par results to match.
Granted, rumours regarding a possible return to the club for Guus Hiddink are needless and, in all likelihood, baseless. Provocative headlines such as “Time for AVB to start praying” and “Villas-Boas loses authority with every defeat” also don’t help, while using the phrase “dreaded vote of confidence” is a clichéd way of looking at a genuinely positive piece of news.
It is unfair to say that the media have agendas and it is surely incorrect to say that journalists will be disappointed to be writing positive things about Chelsea. But of course, column inches have to be filled so every minor, interesting development is expanded to 800 words of piffle.
But the media’s treatment of Chelsea has been surprisingly reserved, frankly. The negatives have rightly been commented on and the positives have rightly been pointed out (Didier Drogba was fantastic last night, and David Luiz put in a very calm, collected performance).
Perhaps one of the oddest points AVB made was that of the difference between the coverage of his side Manchester City.
“The approach to Manchester City is basically, ‘if they qualify, they qualify. If they don’t qualify, they don’t qualify’. We don’t get that margin, basically, from you guys (the media).”
City are top of the League, have a resoundingly stronger squad and at times look like genuine world-beaters. But when cracks have appeared, the flaws have been pointed out.
AVB sees the difference between City and Chelsea as one is wanted to fail, one isn’t. The real difference is that one is top of the League and flying – the other is on the edge of the top four.
Images from thesportreview and micheldf.

Why I love writing about football

A tentative return to writing as university mentalness begins to die down; here’s why I enjoy writing about football.

For many years now I have enjoyed and admired the writing of established football scribes, such as Paul Hayward, Henry Winter, Sid Lowe and Iain Macintosh. I have had mixed feelings towards a lot of the writing in the modern – mainly mainstream – media, varying from ‘I want to do this, to be able to write as well as this and be as informed as the author’ to ‘I could write better than this; what on earth is he/she going on about?’
I’ve worked for my school newspaper as a sports reporter, sports editor and editor; with the emergence of blogs and Twitter – allowing a different, almost ‘underground’ type of football writing – I’m able to read an awful lot more and gain more knowledge, which only adds to my already-burning passion to write about football.
I love writing about football, mainly because there is so much to cover. Even just one solitary weekend in the English Premier League can throw up stories, or bring an end to a long-running saga. That’s one league in one country – you could go further down the leagues in England or travel across Europe, or even the world, and find so many interesting stories – and it’s the job of a football writer to inform those who will listen of these tales.
Apart from actually playing the game, what could be better than thinking, talking and writing about football day-in, day-out? Yes, it must be stressful with all the deadlines and barriers that journalists face – but it’s the kind of stress that must be exhilarating rather than exhausting.
Whether it’s an opinion piece on whether Steve Kean should be sacked or backed, a news item on Sepp Blatter’s latest blunder or a good old fashioned rant on Robbie Savage – football writing is just darn-right fun.

Some thoughts on Murdoch and the want for tabloid journalism

An awful lot has been said and written about Rupert Murdoch, the News of the World phone-hacking scandal and tabloid journalism as a whole. From the superb work of someto the stupid, fame-hungry actions of others, the scandal really has been packed with drama – which is sad, in a way, because the main story should not be an 80-year-old man having a pie thrust into his face; it should be the terrible intrusion from certain people in the media into the lives of innocent people and the sickening actions of some journalists which has brought this story-obtaining method into the public eye – which hopefully will result in change.

Clearly, the tabloids in this country are very popular, in terms of sales of newspapers and hits on their websites. In January 2011, The Sun sold 3,001,822 copies; Daily Mail 2,136,568; Daily Mirror 1,194,097; Daily Star 734,311. If you compare that to the broadsheets such as the Daily Telegraph (651,184) and The Times (457,250) and then, somewhere in between the two formats, The Guardian (279,308), it’s clear to see that, based purely on circulation figures, tabloids are popular and so fine just the way they are and so there is an argument to say that the tabloids are just giving the readers what they want; it’s because of the public that the ‘gutter press’ has developed.
In fact, many tabloid journalists, over the past few weeks, have put forward the notion that they do little wrong in terms of the stories they write and the privacy that they continually invade. ‘The public clearly want to see who Katie Price is sleeping with because, with that on our front page, sales grow massively’ is the general argument.
But there is a difference between actually wantingsomething and being quite happy to take it. Don’t get me wrong – when the Ryan Giggs-Imogen Thomas story broke, I was straight on the Daily Mail website to find out the latest, searching his name on Google every so often just to see if there were any new revelations. But if that information wasn’t there, I wouldn’t be thinking: ‘Hmm, I’d really love to know who Ryan Giggs is sleeping with’ or ‘I’d love to see loads of photographs of women in bikinis with snide comments just below them either commenting on the person’s weightor the bikini they have chosen, or maybe even making massive assumptions based on their facial expressions which could be easily manipulated thanks to a split-second photograph. Because I am that much of a cock’.
To a certain extent, then, the public isto blame for the current state of tabloid journalism. We keep buying it and lapping the information up so they keep writing these pointless, slightly offensive stories – and get away with it. Nae, profit from it daily. But no one – in their right mind – would complain if the clothing choices and sex lives of celebrities were to suddenly disappear from the ‘papers.
The public could, if they were that enraged, stop buying all tabloids until the culture changes. But that doesn’t mean that the public want to know about sex scandals (as long as they are reasonably harmless to the public) or celeb holiday photos – they’ll happily take the information but their lives would not change in the slightest if the information wasn’t there.
On Murdoch, there seems to be a lot of dismay (and, from some, anger) that Rupert Murdoch did not know about the evidence that Rebekah Brooks gave in 2003 and, although he did become aware of it later, News International did not investigate further.
Rupert Murdoch is an 80-year-old man who is worth around $7.6 billion. The list of assets owned by his company, News Corporation, is so long that I can’t even be bothered to count them. There are a lot – enough to render the News of the World pretty insignificant in terms of the day-to-day business of News Corp.
Many have said that the book must ultimately stop with Rupert Murdoch because it’s his company – how could he possibly not know what is going on inside his own corporation? To a certain extent, this is a fair comment but, as Murdoch says “the News of the World is less than 1% of my company, and we employ 50,000 people… I appoint people who I trust to run it.”
It would simply not be feasible to know all the ins-and-outs of every company that he owns and it is not implausible (and, I think, not a particularly negative stance for Murdoch to take) to think that he doesn’t know everything that goes on inside News Corporation and the many businesses within that. In an ideal world, maybe he would know every little detail, but Murdoch relies on the people he employs to keep him informed. The problem isn’t that Murdoch doesn’t take a hands-on approach to all his businesses – the problem is that the people he has trusted have let him down.
Far be it from me to defend Rupert Murdoch, but there is a difference between owning something and running it. He pays other people to run the companies for him while he overlooks events from a general point of view. People are right to be slightly taken aback by Murdoch’s lack of knowledge on certain events (if indeed it is a genuine lack of knowledge) but anyone who believes that Murdoch should know (or, want to know) everything about the daily happenings of News of the World is living in an unrealistic, almost fabricated world – a tabloid world, if you will.