By Tony Attwood
Preface: if you don’t want to read all this, but simply want the answer to the “how to” you are already thinking like a journalist, and you don’t have to read this article. Just skim to the heading at the bottom that says How to do it and read that. It’s like football – you don’t really have to watch it.
But in case you want to know more…
Football journalism, be it for TV, radio or the national press, is a curious business. While it presents itself as being about reporting events and giving voice to opinion, it is also about following an agreed line.
This leads to an interesting set of conundrums. All the journalists have to agree that refereeing is by and large ok, and that the workings of the PGMO are not something that can be mentioned. They agree that the last match is enough evidence to base a season defining case on, and that they have the ear of the supporters and can thus say what a club’s fans feel and think.
They agree that transfers are fundamentally important, that they can predict which transfers are going to happen, and can happily ignore reality when this does not come to pass, because the fans have very short memories.
But at the same time the journalist has to be original and not just copy what is in all the other papers. It’s a conundrum.
Leading on from this the journalist is not allowed to question the Standard Approach even when the evidence that it is nonsense is overwhelming. This is particularly the case when ignoring the fact that the game is riddled with incompetence, crime and corruption – be it tax scams, child exploitation by Spanish clubs, child abuse in English clubs, Fifa, the disgrace of the treatment of workers in Qatar, the FA…
But against this the journalist still needs to stand out and be noticed. So he makes ever more grand claims about transfers and managerial implosions, makes fun of what is said at press conferences, and generally writes favourably about the same people as everyone else writes about.
Thus the football journalist has to write as if he/she knows, even though what he/she is writing is mostly opinion. To cover this they will often be helped by the headline writer who weighs in with “All you need to know” headlines, and “10 things that we learned from…”
Because everyone is writing the same bland stuff, no one knows, but everyone pretends they know.
And all the time there is a focus on now, today, while giving the impression of historic in-depth knowledge and understanding.
Given all this it looks like an impossible job. But it’s not. I’ll show you…
How to be a football journalist and get a job with a newspaper or broadcaster
Step 1: Read what everyone else says
Step 2: Write the same as everyone else but with slightly different words.
That’s it you are now a football journalist. Publication is irrelevant since most of the publications that journalists cite (when they cite any) don’t exist anyway. And besides even if you were published it would make no difference because you are just saying the same as everyone else.
You don’t have to go to the match, since even those journalists at the match don’t watch the match, but instead watch the TV monitors. That’s why they never comment on time wasting. They don’t see it because it is not shown on TV (the cameras show players trotting back to the half way line or replays of a recent incident), and the monitor feeds come from TV companies. They don’t hear the crowd moaning about time wasting because they are sitting behind the glass that reduces noise levels.
You must also have the view that the long term memory of the football supporter is about the same as that of a goldfish. So you can draw any conclusion you like, as long as it is mostly the same as the conclusions drawn by other journalists. Next week you can draw another conclusion.
To see what I mean, here is a perfect example taken from the Independent’s web site today. The overall article is titled “Where Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool, Spurs, City and Chelsea need to strengthen”. I’ve not edited it, as I think it is important to see the whole piece.
Striker and left-back
For the most part of this campaign, Alexis Sanchez has been spearheading the Gunners’ frontline but recently has been put back out wide by Arsene Wenger. In the last game against West Brom, Olivier Giroud was brought back into the set-up and grabbed the winning goal late on. But although the French international has undoubted quality, he has failed to live up to expectations that the Arsenal faithful had for him and his been out of favour with Wenger. With that in mind, it might be time for the boss to spend big and bring in a star name striker.
At the moment, with Sanchez on the wing, it is hard to believe that many of Europe’s top defences would be quaking in their boots at the prospect of facing the Gunners’ attack. A world class signing could change that, and give them a real chance of beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League last 16.
Where the defence is concerned, Arsenal have a lot of injuries at the moment with Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs on the sidelines. Arsenal need to bring in another full back, even if it is just for back up, in case Nacho Monreal or Hector Bellerin get injured too.
Now let’s get this right. Alexis has played one match back on the wing after a series at centre forward. Phrases such as “recently has been put back” suggest this has happened over several games not one. “has failed to live up to expectations that the Arsenal faithful” suggests some proper research of what Arsenal fans think, which I doubt very much has been done. ” With that in mind, it might be time for the boss to spend big and bring in a star name striker” ignores the fact that if the striker is that good it is unlikely another team would want to sell him, and ignores the fact that Alexis can of course return to the centre, and there is also Lucas Pérez who in his one big chance got a hattrick.
“Where the defence is concerned, Arsenal have a lot of injuries at the moment with Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, Mathieu Debuchy and Kieran Gibbs on the sidelines”. According to Physioroom.com Mustafi is now fit again, Mert is one week away and Gibbs condition is unclear. So “a lot” means Debuchy who hardly ever plays and Gibbs who is a back up.
If the club goes out and buys more defenders it is unlikely they will get many games. Jenkinson will recover his nerve at some stage (many players go through this sort of problem after an injury) and so we have Bellerin, Gabriel, Mert, Holding, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, and soon Jenks. And the injured two will recover. And are you really going to find a better defender than Holding or Gabriel as back up in January – a player who may never get a game, especially if Gibbs’ injury is short term?
But hey – this is the trick of journalism. Nothing you write has to be real – indeed the text above makes no mention of who would be kicked out of the 25 to make way for the new comer.
How to do this football journalism lark.
Try it as a flow diagram, as the wonderful Chaz Hutton suggested.
- Start with a box. Draw a second box.
- Write something in each box.
- Ask yourself if you have drawn an arrow between each box.
- Yes? Then you’re done.
- No? Try again.