Lifting the lid on the world of football

The Secret Journalist
19 Dec, 2012

Poison print, magazine or web?

OK, so what’s your poison? Print, magazine or web? Where do prefer to get your regular fix of the mad, mad world that is Planet Football? In this day and age, the choice is spread far and wide, especially since the cyberspace highway came into our lives and infiltrated our consciousness. Like it or not.

Straight away, I exclude Twitter from this examination of the good, the bad and the ugly of sports writing. You can say little of any substance in 140 characters or less; it is mostly a platform for silly soundbites, knee-jerk reaction, spontaneous combustion, banalities and bile.

Much of which can cause offence, particularly the erratic behaviour of the vicious trolls who inhabit its netherworld. Yet used wisely, the Twittersphere can prove invigorating, amusing and informative. Still, though, not a patch on the established trio of mainstream media outlets.

So? Print, magazine or web? I have written for all three; I still write for all three, and each has its merits. From a purely selfish point of view, the last mentioned – TSF included – at least affords the author the space to wax lyrical to his or her heart’s content.

There is no constraint on the amount of words and, although I am ever mindful that the attention span of the average cyber-punter nowadays is painfully short, it is a joy to be able to develop a theme, present your case, argue it concisely and then conclude in an unhurried fashion. And with no need for slashing and burning by the sub-editor!

On occasions, I have written up to 3,000 words. As long as the article is divided into “pages” – the turning of which offers a natural break or breather – it should be comfortable to navigate. If presented in one chunk of never-ending scrolling down, it is likely that the viewer will give up the ghost long before the end. And the journo’s efforts will be wasted.

However, many sites insist on short, sharp stories. Perhaps no more than 450 words. A bit like the freebie papers you find infuriatingly littered around the carriages on the Tube or Metro. It’s a “sock it to ‘em” approach I don’t particularly subscribe to but, again, everyone is in too much of a hurry to digest a major thesis before they get off at the next stop.

Magazines are not too far removed from the web. Get a commission on a feature, get close to the, say, the 2,000 wordage order and, more often than not, your endeavours will be rewarded, perhaps over a “spread” of two or three pages … plus nice pix. One for the scrapbook – though mine has long since gathered dust – and the usual pitiful payment pales into insignificance.

You got a good “show”. That is important, for your self-esteem and possible career enhancement.

But there are pitfalls. I was once commissioned by a foreign magazine to chat with a leading rugby player, to preview a major tournament on the horizon. I called in a favour and did the interview. It went well, the guy provided great copy. I was enthused, buoyant even.

But, all of a sudden, as I prepared to write the piece, the magazine’s space had “disappeared”. And the commissioning editor disputed that he had asked me to do the interview in the first place. He said that he had told me to “stand by” to do it. Upshot? I never got paid and I never worked for them again. My choice. What total tossers …

And the print? I am old school, was brought up in it and will forever swear by it. From local newspapers, as a scared young greenhorn, to national newspapers, also as a scared young greenhorn. But it’s changed. Financial cutbacks have decimated the industry and what little resources are left are channelled into the areas of web, ebooks and apps.

Bitter? Moi? Yes, of course. In days gone by, you would be given plenty of room in which to manoeuvre, expand your opinions and inform the reader of the story behind the story. Now, it’s just the stuff of “wham-bam-thank-you-mam”; never mind the real tale.

It is bad enough having a great yarn only to be told, close to deadline, that a cut in pagination – or another late-breaking news item – means that your 800-word epic has been butchered to 550. Worse still, when no one tells you, as is so often the case. You obediently file the 800, pick up the paper on your doormat in the morning … and it’s 550. And badly subbed, too.

I have long given up, belatedly, asking “Why? … What on earth happened?” I mean, what is the point? The BS you get in response frequently insults your intelligence and yet, for the sake of staying on the right side of the boss and retaining your job, you keep schtum. And move on to the next day’s mayhem.

So, what is your poison? What is my poison? In order … print, website, magazine. But as the print fades, so sadly, after centuries of domination, I am willing to be persuaded.

About the author: The Secret Journalist


Been there, seen it, done it on the hack front over more years than I care to remember. Got all the T-shirts - TV, radio, PR, papers weekly and daily, glossy mags and now the worldwide web. But I'm growing more cynical by the day...

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  1. Trev

    Nice to see someone sticking up for print! I agree, our media may not be as dominant as in the past, but it still offers reliability (mostly!) in terms of stories, without the knee-jerk reactions you get online. Magazines I do worry about. Seeing so many fold doesn’t offer as much confidence as in the past.

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