Tag Archives: the times

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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Criticism – dishing it out and getting it back

NO ONE likes criticism. Even the most committed self effacer secretly winces inside when they receive negative feedback. That’s why we generally precede any unflattering critique with apologetic preambles if delivering it in person. Unadulterated criticism, stripped of all politeness, is usually just a row.

The reluctance with which we receive criticism is matched only by the relish with which we hand it out. And few enjoy dishing it out as much as journalists. We usually, especially in print, have the luxury of dispensing criticism without being in the presence of the intended recipient. Hence it tends to be more blunt and excoriating.

Some in the profession are employed solely to analyse, criticise and, on the odd occasion, praise cultural, culinary and consumer works. The fact practitioners of this strain of the profession are called critics and not praisers or lauders tells its own tale. Yet despite being part of a trade that has professionalised criticism, some journalists appear exceedingly ill-equipped to deal with it when it comes their way.

Times food critic Giles Coren responding to an unflattering appraisal of his column from a female reader over Twitter with “go fuck yourself you barren old hag” presents itself as an acutely apt case study. Coren’s outburst (not his first obscene online paroxysm) has been met with a mixture of condemnation, hand wringing and, in some quarters, encouragement.

Whatever the rights or wrongs of his invective, the biggest shock for me was that someone so widely published possessed such a low critical tolerance. Anyone who publishes on a regular basis has to develop a thick skin. Whenever I make a mistake that slips past the subs, or sometimes even when I haven’t, I know there will be a horde of commenters on the site queuing up to haughtily point it out.

This is usually followed by a slew of comments implying that I am congenitally inept and holding up the error as concrete evidence of a drastic decline in educational standards precipitated by the abolition of (the appositely named) grammar schools. It is deflating, but I personally find it best to use these experiences as a spur to ensure I don’t leave myself open to those scenarios again.

In the past I have had to dissuade colleagues from engaging with their online detractors. It is always best not to engage. Even, as was the case with one reporter, if they are being panned for leaving something out of a story that the critic would have seen included if they had bothered to read past the third par before firing off their gleeful missive.

It is better just to suck it up and move on. As, given the amount of criticism we ladle out in the course of our jobs, it would be grotesquely hypocritical not to tolerate getting a little back.

This piece first appeared at Ovidus.

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