Tag Archives: newspaper

Goodbye Daily Sport – you never were any good at figures!

9 Apr

Weren’t you gutted to hear that the seedy Sport Media Group founded by David Sullivan had gone into administration? Neither was I – apart from great sympathy for the 80 people who lost their jobs.

I detest the tackiness of the Daily and Sunday Sport so I’m glad to see the back of their smut. But I also have some unforgettable memories of the days I worked for the Daily Sport myself – and became the only journalist to be involuntarily pushed out of the door TWICE.

My career in journalism has embraced well over 30 years in what is still fondly called Fleet Street – mainly as a sub-editor but also as a writer and columnist.

I worked under charismatic editors ranging from the awesome Sir John Junor at the Sunday Express to the booming bullying of Kelvin Mackenzie at The Sun and the bloated arrogance of Piers Morgan at the Daily Mirror.

I also had both the pleasure and pain of twice working for Peter Grimsditch, the launch editor of the Manchester-based Daily Star in 1978 who some years later became inaugural editor of the Daily Sport.

Grimbles, as we called him, was simply brilliant with the Star’s launch team of journalists. By the time the paper first hit the news-stands, he had called every one of us into his office individually for a drink and a ‘meet the boss’ chat.

My chinwag lasted fully half an hour and sealed an instant bond which, long after we had both moved on to other newspapers, led to Grimsditch invitingme to join the Daily Sport team in its early days in 1991.

With virtually every national newspaper production team at this point operating exclusively in London, as someone whose heart was in Manchester, I actually jumped at the chance to sink into the gutter. After all, I was joining the paper’s one decent department – the sports desk, whose staff included some highly talented journalists.

And to avoid any embarrassment, I proceeded to hide my shame from my friends by telling them I was now freelancing rather than working for any individual title.

Most of the journalists on the Daily Sport were experienced national newspaper subs who simply wanted to stay in the North. It was much, much more than Sullivan deserved – but the fact is he had a captive market.

Anyway things went well until the pressure of trying to keep the title afloat started to get to Grimsditch. We all laughed when he suddenly issued a warning over staff using the office computer system to store private files, something we all did and which caused no harm whatsoever.

It all came to a head when he called me into his office one day and accused me of committing a criminal offence by using the office system to store minor details from a sports book I was writing. It was all trumped-up nonsense and I exploded.

It was like something out of a movie as I stormed out of Grimbles’ retreat and in a dramatic scene watched by the entire staff, yelled theatrically ‘‘I quit’’ before slamming his office door as hard as I could .

I swear the entire building shook and by the time I got home, a dispatch rider had already delivered a quickly dictated letter from Grimsditch accepting my resignation.

Two months later, sports editor Steve Millar phoned to tell me the Grim news that the Editor had himself been dismissed. ‘’Will you please come back – we need you,’’ he pleaded.

So back to Great Ancoats Street I went with a quiet snigger that the person responsible for my departure had himself been booted into oblivion.

A year or so later, Sullivan – dissatisfied with the economic state of his print empire, ordered a redundancy exercise which involved the sports desk being trimmed by three.

Unfortunately Sport Newspapers’ naïve management team failed to realise that certain procedures must be followed regarding redundancies and when Millar refused to single out three people, they took it upon themselves to do the job for him.

It was a mistake that ended with their representatives being ripped to shreds at an industrial tribunal. I and the two sports-desk colleagues who got the old heave-ho were awarded almost £30,000 between us, with the chairman intimating the figure would have been higher had he not be tied by a legal maximum.

I look back on it all today with some amusement – particularly at the memos the less-than-articulate Sullivan would circulate about his beloved Birmingham City. Indeed, I’m sure I still have copies of a couple of them somewhere.

At the time, the Blues were playing in the second tier (now the Championship) and the chairman was keen to put his players in the shop window at every opportunity in the hope one of the big clubs would come calling.

‘‘Whenever you mention our star striker Paul Peschisolido, please make sure you say ‘’£2million-rated Paul Peschisolido’’, he instructed the sports department. ‘‘And for all other Birmingham players, please put ‘‘£1million-rated’’ before their name.’’

I could throw in an anecdote or two about Sullivan’s protégé Karren Brady, who also put her oar in once or twice. But I’ll leave that for another day because I’ve kind of warmed to English football’s first female managing director over recent years.

So I’ll leave it to the men to moan about women ruining the game. Andy Gray, where are you?

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Six areas where sports writers go wrong – the inside story

19 Feb

Having edited the work of leading British sports writers for more years than I care to remember, I can tell you that their articles are not always as well-written as you might think.

That is because, certainly in the tabloid world, the readability of a newspaper article is often down to a sub-editor’s fine-tuning rather than the author’s literary gifts.

In my early days as a Daily Express sub, we had a football reporter on the staff who regularly came up with great exclusives. But although he’d type up the news as an ‘article’, it was usually little more than a clumsily-written fact sheet.

Nobody cared, though, because the only thing that mattered was the story itself – and turning it into a back-page lead was usually a routine job for an experienced sub-editor.

In more recent times, one or two of Fleet Street’s top sports hacks had a reputation in the business for churning out pure gibberish rather than acceptable copy. And whilst I am not going to name the paper or writer concerned, I had the misfortune to be saddled on several occasions with subbing the investigative reports of one of the best known drivellers.

All I can say is that reading the final flowing version of his ramblings in the following morning’s edition was for me just about the ultimate in job satisfaction. Even if I still wasn’t sure what it was all about!

Sub-editors are what I call ‘desk reporters’ – journalists who work in an office environment editing and honing the work of those out in the field (or in the press boxes, to be more accurate).

Almost without exception, the subs have spent lots of time out there reporting before moving on into the sub-editing arena. It is rare indeed for someone to START his or her journalistic life as a sub-editor.

More often than not, the changeover is a conscious decision by writers with particularly high grammatical skills and a desire to work office hours rather than be farmed out on stories at all hours, day and night.

So what advice can I give to embryo sports journalists? What is the perception of someone who has been there and done it all towards the errors made by young writers developing their skills out in the big wide sporting world? Where do the reporters go wrong?

1/ Not checking the facts: Many writers just churn out copy off top of their heads and THINK they remember accurately. In the old days, reporters used reference books – it is so easy these days to carry out a quick internet search to establish the facts, but how many people actually bother to do it.

2/ Over-estimating the reader: Another common error is for the writer to assume readers know more than they actually do. I have edited match reports where the reporter hasn’t even included the score! So always think when you are writing whether you are providing everything the average reader would want to know.

3/ Spelling: This is usually the big difference between a reporter and a sub. With the sort of back-up subs provide, it doesn’t usually matter too much if a reporter can’t spell too well, as long as he or she is not completely dyslexic, of course! However, a sub who can’t spell would be as useful as a lifeguard who can’t swim. So if God hasn’t given you the gift of being able to spell (and word recognition IS a gift, not something that can really be learnt), then forget about ever becoming a sub-editor.

4/ Grammatical errors: Most people are aware that the infinitive and the verb should never be split, but how many people use expressions like ‘to brilliantly save from…’ or ‘to angrily remonstrate with the referee’? Those variances with correct grammar don’t really matter because few people realise it should be ‘to save brilliantly from’ or ‘to remonstrate angrily’. However, some expressions do grate – for instance, I find the phrase ‘‘in the back of the net’’ ludicrous. I mean, if the ball is in the back of the net, where is the FRONT of the net? The ball is in the net, end of story.

5/ Getting too technical: You’ll often find people writing about a football match as if it’s a game of chess – presumably to convey the impression they understand its complexities as well as those who coach and play at the highest level. Basically, football is a very simple exercise, though from reading what some of the so-called expert journalists churn out, you’d think it was rocket science.

6/ Amateur experts: Following on from the previous point, some writers think they know more than the REAL experts – namely the managers and the players. A writer is in a privileged position but if he has never played the game, is he REALLY qualified to slag off players for making mistakes? You can make an argument for saying ‘yes, anyone is qualified to criticise’, but it’s a debatable one. This is presumably why the TV channels use former professionals almost exclusively as their critics and summarisers – be it for football, rugby, cricket, tennis or whatever.

The above article, part of which I wrote during my time as managing editor of the Sportingo.com website, embraces my thoughts after 35 years of reporting, editing and headlining hundreds of sports stories for newspapers like the Daily Mirror, Daily Express, The Sun, Daily Star, Sunday People and News of the World. I just hope it helps the next generation of sports writers in some small way…