Podcast: Simon McEnnis – Sports Journalism and sport during Covid-19

Principal Lecturer Simon McEnnis discusses the future of sports journalism.

​Simon also talks about how sport has coped with the return to professional action during the coronavirus pandemic, his upcoming book and the new MA Sports Journalism course.

You can listen below or via Apple Podcasts or Spotify, or you can watch via YouTube.

Alternatively, a rough transcript is provided below – please note, this is auto-generated and there are likely to be errors throughout.

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Richard – Hello, welcome to the University of Brighton podcast. I’m Richard Newman This week we’re talking about sports and sports journalism with principal lecturer Simon McEnnis about how sports is retained during COVID-19. The challenges of sports journalism during that time and how the industry is being disrupted and shaken up by principally digital outlets. To demonstrate how fortunate, we are to have Simon teaching future journalists, as well as his work at the uni, Simon is the Sports Journalists Chair of the National Council for the Training of Journalists, or NCTJ passing courses from the Council, which is usually the industry requirement for employment. He was also a former sports journalist at the Sun and currently trains Journalists at Sky Sports News. Simon, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for coming on. I think, first of all, it would be good to get a little more detail about your background and so you were a full-time journalist. What sort of things do you work on? And why did the industry interest you?

Simon – Good question, actually. Yeah. I mean, I knew from a very young age I wanted to be a journalist, I was involved in school magazines. Ended up getting involved with the school newspaper – sorry – the university newspaper. And yeah, I knew from an early age I was going to go on that trajectory. And after I went to university, I did a fast track and NCTJ course, and I started work with local papers in Essex. I started off as a news reporter, then got my senior qualifications. And then I moved into sports and I became deputy sports editor of the Colchester Gazette. Then I moved on to Fleet Street and I went down a sort of tabloid route and that was mainly because the local paper I was working at was very kind of quite tabloidy in terms of positioning. And it made sense. Therefore, if I was going to go into Fleet Street was to go kind of through that route. So I sort of started off just doing some sort shift work at the now defunct News of the World and ended up getting a job on the sports desk of The Sun. And I was there for about nine years. And then I decided to move into academia with university at the beginning of 2009. So, yeah, I’ve been at Brighton now for a while, for eleven years now.

Richard – What was the reason to move into academia for you? And tell us about the work you do with Sky?

Simon – Yeah, well, yeah, it wasn’t an easy decision. That was for sure. I mean, it’s not you know, it’s quite unusual. You know, if you’ve got a job with a sports desk of a national newspaper of a national news organization, it’s kind of quite difficult to give that up. But I personally felt that, you know, I sort of wanted a change, really. I think sports journalists were doing a lot of evenings, weekends, and that was great. I had a great time there, you know, and I was sort of in my 20s, early 30s, but then I started to want to sort of move into… Yeah. I think my priorities in life changed. And I was interested the idea, I suppose, of thinking and writing about sports journalism. I knew the industry was changing. I mean, you know, we have to remember that the time I was in the industry was a time of absolutely massive change. You know, I saw that transition really sort of from print to web. And even when I left the industry, that transition was still going on. You know, I mean, I left in 2009 and, you know, it’s weird. So it’s just been a massively transformative platform in sports journalism wasn’t really sort of kind of widely adopted for users to about 2010. So I don’t have that kind of experience. So, yeah, I saw that kind of move towards Web and worked in that, and that was a really interesting time, really, to be working in the industry. But, you know, for me, that felt was the right time to move. I like the idea of working in a university and working with students and, you know, thinking about ways of kind of, I suppose, improving the industry, improving the profession. And that’s kind of why I what to work with students on. You know, when I left in 2009, you know, I was kind of around the time where there was some ethical problems, let’s say, the industry. You know, it’s working at News International, which now News UK, obviously, at a time where, unbeknownst to us on the sports desk, there was a phone hacking going on in the news department. And I was there at the newspaper when that was all happening. So I think it gets that kind of point and think actually, you know, I’ve seen the issues that are actually happening here? There’s good opportunity to sort-of move in and start thinking about this industry more. And at that time sports journalism was a very sort of kind of very much formative early stages, really, in terms of a kind of research field, if you like. And it’s been really interesting over the last eleven years. To see how that’s kind of really grown and matured. And it’s been, yeah, I think it’s been really exciting to be a part of that.

Richard – So what about the work you do elsewhere as well? The positions you have, like training journalists at Sky and places like that?

Simon – Yeah. So basically, it’s an interesting one because when I started at university, I was still doing Saturdays at the News of the World. And, you know, when I joined the university, you know, it was really important to me that I kind of kept that involvement with industry. And obviously a decision was taken amidst the phone hacking scandal to close the News of the World. And I was thinking “oh, crikey, okay. Well, how am I gonna keep my industry links now?” And it was literally a week after The News of the World closed – I got a phone call from the NCTJ, to say that Sky, Sky Sports News, are looking to launch this kind of sort staff development, sort of process, and they’re now looking for somebody from kind of like, you know, a print background, rich in experience. And yeah, they kind of thought I might be able to do that. So that’s how I got involved. And that was back in 2011. So, yeah, I’ve been involved with Sky now for a while. And that’s really, you know, it’s great. I mean, it’s pretty interesting, but I don’t come from a broadcast background, so it’s been really interesting. Sort of go in there and see, I think, some of differences, if you like, between broadcast and print and, you know, the new ways of working. Also, the challenges that they’ve been facing over the last 10 years. And it’s been great to sort of work with the journalists. Really, it’s not a setup where I kind of tell them what to do. I just try and create an environment where they’re kind of reflecting on their practices and trying to encourage them to really think quite deeply about what they’re doing. And, you know, you talk about journalists who work in unbelievably busy, fast 24-hour news environment. And, you know, it’s a great opportunity, I think, for them is just kind of take a little bit of time out, come into a room with me and just think about what they are doing away from the newsroom. And I’d like to think that they really appreciate that and they really get a lot out of it. I think it feeds back into the newsroom. I think it makes them better journalists, more reflective practitioners. And I think that can only be a good thing for both the organization and for, you know, sports journalism in general, really, because certainly in this country, you know, Sky Sports News – one of the most visible outlets, if you like, of sports journalism really so. Yeah, it’s great to be involved in that. It’s something I really, really enjoy. In terms of the NCTJ Involvement. Yeah. Just to clarify, I’m the chair of the Sports Journalism Board. Not the overall organization. Just to clarify that and yeah that involves kind of setting national exams. It also involves kind of chairing a board of special markers, if you like, where we kind of determine the kind of subject benchmarks for sports journalism training in the UK. And obviously, you know, that’s something that we’re constantly having to review as the industry changes and we get a lot of feedback from the industry on how it’s all evolving and what have you. So that’s a good thing to be involved with as well. And it’s great to be in a position where I sort of feel I can kind of help, you know, make a major contribution in terms of shaping that kind of stuff. Those benchmark standards really in this country.

Richard – I’m just coming to your work at the university and journalism and sports journalism courses. We know it’s a strange time for everyone at the moment. How will the courses adapt this autumn, but also placement wise, students may be a little bit concerned they might not be able to go on placement. Can you tell us how that would be tackled?

Simon – Yeah, I mean, it’s an interesting question, because, I mean, in a way, it’s something that we’ve already had to confront because when lock-down started our third year with the process of submitting their work placement portfolios for assessment, really. So we had to start thinking about, you know, kind of more liberal interpretations of what constitutes work experience and work placement. You know, obviously once the lockdown started, you know, newsrooms were, you know, kind of reorganizing themselves so that only essential workers were still going in there. So obviously, in that situation, that kind of work placement schemes they were running were sort of the first to go in many respects. So that was out of the question. And it was just about being more flexible in your thinking. I mean, as the industry was moving into new ways of working then I think the kind of student activity kind of started to go with that. And I think that will continue to evolve into the next academic year. In the last few weeks we’ve been contacted by companies saying they’re looking for students to get involved with working for their Website and what have you, on a remote basis. So I think as the industry is kind of moving into that kind of area, I think the kind of student contribution will kind of come with it. So it’s down to us really to be so quite flexible and quite accommodating in our interpretation of what constitutes work experience for students. I mean, you know, we’ve got our own content platform over time online which is a course website. And again, you know, students, I think that they are contributing to that, that in itself is a kind of form of publishing, you know, it’s in the public domain. So, yeah, we just have to make sure that from a student point of view, we’re not kind of creating kind of really narrow frameworks, interpretations around that. So, yeah, we’ve got to make that as easy as possible and as realistic as possible, I think, for students to achieve.

Richard – Before we move on from this, can you tell us about leading the creation of new masters courses. Can you tell us a bit about that and the work which has gone into it?

Simon – Yeah. I mean, we’ve had a sports journalism course at the university since about 2003. It’s a longstanding, well-established course in and around about 2014, I think it was, we started the journalism undergraduate course. So once that kind of happened, we started to think, well, actually, we’ve started to develop a bit of a cluster of journalism courses here, which is good. We kind of like to think we’ve been quite successful really in terms of recruitment over the years. And we thought that was an opportunity to kind of move the kind of subject area forward, take it to the next level with a master’s program, hopefully kind of stimulate a little bit more of a kind of sort of research culture and intellectual environment around the subject area. I mean, the Masters are very much kind of aimed at students who maybe for their undergraduate studies have done a non-journalism related course, whether that’s in Brighton or in another institution. And it’s an opportunity for them to come with us and to do a bit more focused study on journalism if they’ve established that’s what they wanted to do and they then get the professional qualifications. Effectively do a kind of conversion year and then they’ll be in a better position to go into the industry. So that was really the two main reasons behind it, which was to kind of expand the subject area, to sort of take its results into the next level and also to kind of make it possible for students who wouldn’t otherwise get this opportunity to study with us to get that opportunity, really.

Richard – Let’s talk a little bit about COVID, the impact it had on sports journalism and sports. I guess I should say I’ve been directly impacted by that. I’m a freelance sports journalist who saw my work disappear overnight. Something like that, pretty unprecedented. And it’s forced almost every sports focused outlet to be creative and really think about what they’re doing, isn’t it?

Simon – Yes, I mean, it’s quite funny, actually, because already when we think about disruption, it’s caused sports journalism we’re already talking in the past tense because, of course, Premier League is back up and running. Cricket’s back up and running, will start the second test already today. So sport is kind of. Yeah. I mean, it was a fairly brief period in many respects where it was in this situation. And, yeah, it’s it’s kind of, I think, gradually kind of getting back to normal in terms of how they’re kind of covering, live sport. Obviously, like you say, I think freelancers have been the big losers in that respect. And I think the way sports journalism really kind of, the general approach to the sort of pandemics, the kind of coverage was really to kind of sort delve into the more sort of nostalgic elements of sport, really. So, yeah, I was kind of like almost summer’s come early because in sports journalism, you know, the months of June and July tends to be relatively quiet. And that’s when the kind of whole kind of gossip transfer rumors kind of start to happen. And I think they just happened a bit earlier this year as a result, as a result of that. But, yeah, I mean, unprecedented situation. I mean, I can’t really remember a time where there’s been absolutely no sport to cover like that. Yes. There’s usually something going on. And I think the industry found itself in a very unprecedented situation. But yeah, like you say, the freelancers were the big loosers in that; highly expendable. Not really much protections and yes, that’s the way the industry works, unfortunately.

Richard – You say going back to normal, but it certainly feels differently from the other end covering it from these new restrictions that we have. And also in terms of the access we’re getting to people in sport, which is something we’ll come to later when we’re talking about how sports journalism is sort of evolving, really. And you wonder whether some of these things will be here to stay in terms of not being able to get access to sports managers, to players. With the return of sport itself, how have you sort of found it? You know, we’re talking about the end of the Premier League season. And so, I mean, generally do you think it’s been a success?

Simon – I think it’s been a success for the Premier League, probably. I mean, I think they’ve managed to get it up and running and they don’t seem to have had any real issues or problems so far, particularly in terms of COVID-19, in terms of positive tests that have kind of put a spanner in the works in terms of disrupting the original plans. It’s a difficult one really in the sense that, you know, I think as a starting point we obviously have to understand that this was really all about the broadcast deals, the TV rights and, you know, fulfilling those contracts because, you know, I think it would cost the Premier League something like two hundred sixty million, something like that in kind of lost broadcast cash if they hadn’t have completed the season. So there was obviously a massive financial incentive, let’s say, to get things back up and running. And that was obviously the kind of main driver behind this, really, how that sits, I’m not entirely sure.

Richard – But do you think it would have come back at all if these TV deals weren’t in place? Would it have been a case of, like a month or two ago they would have said, you know what, we can’t guarantee safety, let’s just give it a rest. If these massive deals weren’t in place, not just TV deals, but commercial deals as well. So if you could take it just from a pure safety point of view and common sense, would we be watching sport now?

Simon – So really, it’s a really good question. I mean, obviously, there’s there’s a lot of protocols that are in place. You know, they’ve got the different zones of Premier League stadiums. They’ve got the frequent testing of players? I mean, I think they’ve got it to a point where I think that they’ve got some serious health and safety measures. So, yeah, they’ve got to a point where, yeah, they kind of move forward with it. I guess so. Yeah. I mean, it’s happening. I mean, look. Yes. Look, what we’ve got to remember about this is because there’s so much money at stake. There’s been a lot of money you can put into those health and safety measures. You know, you can actually build the kind of infrastructure around that, you know, it’s going to be an interesting question because obviously the only football that’s really taking place at the moment is the Premier League championship in this country. You know, once we get to the next season, where does that leave League One, League two, clubs in the non-league pyramid who maybe don’t have those kind of access to the resources that it takes to make those kind of measures and those protocols work? So, yeah, I think that’s some interesting longer term questions for footballing in general once we step outside the sort of top two tiers. Really?

Richard – Where does it leave fans? Because, you know, they’re often, especially in the Premier League, in the really cash rich sports, often kind of marginalised anyway. Now we’re seeing no fans in stadiums but record TV audiences. So we are able to see that sport can, short term, still be a very attractive offer. There’s the rhetoric of sport is nothing without fans. But at the moment, it’s surviving quite well.

Simon – Yeah. I mean, I think we’ve known for a while. I mean, certainly, probably the last 20 or 30 years there’s been that kind of creeping sort of development in the way the professional sport has become increasingly globalised. And that’s been driven by broadcast deals, global broadcasting, as that’s kind of developed and grown in power, if you like but what we’ve really effectively seen is the power that fans have kind of go the other way and decrease as that’s increased, really. So we’ve kind of known that for a while. We know the sense of kind of alienation that a lot of fans feel because of these kind of globalized developments in professional sport. And I guess what’s ended up happening now in Project Restart is just that stark manifestation of that realisation of it. That, here it is. You know, the show is actually still going on. And I don’t actually need fans, you know, in order to make that happen, really. And once you get to that stark realization, then all you can probably lead to is that even a further erosion of any kind of any fan voice that’s kind of left really. Obviously, there’s been your concession. There’s games, there’s a few games on terrestrial TV as a concession to that. You’ve got the sort of video fan all but, you know, it’s a fairly sort of kind of token gestures, really. I mean, at the end of the day the football is really going on without fans and we’ve got access to fan noise. Apparently, two thirds of viewers are kind of going for the fan noise option. So it’s really all about the sort of broadcast experience. But we’ve known for a while that, you know, the fans who have the power, particularly in football, are the ones who sit in armchairs, not necessarily, you know, the ones who actually sit in the stadium. So, yeah, I mean, when we actually look back at the history of football, everything around the sports stadium was kind of geared up towards the fans, all the advertising and what have you, any kind of razzmatazz. But that’s long since gone.Anything that happens, you know, in a stadium, even the fans themselves are all part of that sort of global spectacle of sport, really. And I just think that’s happened now since Project Restart. It’s just that Stark realized how that manifestation of all these kind of dynamics really.

Richard – I guess, is a debate about whether the actual product on the pitches is quite as good. I’ve been inside the stadium as well. Been lucky enough to be inside reporting on these Brighton & Hove are being games. The atmosphere is very strange. I think only now as players get used to maybe what they’re playing under in some of the quality matches has got a bit better. There is already talk of fans may be coming in for next season and I know we’re focusing on football a bit here, but back in football grounds in in September, that would be maybe a third full maybe. We’ll have to wait and see. We’re actually seeing a return to spectators in our local area, very soon. When when we’re recording this, there’s lots of talk about glorious Goodwood’s admitting somewhere close to 5000 spectators a day, which would be one of the first sports in the country to allow fans back in. Which is ironic, I guess, because at the start of the pandemic we had the Cheltenham Festival, which was taking place in packed crowds and often criticized for that. It’s a weird balance, isn’t it, to get these fans back inside these sporting venues?

Simon – Yes. And obviously, you know, presumably tehre’s going to have to be some kind of social distancing measures and that is going to lead to kind of drastically reduced capacity as you can in sort of all the grounds and stadiums, really. I mean, yeah, as you say the focus is on football because, you know, I would say, watching the cricket, that feels even weirder because I think at least with football, we have some kind of familiarity. You know, we’ve seen games play behind closed doors because of other bans or whatever. It’s not massively ounfamiliar. But, yeah, watching a test match where there’s abnsolutley no fans and it ends up feeling like a mid-table county cricket match, you know, in sort of early September is very much a weird experience. It’s also worth pointing out as we kind of focus on the Premier League because obviously that’s a big talking point. You know, this kind of massive inequality really in sport, particularly in terms of men’s sport being prioritized and women’s sport really getting the thin end of the wedge. And again, what I said earlier about the stark manifestation of, you know, sort of fan and broadcast power, we’re seeing that as well in terms of those kind of gender inequalities in sport. And it’s pretty clear where the sort of priorities lie in that respect.

Richard – Yeah. And that’s a good point, actually, because also the women’s game, especially in football, was starting to make some progress in terms of national broadcast and especially since the World Cup last year. They are going to be potentially, the women’s game potentially is going to be potentially one of the big losers isn’t it; because it’s losing that momentum. We don’t know when the fans are going to be allowed back into stadiums, as we say. And as you say, the priorities from broadcasters maybe appear to be elsewhere. It could really suffer?

Simon – Yes. And they’ve obviously had the European Championships pushed back. There was a knock on effects of the men’s euros being pushed back a year. So, yeah, absolutely. Any kind of momentum that kind of came out of the World Cup. Yeah, it’s been well and truly sort of lost, really. Which is, I think, a real pity and that opportunity to kind of get the momentum going again is unfortunately still quite way away in many respects. So, yeah. I think difficult knock on effects from this, which is a real sort of shame. Yeah. In many respects. Yeah.

Richard – We don’t know when sport is going to go back to normal. Let’s move on to a book that you’re working on. Tell us a bit about that before we talk about the way that so sports journalism is being disrupted in general.

Simon – Yeah, I think there’s a book series about this book series called Digital Disruptions, which is very much a sort of journalism studies thing, where different academics are looking at different aspects of journalistic practice, looking at how the sort of digital age has kind of changed, how it’s disrupted it. And, yeah, I’m writing a book on disrupting sports journalism. So it’s just a sort of general book, really, that looks at what the digital age is meant for sports journalism, but really thinking about it in terms of kind of almost an existential crisis in many ways where for many years sports journalism was used to kind of having a monopoly over sports communication. And now it’s kind of one of those kind of many voices, I guess. And what does that where does that leave sports journalism in terms of kind of a professional project, really, in terms of their distinctiveness, in terms that cultural authority, you know, society has a lot of expectations of sports journalists, a lot of different levels, whether that’s being a sort of, you know, what’s in power, making power. Whether it’s being socially and ethically responsible in it’s reporting, how it’s projecting political issues that manifest itself in sport. There’s all sorts of different expectations on sports journalism. And, you know, the reality is this has become increasingly difficult for sports journalists to aschieve those things. I mean, you said earlier about, you know, for example, the impact of COVID, you kind of get rid of, you know, freelancers and you’re in a situation where, you know, all the guys in the office, all the staff are in a situation where they’ve got to work harder, they’re spread more thinly and that opportunity to kind of do more considered, more reflective, more analytical sports journalism gets further away. Because the thing is, with internet, you’re feeding the beast. It’s that constant publication, constantly putting out fresh output and not much time to kind of think about it. So it’s very much soort of surface level content, really. So, you know, there’s a lot of challenges. You know the fact that you’ve got a lot kind of encroachment, if you like, on the territory, whether that’s from bloggers, whether it’s from clubs themselves. I saw a website, was it yesterday, run an exclusive with Jose Marinhoe. I mean, you know, this is a domain of journalism, running exclusives. It is quite bizarre, really, because they should be getting exclusives. I mean, the whole point of exclusive journalism is that there was a level of kind of journalistic mouse and kind of working contacts to get there but, yeah, it’s quite bizarre that a club breaks its own news and it describes it’s exclusive. So straight away, that kind of tells you a lot about the encroachment on sports journalism territory and how sports journalism is trying to kind of repel those kind of challenges and how it kind of maintains its own boundries. And, you know, that’s really crucial because if it can’t maintain those boundaries and it can’t prove its expertise in its distinctiveness, then that leaves serious questions in terms of its cultural authority, in terms of its kind of public trust and in terms of its kind of very sort of existence, really, in terms of what how we traditionally understand sports journalism to be. So I think a big question that the book is kind of considering is, is sports journalism kind of morphing into something different in terms of what it is as a professional field and in terms of who belongs to professional field? So it’s a book that’s really trying to kind of ask bigger existential crisis, questions around sports journalism and what this might look like. I think going forward now, this feeds into those kind of societal expectations of what they should be doing and what they’re they’re for, really.

Richard – First of all, do you think there is a bit of a danger that sports journalism sort of. Misses the generation, at least the younger generation, often consuming their sports news. Or, well, sports content instead. I guess through blogs originally, but now it’s YouTube channel,it is influencers says it is fans TV, its fan podcasts, which often get like the odd guest on maybe some clubs or even helping them get. Instead of going to the sports journalists because, you know, you’re probably gonna get a little bit less scrutiny and a good amount of positive PR. So do you think some younger generation maybe aren’t consuming the sports journalism Potentially?

Simon – I think it’s a really good question. I mean, I think I suppose journalists in general has always had this kind of issue where what tends to get the kind of most the biggest audience tends to be classified as the less robust. So a journalist, maybe, if you can call it that, you know, we’re talking about a kind of celebrity news aspects of it. And, you know, we’ve got to remember and I guess this is this is the whole thing about journalism is, you know, ultimately there’s a tension between the fact that journalism works, know in the private sector. You know, as a journalist, you you’re working for a company that needs to make a profit. That means to you know, it’s answerable to shareholders. You know, even local papers, you know, are owned, you know, Company News Quest, the subsidiary of a great big American media conglomerate, really. And, you know, so nothing’s immune from this. So as a journalist, you’re working very much in that kind of commercial imperative, really, where it is about generating audiences and is about generating advertising revenue because that pays the way. So wherever that’s, you’re going to kind of do it. But then you’ve got the professional side of it where, you know, certainly when you think about journalism training, you know, it’s really all about the professional aspects, principles such as, you know, objectivity, autonomy, ethics, you know, public interest. And, you know, sometimes those kind of professional objectives and principles are kind of conflicts with the commercial imperative. Sometimes the commercial imperative can take journalists into, you know, arguably quite unethical areas. So there’s this tension really at the heart of the kind of profession generally between that commercial imperative and the professional principle. Sometimes, you know, they kind of dovetail quite nicely. But a lot of times that can be this conflict and this kind of tension. I guess that’s kind of where we’re at, really. I think the question for journalism around the kind of hard news, as you say, is, okay, you may not necessarily attract as big an audiences, but, you know, is there a bigger picture here in terms of the kind of prestige, the credibility that actually gives your news organization, and particularly as we’ve seen this movement towards kind of more subscription based models? You know, you look likes times. You know, we look at the Telegraph, for instance. There is you know, what comes with that I think is a real obligation and a requirement really to be producing quality journalism, because for people to subscribe, that’s what they really want. They want to feel like they’re getting something that they can’t necessarily get elsewhere. And that leads in to your other question, which is around journalistic access, which generally speaking, has become quite amorphous, highly restricted, and therefore that leads to quite homogenous saw kind of sports news. So if you’re in a situation where behind a paywall and you’ve got to try and get something different to a sports journalist that’s not behind a paywall. How do you do that? It’s actually really difficult to because the access is so tightly restricted. It’s really hard to kind of break out of that and sort of generate more kind of original content. So all of this is just one big cyclical crisis, tragedy for the profession. It’s got to try and find a way out of this and it’s got to think creatively, imaginatively about where it takes things in future. And I think part of that is actually sort of moving away from that reliance on a niche who sources all the kind of sports call of a modem, news from clops from governing bodies. And it’s about trying to perhaps, you know, talk more, engage more with fans, fans stories and try and kind of fall back more than kind of really good, solid newsprint sports developing a good wide contact base. And I think that would help to kind of restore sports journalists kind of trust with the public, because I think for years now there’s been probably a general feeling that sports journalism is part of that kind of corporate and commercial machinery apparatus around professional sports. I mean, I think just needs a little bit of a reassessment to try and kind of break out of that reliance, I think, on those kind of official sources. Rarely.

Richard – Yeah, I even both at The Times and The Telegraph behind this paywall. They’ve still got to operate a newspaper as well. Day they come to maybe where newspapers may be going in just a bit, but then you’ve got special subscriptions, stabs his nightly athletic and which launched in the U.K. last summer after starting the USA and the aim there is actually sort of the anti what’s what we’ve been talking about before about feeding the beast. It’s about less churn, it’s about more quality sports writing. Time to get a quality piece together. It is refreshing. Do you think it’s a good model? That’s going to really break through hair properly because we don’t really know how well the athletics performing and lots of decent PR and lots of this subscription offers as well, though, throughout this last year?

Simon – Yeah, I mean, first of all, what Will says from a sports journalism education point of view. That was a great development. I mean, that really was manna from heaven in terms of moving the kind of conversation around sports journalism forward. And it was a very interesting new model that emerged. And overall, I think it was a real shake for that industry as a sports journalist. It’s always been very much kind of entwined with traditional media. And there was a sense that if you didn’t work for traditional media, you weren’t a proper sports journalist. And I think for a few years now, certainly the narrative arc, it more kind of maybe blocher’s alternative sources of sports journalism. First comments, you can kind of argue about narrative, but then suddenly you’re in a situation where, you know, you got sports journalists who are working for traditional media suddenly going over this new venture. And it just kind of throws the whole thing up in the air about what’s legitimate sports journalism and where is the actual home of sports journalism. And obviously, it’s now becoming increasingly fragmented and yet really interesting. I mean, well, I would say about that is. Well, I think so interesting about this is a truly global sports journalism model in many respects as well, because it was taking a bit too far to say it’s a trans-Atlantic model. And what it kind of perhaps is failing is sort of a little bit. Is the kind of different historical trajectories of sports journalism in the US compared to the U.K., whereas in the US sports always existed. It’s this kind of specialist form of media, whereas the U.K. since the late sort of 20 or 30 so late, nineteen thirty 20th centuries, a kind of specialist sports and press really sort of died that died out, was a force and never kind of re-established meaningfully. And we’ve always associated sports journalism as part of a kind of wider newsroom, as part of a wider newspaper products. So an America that wasn’t such a big leap of faith, I think, for sports fans as it has been in the U.K., where we just don’t have that kind of that that culturally cultural way of kind of consuming media we’d be associate sport with alongside other forms of journalism. So I think it’s been really interesting to see that. And you can’t you can’t assume it’s just because it’s works in America is that mobile is going to work in the U.K. for those reasons. I mean, obviously, what’s happened with this and lock down is, well, look, I mean, if you’ve got all sorts of traditional newspaper organizations where there’s no sport happening, it’s so sad, you know, so we talked about telegraph and times. Now, if you’re a telegraph time subscriber, you’re in a situation there where actually it’s not just about sport. I’m not you know, I may be subscribing mainly for the sport, but, you know, I’m reading the news, I’m reading pulao sections, whatever that. But there’s more to it. But what happened in lockdown is you’ve got a subscription service that’s all about sport, only about sport. And that is where you kind of come unstuck a little bit. And nobody saw this coming. But I think that’s that’s athletic in a realm where they’ve got very different considerations to other news organizations. And maybe it’s kind of exposed the vulnerability of that kind of specialist sports model. When you get to these kind of these sorts of crises, really, if you like. So, yeah, I think really interest interests, see how they kind of plan in the future. But, you know, like I said earlier, that the wheels are back on track. There’s football to write about. There’s cricket, other sports coming on stream soon. So, yeah, things look like they’re back up and running again. But I think it’s been an interesting kind of really makes you realize what a different may not so much limitations, but different considerations of of these different business models. And also the other thing say about that, about the athletic is, you know, we kind of need to think about this model, really move alongside maybe a sort of kind of sky sports package, maybe even alongside a Netflix Amazon Prime. And that’s certainly how the athletic kind of position themselves kind of described themselves as the Netflix of sports. But, you know, what we had locked down is a bit like Netflix saying, look, we can’t show you all the latest shows. We have got a set. You know, we’re going to show you 70s sitcoms, you know, instead. And, you know, it’s it’s different once you kind of set a stall on saying this is where we are. You know, it’s just a realization, I guess, that sport is quite crisis prone. And in many respects, you know, it’s quite unpredictable. And, you know, there’s got to probably thinking strategically, they’ve got to build a more contingency, I think, in future.

Richard – Final question, just about. About newspapers. What do you think they need to do to survive? What’s the future of newspapers? We’ve seen The Guardian announce that almost 200 people are going to be losing their jobs. It’s a really tricky time for for papers. And there is a bit of a transition, aren’t they deciding what they’re going to do and how can they compete? Are we going to see them around in a 20, 30 years time? What’s your what’s your prediction?

Simon – Gosh, I mean, it’s a really good question. It’s a real source of kind of silver bullet of an answer and nobody really knows. I mean, it’s different than what we’ve seen over the last 20 years. A lot kind of mergers, city in terms of sun operations merging with the daily operations. We’ve seen mergers across titles. For example, we reach people say where you’ve now got the mirror and you’ve got the Express in the same state. But I think we’re just going to see a continuation of that, really. So just more and more increased consolidation, which is really bad for the news industry in the sense that you then get even further away from that kind of plurality of different use and different people producing that news. Step two, vital for healthy democratic society, really. But the more and more it consolidates, the more it’s just going to kind of be a very limited and repetitive kind of stream of news and probably increased reliance. And it’s going to for a long time on press agency such as Press Association and Reuters and. Yeah. Really, really difficult. I mean, it’s just it just feels like it’s being massively professionalized at the moment as well, where the salaries are kind of going out of journalism have been for a long time. And yeah, I mean, if you look at us as a course, as a subject here at the university. Now we have a lot graduates now who sort of move into PR roles. And I think as PR and journalism continues to blur. I think what we’re going to see is a continued expansion of that kind of sector where we’re not. Then, you know, you’re not thinking so much about job opportunities in traditional media. You’re more thinking in terms. Working as a journalist within a you know, maybe not the kind of from non journalistic organization. And yeah, I mean, all that’s going to happen, I think it’s a PR sector will continue to expand and become more journalistic like new characters. So I think that’s probably where it’s looking in terms of what newspapers need to survive. I think, you know, it’s really easy just to kind of throw your hands up in the air and say, oh, well, what can you do? You know, the Internet is kind of killing us, really. But I think, you know, newspapers could do a lot more to produce a better product, really. I mean, if you look at, for example, the local media, I mean, I just think your local newspaper, your number one priority is going to be covering court, covering council. But I think that some of really happened to straight away. It’s kind of. Yeah, there’s question properties there in terms of what you can use, you actually generate and what value there is in that news. And also, I just think it’s just, you know, getting better distribution models. I think, you know. There’s been a sort of kind of general recognition in, you know, for a while that we’re getting away from the physical newspaper, but, you know, who’s to say that there isn’t this renaissance towards kind of reaction towards kind of quality journalism, towards get, you know, consuming news for newspaper again? And yet, no newspaper really has a very decent distribution model in terms of how it actually gets the newspaper to people to to consume consumers. So, yeah, it industry, I don’t think has helped itself in this kind of period. I, I don’t think it’s necessarily gross profits. Right. And yeah. I’m not sure it’s responded. I don’t think it’s done enough to evolve and change the way, um, reimagine what journalism is. I think it kind of the way you get away with just doing the same old thing, same old and eventually it will be fine. And that’s obviously not turn out to be the case. I think it could on a lot more sort of that and reconsider what it is and how to do things.

Richard – Really looking forward to reading your book when will it be out roughly?

Simon – Yes. It’s still a while off. Yeah, it’ll be later, second half off next year. I think I think I’ll be around around that time. Maybe so. Yeah. Yeah.

Richard – Cool. And we end every podcast with some sort of random questions. Quick fire away from your work fest is. What advice would you give to your younger self.

Simon – I mean, I think I think being young is difficult enough as it is. There’s a lot of pressure and you’re making some big decisions that kind of shape the rest of your life. And I don’t know, you get so mean, so much advice coming at you from people who are older than you. And, you know, I’m not sure adding another voice to that is going to help. I’m not sure my younger self probably listens. I would just let my younger self just make the mistakes because I think sometimes you just have to and I don’t know. I not trying to interfere. That aspect is wise really. I think you have to. That’s part of life is to make mistakes. Is that is the figuring things out and yeah. Going your own journey. It’s hard to see how it wouldn’t come across as patronising to be honest, if you could pick any other subject to study at the University of Brighton, what might that be?

Simon – Oh, crikey. I mean, yeah, I mean, you know, journalism is all about storytelling. And I think something like creative writing is interesting in the sense that’s also about storytelling. Bit of a different way to journalism. So I think I’d be quite interested how a subject like that kind of looks at that storytelling process differently to journalism. So I think that there’s that curiosity. I think.

Richard – Pick a favorite place in Sussex.

I know for Sussex, obviously, something I’m not sure I know as well as I should say. I mean, I’ve lived there for years. Yeah. I should go out a lot more. Yeah. I mean, I. I live in Eastbourne, I really like it here. I think it’s a really nice, great thing about the Sussex, particularly when we think about the major kind of along the coast, Brighton and these four in Hastings. Well, I really liked about that is the three very different places, but they’re great in their own right. So I think they are depending on when the mood takes you. I think you’ve got something there. And I, I mean, you know, I guess I gravitate towards Eastbourne because I know it better than any other area. I think, you know, somewhere that. Well, then, yeah, you’re probably the better position to say, yeah, that’s that’s what I like a lot about it. So yeah, I’ll go with that. Yeah. I think it’s a great county, you know. Great. I mean, I’d recommend it to anyone. I mean simply and sense of place, you know, students to study. For example, it’s some if you like. Think if you like an outdoors life particular round here, you could not ask. You can ask for more it is fantastic.

Richard – Tell us something interesting about you which a lot of people may not know/

Simon – Oh, well, that is not so interesting, but it’s a bit weird, but I have a fear of frogs and toads, which is actually a proper phobia. So, yeah, it’s really bizarre. But, yeah, that’s the thing that happens. Really. Yeah. A few months ago, my next door neighbors got new ponds. So yeah, you can imagine the anxiety and the face stepping out to the garden. Now so. Yeah. So I need to deal with this at some point I think.

Richard – Okay. And if you finally do, you could pick three people to host a dinner party. They could be past or present. Who would they be and why?

Past or present. I mean, I don’t. I don’t know. I mean, this is hard to answer this kind of question, Without sounding really cringe. Well, I’m going to say my wife and two kids because I do not know who else I rather have dinner with. And to be honest, anyone else, if I start to get famous people, they’re just people I don’t know. So they say do not meet your heroes as well. So it’s actually a good idea. And I think my general experience of kind of meeting people I’ve admired from afar and seeing in the flesh is generally sort of one of disappointment. So, yeah, I’ll probably stick to what I know, what I’m familiar, who I’m familiar with.

Richard – Simon, thanks so much for coming on. Really great to get your thoughts on some of those issues. And if you want to look in to studying with us, take a look at our website, Brighton.ac.uk. Clearing is open now for this year. You can also look at the courses to study in 2021. Couple of good courses there and all the information is on the website. That’s it for this week. Please do like subscribe and review. We’re on YouTube, Apple podcasts, Spotify, all the major podcast platforms. Thanks for listening.

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