Tag Archives: the guardian

Journo Talk 3: ‘Some might say I’m bolshy – I call it passionate’

By Sam Blackledge

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“I wish we didn’t have to do the woman thing.”

Lizzie Ammon, speaking to her 29,000 Twitter followers, has pre-empted my question.

A freelance writer and broadcaster for The Times, the BBC and The Guardian among many others, Ammon is far from your typical cricket journalist.

The “woman thing” is impossible to escape, so let’s get it out of the way.

“I guess while women are the minority in sports journalism it’s going to be a thing if you are one,” she says.

“I’m a single mum and I won’t pretend doing this job and trying to look after a small child is easy, it isn’t.

“It requires having a very understanding childminder, being completely organised in terms of logistics and being able to cope with the guilt of not seeing your child much.

“But I am quite passionate about demonstrating that you can be a mum and a sports journalist, even though the hours are a bit erratic and sometimes long, particularly in cricket.”

Ammon says she “fell into” the job, having followed the game from a young age as scorer, junior coach and county member.

She blogged and got the occasional gig with a newspaper “more by luck than judgement”, but says being in the right place at the right time is just the start.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of people who want to write about sport for a living,” she says.

“You can’t expect a sports editor to employ you to just sit all day watching cricket in the sunshine and filing 500 words on what happened.

“You have to give them something they can’t get from Press Association reports or from any other writer.”

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We move on to the subject of social media.

My own day job requires me to follow a stream of chattering political types, clogging up my feed with endless squabbles over Brexit, Corbyn, Trident and the rest.

With 230,000 tweets and counting, ‘LegSideLizzy’ gives them all a run for their money.

Her messages appear as a stream-of-consciousness: one minute she’s sniping at ECB bosses and the lunacy of international schedules, the next she’s gleefully tweeting along with Cold Feet and posting pictures of her sausage casserole.

“I know a lot of my colleagues hate it,” she says. “I have a love-hate relationship with it but I am very active.

“It’s a useful tool for spotting trends, opinions and news; it’s also a great way of engaging with everyone, from county chairman to county members or a player’s best mate.

“I try to use it to both impart what I know and give my opinions. I’m afraid I have had some horrible experiences on Twitter – everything from rape threats to personal abuse about my looks.

“It kind of goes with the territory, and on balance I think it’s far better to be on social media than not, particularly if you are trying to build an audience and get noticed.

“Sometimes I get told I am too much of a self-publicist, but I figure if you want to try to pursue a career sometimes you have to self-publicise.”

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Does her online identity reflect who she is in real life?

“I’m probably not the best judge of that,” she says.

“I am outspoken, perhaps far too outspoken at times. Some might call it bolshy and opinionated; some might call it passionate.

“I am certainly passionate about cricket, particularly the less than glamorous world of county cricket.

“Some of that is because you form genuine affinities with the players, coaches and supporters in county cricket.

“It’s not like football, it’s a small enough to really feel like it’s something worth fighting for.”

Ammon has built an enviable portfolio of scoops, including digging into the fallout from the ECB’s decision to relegate Durham from division one of the County Championship.

She says newsgathering is “the only thing I am any good at”.

“I am self-aware enough to know that I am no Michael Atherton or Gideon Haigh.

“I don’t write pretty words or have a nice turn of phrase and I’m not a technical expert. Inherently I am a massive gossip, which isn’t a bad trait for a journalist.

“I like finding things out, pursuing things to their end. I believe one of the most important roles of a journalist is to hold authority to account for every decision they make, to uncover things, and most importantly to tell your reader something they didn’t already know and couldn’t find out somewhere else.”

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Given she has not come from within the game, like many cricket writers, does she feel more able to challenge those at the top?

“I am not scared of authority, although of course if you annoy powerful men they can make life very uncomfortable for you,” she says.

“I guess in a sense I don’t have anything to lose by challenging authority, but at the risk of sounding pious, it isn’t solely about that.

“I try to find out the truth and write about it, and if some of those truths make life uncomfortable for those in power then that is not really my problem.

“The current ECB administration often verges close to bullying territory and that gets my back up, so I will continue to stay across what some see as the minutiae of county cricket and continue to try to hold the ECB to account for the decisions they are taking.

“I do try to give credit where it is due too, although perhaps not as often as I should.

“But no-one wants to read ‘Isn’t everything great and didn’t they all do well’. That doesn’t sell newspapers.”

Are you a proper cricket journalist? Would you like to feature in Journo Talk? E-mail samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge.

 

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Journo Talk 2: There’s life in the old Selve yet

By Sam Blackledge


A 16-year first class playing career, followed by 32 more as broadcaster and writer, makes Mike Selvey one of the most respected voices in the cricketing world and well qualified to offer advice to newcomers.

But right now all that experience seems to be weighing heavy on the former fast bowler’s shoulders.

“I’ll be really honest,” he says. “I’m not sure I would want to be starting out now.

“There are plenty of people, brilliant young writers some of them, wanting to write about cricket, but traditional outlets are shrinking and the openings are just not there.

“The way forward for aspiring writers has to be digital, and within that to find a niche, either in style or in areas that others do not cover.

“For example, there are some who have made a speciality out of women’s cricket, which I think will expand massively during the next decade.

“The same applies to T20, in which I believe lies the game’s future.

“But also remember the adage: ‘It has never been easier to get published and never harder to get paid for it.’ Aspiring writers or journalists will find it a tough market place.”

Selvey, who moved into the Test Match Special commentary box after hanging up his bowling boots in 1984, says the job of a cricket journalist has changed “beyond all recognition.”

“When I started there was of course no internet,” he says.

“The newspaper industry was in a state of flux with new outlets starting. The business was still hot metal: typewriters, copy takers, finding phones to get copy through, using telex when abroad.

“Match reporting is still important but, sadly, largely around international cricket.

“Beyond that, there is an increasing emphasis on hard news stories (often not real news in an accepted sense, but self-generated ‘issues’); quotes stories (I have generally shied away from these, believing I was paid to give my opinion rather than parrot that of others); and clickbait, where internet traffic is now seen by some managements as a measure of journalistic worth.

“Writers in all outlets have to be mindful of what will attract this traffic and how it will be presented.”

He laments the fact that financial resources have not kept pace with the 24/7 nature of the job, saying the competition with football in particular is overwhelming.

What happens off the pitch has become just as important as events out in the middle, but I sense Selvey feels the balance sometimes tips too far towards breaking news.

“There have always been hard news stories – World Series Cricket, the D’Oliveira affair, match fixing – and it is important that the game is held to account when necessary, as long as it is done in an informed rather than simply emotive way, he says.

“Cricket, indeed sport, has always been about strong debate and opinions.”

Selvey left his job as The Guardian’s chief cricket correspondent last month.

He is not willing or able to discuss his feelings about this on the record, beyond saying he is “saddened” at an “undignified end” to a distinguished career.

Asked what the future holds, he says he has no intention of disappearing into the shadows.

“I’m 68 years young and have three 19 year olds, two of whom are at university and one who is applying for acting school, so I’m not ready for pipe and slippers yet,” he says.

“I suppose the freedom I have now might send me in directions I had never considered before.

“The one thing that has astounded me in recent weeks is the regard in which I seem to be held by colleagues, administrators and players.

“I have received overwhelming support, surprise dinners, unexpected awards. It has all been very humbling but at the same time a nice confidence boost for someone who has lacked that all too often.”

Are you a proper cricket journalist? Would you like to be featured on Journo Talk? Email samblackledge@yahoo.com or tweet @samblackledge

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Journalists must be allowed to protect their sources

by Sam Blackledge

The Metropolitan Police’s attempt to force The Guardian to reveal confidential sources in relation to the phone hacking scandal was an unprecedented and worrying move. Protection of sources is a central tenet of journalism and is covered both by the reporter’s moral code and, more importantly, by law.

In 1989 a trainee reporter on a trade magazine was given information about the financial difficulties of an engineering company. The firm obtained an injunction preventing the magazine from publishing the story and requiring the reporter, Bill Goodwin, to disclose his source.

Mr Goodwin refused and was fined £5,000. But seven years later the European Court of Human Rights ruled in his favour, finding that protection of sources is “an essential means of enabling the press to perform its important function of public watchdog in a democratic society.” Several other precedents have been set in the years since the Goodwin case, all of which have come to a similar conclusion.

This week we saw a rare consensus across the national print media. The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Independent, The Financial Times, The Daily Mirror and even The Daily Mail all ran leader columns condemning the Met’s plan, prompting the force into an embarrassing climbdown. It could be argued that The Guardian went a little overboard in celebration – an arty front page picture of Amelia Hill doing her best “look at me” face – but there’s no doubt this was an important moment.

The growing accessibility and immediacy of opinion sites means there is no shortage of journalists, bloggers, commentators and ‘media experts’ queuing up to have their say. My personal tuppence-worth comes from my experience as a reporter on a local newspaper. We may not be dealing with the Official Secrets Act or issues of national security, but freedom of expression and access to information is something we battle to uphold almost every day.

There is a fundamental conflict that takes place in every newsroom around the world between those who want information – the journalists – and those who want to withhold it – the official channels, most commonly press officers. There is a complex game being played, much of it unspoken, involving quotes, queries, requests, rebuffals and the dreaded deadlines. The PR machine is in place to make organisations look good and to stop them looking bad.

The stories of council cock-ups, police corruption and health trust disasters that continually make the headlines are just the tip of the iceberg. These are the stories that got through the barrier and made it out, often leading to resignations, apologies and policy changes.

And how did they manage to slip through the net? Oh yes. Sources. Reporters work for years making friends in high places in the hope that one day they will come through with a scoop. Most of them don’t, of course. There remains a distrust of the media that means people will keep quiet more often than spill the beans despite being certain of an injustice or scandal. But every so often it works.

Earlier this year a document was posted through our office door. It was the result of a “staff temperature check” carried out by the local council. It showed that council workers are stressed, unhappy with their jobs and losing confidence in their bosses. We never found out who leaked the letter, but the resulting article led a member of the council’s senior management team to privately admit it was a “bloody good piece of journalism.”

A similar story about a school’s plans to leave the site where it has been for 70 years came from a reporter’s close relationship with a well-placed source who we ensured could remain anonymous.

And an ongoing investigation is currently in progress which, if all goes to plan, could result in an extraordinary story. This particular source has come forward as a result of hard work by our editorial team to gain their trust. These are genuine examples of exposing what goes on behind closed doors, behind the all-powerful PR machine that wants the world to see its masters in the best possible light.

Reporting is not just about writing the story – first you have to find out what it is. Take away our sources and you take away our means to probe, to investigate, to be the eyes and ears of the public. And you take away the rights of people to tell us what they know without fear of reprisal.

This piece first appeared at The Huffington Post.

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