How to be a football journalist and get a job with a newspaper or broadcaster

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 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.

14 Replies to “How to be a football journalist and get a job with a newspaper or broadcaster”

  1. Good write up Tony! I know I should of been a football journalist! 😛

    I agree with you in regards to Arsenal not having an urgent need for a new signing in attack or defense.

    In my opinion, the only move that should be made is to let Debuchy go when healthy (expected back mid-Jan)- loan or sold outright, provided Jenks and Mustafi are recovered.

    No need to keep a disgruntled player in the locker room affecting team morale if reports of Debuchy’s recent comments are true.

  2. Tony, you are of course spot on as usual.

    But this is another example of the phenomenon of ‘hyper
    normalisation’ I mentioned on Tuesday. For the last 20 or so years the press and politicians (or rather their spins doctors) have been manipulating ‘news’ as a part of their mission to ‘manage’ the world.

    This has been happening in a global way (practised par excellence by Putin’s Kremlin and the US State Dept) but in its own sweet way football journalism has seamlessly embraced it.

    You tell people what they want to hear, reflecting their own vision of the world back to them. This reinforces our sense of ‘truth’ and of course both creates and sustains all of those that think they understand football.

    So in this case the papers tell us (for the umpteenth time) that Arsenal need a ‘world-class striker’ and a defender. The ideal defender would also bring that much vaunted ‘steel’ and ‘leadership’ so lacking in Arsenal teams since Vieira left.

    But we have a WC striker (Alexis) and a solid set of back-ups/support strikers (in Theo, Perez and OG12) so Arsene won’t buy a striker. WE also have (as you point out) plenty of reserve defenders so he won’t but anyone there either.

    So when we don’t win the league or the CL it will be because of AW’s reluctance to do what is necessary (and what we ALL know is required to be done) and thus, prove them journalists (and the AAA) right. It will have nothing to do with referees, thuggish opponents, bad luck, or (the real reason) that other teams (i.e Chelsea) are better than we are or have better (more expensive) squads.

    Journalists are lazy but they are also in the business of producing the modern equivalent of chip paper. No one keeps newspaper articles anymore, they are not collected into books as an art form or even a bank of knowledge. Football journalists (along with columnists) are the basest form of writing at this level. Not for them (except very rarely) the carefully researched and constructed investigative piece, much better a few trite opinions aimed without care.

    And who can blame them? They must know that tomorrow their words will be forgotten, or plagiarised, or ignored, and they still have column inches to fill. If you want good journalism then DEMAND it. Challenge the press to produce quality by refusing to buy or read the dross.

    I haven’t read a sports column or report in nearly 3 years now, and guess what, I’m fine. Nobody died, Arsenal still exists, life goes on. If they want my custom they have to earn it. I suggest you all do the same. Give the money to charity or something

  3. Thanks, Tony. And blacksheep, you’ve stolen my thunder so I’ll just add my voice to yours. I’m hoping that with over 6 million page views a month ‘Untold’ might be having some impact on the search for fact based journalism in football and the wider world.

  4. Actually Blacksheep, I don’t think you can say that you’ve stopped read a sports column in nearly 3 years. You can say you haven’t directly read one, but then some of us are stupid enough to continue reading these things, and we dump our view of those articles here. So you are getting the same crap, except that it’s been regurgitated at least once. In terms of what I read, you won’t be getting any Telegraph influence directly from me. But, the idiots I do read, may have read Telegraph articles as inspiration for their own lies and stories.

    But, here are some headlines I picked out of Google News (and slightly edited):
    Jurgen Klopp emphatically rules out move for butter
    Jack Wilshere: Arsenal Ace wanted by Archie and Delilah
    Martin Keown: Arsenal should paint these 2 cement blocks
    Arsenal News: Barcelonian bunny wants Alexis to come back
    Jurgen Klopp rules out January bid for butter
    Phelan confirms loan bid for used car
    Arsenal News: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain told to snub bacon
    Jurgen Klopp denies interest in marmalade

    I really liked the little story at about Alexis coming across a bunny when driving with his family near Barcelona.

  5. Andy Mack
    Bearing in mind the following paragraph…
    ‘And it is worth pointing out the gossip column is manually curated each day by a BBC journalist, so choices are made about which stories to include and which ones to leave out.’
    …. the whole thing is rendered pretty pointless.

  6. Andy Mack that is amazing
    although not as thorough as untolds, with classic mistake of not giving out their data

  7. All it needs to start a rumour or fake stories is to string a few ‘well known facts’ and link it with whatever takes your fancy .

    a) Pick a club – preferably one you hate , are envious of , or who you think are ‘full of it’ .

    b). Pick a manager or two – who you hate or love ; are envious of or have admiration for ; who either dither or bold and direct ; who have conflicting views and styles ; who have had run in in the past , and start a new conflict.

    c). Throw in a player or two who may had ‘history’ or fall outs with one or both , and corner said player and put words in his mouth . Often with cash or alcohol, there would not be too much persuasion needed.

    d). Use national slights , slurs and innuendos and hey presto – a scoop is there for the taking !

  8. How to start a rumour.

    Dries Mertens from Naples has been seen on the Eurostar coming from London to Brussels. As he was willing to have a picture taken with a few Arsenal supporters it is close to certain he will join Arsenal. Seen at the airport becomes seen at the train station… 😉

  9. Lets say there was a ‘home grown’ foreign player C who was courted by his former club for his DNA , and that he was sold back to them by manager A . C

    The selling club , A , made noises that it was reluctant to sell but were forced into it by the shady and underhand dealings of club B, and player C. As well of his known desire to be with mummy .

    Club B , soon came to realise that they may have overestimated the class of player C , and were right the first tome to let him go as a youth. He was found also to have peculiar little peccadillos , which irked Club B.

    So when Club C came sniffing around , he was sold off , even though Club A had the right of first refusal, which they duly exercised and decided to take the money from the sell on fee . This of course pissed off player C , Club C as well as manager M, a noted moaner of some great disrepute.

    So to gain some measure revenge for this alleged slight , each one began a not so subtle campaign of misinformation to discredit Club A , with help from a pliant media .

    Player C , questioned the ambitions of Club A in not resigning him , claiming that Club A were a selling club and only interested in making money for their foreign major shareholder rather than win trophies . That the manager was a scrooge who did not like to pay fair wages ; citing the example of a former player of both clubs who almost had an accident when he heard of the new pay he was being offered by said skinflint manager !

    Manager M was almost daily attacking the other manager in the press and the comments were so obscene and gross that I choose not to repeat it in this fine family orientated blog !

    After reading all this you know that this tale was all the figment of my imagination . Also I don’t want Tony and UA to be sued by moaners !

  10. Most football journalists write complete shite most of the time.

    Current example is their general mantra that Arsenal’s title challenge has failed yet again. At the same time, Spurs and Man Utd, who are below us in the league, are genuine contenders. Unfortunately, some of our fans believe the nonsense that they write.

    They also have general love-affairs with Manchester clubs, Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea and occasional affection for whoever is playing Arsenal, such as “plucky” inferior clubs, who “don’t let Arsenal play” (we know what that means). They idolise Mourinho, love Allardyce and Harry Redknapp. etc etc etc.

    They mostly ignore all forms of corruption, whether its FIFA or FA or PGMOL related.
    They perpetuate the nonsense that England are a really good team, (or would be if there were not so many foreigners in the EPL)- ignoring the fact that 3 decades passed after England won the World Cup (with some outside help) before the main influx of plyers from abroad into our league.

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