“I knew from a very young age that I was going to be a journalist because I loved creative writing at School. I was having a clear-out over Christmas and I found a football match report that I wrote when I was 13 and my teacher left the comment “could have been lifted from the sports pages” which turned out to be a premonition given my career path.
I edited the school magazine and then I went to study English Literature at the University of Sheffield and became the sports editor of the student newspaper. So there was definitely a sense of calling there – I was always going to work with words. I was very one-dimensional academically – my GCSEs weren’t that great because I was not very good at science but once I went on to A levels and could focus on a few subjects that I was good at – English, History and Sociology – then things really took off. After University, I did my NCTJ qualifications at Harlow College and then started off as a trainee news reporter – I eventually became a sports journalist at a national tabloid. So I followed a very ‘classical’ route into the industry.
I ended up in Brighton for a number of reasons – I’d had a great time working in newspapers but the nature of sports journalism is working nights and weekends – it’s pretty anti-social much of the time. I had a great time working at the cutting edge of Fleet Street when I was young but I had just got married and was about to start a family and wanted to get away from the constant pressure of deadlines and get back to working more conventional hours. But at the same time, I didn’t want to lose my connection to sports journalism.
The job at Brighton seemed more of an evolution of this than a career change as such and I have never felt like I really left the industry. I had a long conversation with John Sugden, who was a professor here at the time, and he was highly persuasive and really sold me on what Brighton were trying to achieve with the sports journalism course in bringing a sociological sensibility into it.
Brighton had the first sports journalism UG course in the country and were real pioneers with it, it was exciting to become a part of that. I’ve gone from writing about sports as a journalist to writing about sports journalism as an academic and it was a fascinating time to make that change because the profession has been through so much transformation in the last 10-15 years.
It was a big step to go into lecturing at the time because I was only 33 and hadn’t really worked in the industry that long in the overall scheme of things and, in 2009, journalism lecturing was seen as either a route for failed journalists or a step towards retirement. It was a big step and raised eyebrows among my newspaper colleagues. But I felt that journalism education was really starting to move on to another level. There were deep ethical and professional questions that students were needing to explore that went beyond skills training. The idea of spending time discussing and debating journalism issues with students was something that massively appealed to me. Sports journalism studies as an academic discipline was also in its infancy and I saw the opportunity to contribute towards growing that.
I mainly teach sports journalism as an academic subject these days and I use my research to inform that. I recently had a book published – Disrupting Sports Journalism – and I’ve arranged the chapters so they can double as session themes. So that helps enormously – I wish I’d done it earlier, it took a pandemic for me to finally get around to doing it. It really underpins the learning on a module when you’re using a core text that you’ve written.
I think I’m most proud of having worked in two industries – journalism and academia – and made a reasonably decent fist of both of them. They are very, very different in terms of work culture and environment and I wasn’t sure when I came into academia whether it would be too much of a culture shock or not. It took me a long while to adapt to my new surroundings and to develop as an academic. But I’ve rolled with it, hung around and have now been in academia longer than I’ve been in journalism!
My work deals with the globalisation of sports journalism in the sense that we have moved beyond local and national audiences and the limited reach of the printing presses. Sports journalists now have global platforms over digital networks which has massively increased their professional power in that they can develop massive social media followings. That makes them extraordinarily powerful individuals – they have become bigger than the news organisations they work for. Sports journalists now have obligations to a global society and must raise awareness of international issues such as Qatar hosting the World Cup. This raises very important questions around ethics and professionalism that academics like myself try to address.
My work is relevant and significant because of the cultural power that sports journalists wield in society. I think as academics we need to interrogate this for the benefit of society, a fifth estate in watching the watchdog. Sports journalists must be held to account in terms of whether they are delivering to high professional standards. If they are not, then that is to the detriment of society, democracy and citizenship.
Advice for journalism students
Always be thinking about what it means to be a journalist and what your responsibilities and obligations are. The realisation that you occupy a powerful position in society and must act responsibility – we must always be thinking about that.
I think I just love the talking about journalism with students. The thinking about it and there is always a topical or recent development to discuss. That really helps to bring the subject to life and make it engaging for students – it’s out there, they are surrounded by it and follow it – so let’s talk about the issues at stake and what it all means.
I think you’ve got to enjoy it. You study and work in journalism because you enjoy it – you’ve got to love the writing and the telling of stories. The getting out there and meeting and speaking to people, the sociability and curiosity of it all. That feeling of making a difference to society – raising awareness of social issues and using your platform to give a voice to the voiceless. Don’t lose that enjoyment and don’t let journalism feel like ‘schoolwork’. Let your studies work for you. Just really throw yourself into the course and be positive and passionate about your work and what you’re doing.
Journalism at Brighton
Students are supported to succeed because I really think at Brighton we have this excellent blend of the thinking and the doing. The academic learning underpins the professional practice and we’ve got graduates out there in industry doing really well and they’re innovative and creative in their practice because they really understand how to be critical and think about journalism in different ways.
I think I’m proud of all graduates to be honest – everyone is out there trying to figure it out, it isn’t easy, and they’re all following their own pathways, not all in journalism by any means. So good for them all, really. I’ve seen quite a few graduating cohorts now and it’s been a privilege to share their study journey with them all and you can only hope that they all have fond memories of their time at Brighton. You hope that they got much out of it and that it really helped them to grow as adults and set them on their way in the big, wide world.