Pressing Matters With John Cross
Many claim never to read the papers but in the next breath castigate journalists for their latest missives. Love them or loath them, football journalists certainly give us something to talk about. What’s it like from their side though? In the first of what will hopefully be a series of similar pieces, we ask John Cross some questions regarding his profession.
John Cross – Daily Mirror sports writer and self-confessed football fanatic; follow John on twitter – @johncrossmirror
Little bit about you – why journalism and why Arsenal?
Journalism because I love football and the next best thing to playing football – which I was never good enough to do beyond Sunday League – was to write about it. I also loved English, love to write and so it was a happy medium.
My allegiance is not something I look to advertise and, despite what people think, I try never to mention it. My Dad was born and brought up in Finsbury Park. Simple.
You’re well known for being an Arsenal fan, how difficult is that in terms of perspective when writing about them and indeed other clubs?
Yes, it does make life difficult which is why I don’t look to advertise it in the course of my work, be that with the Mirror, Twitter, radio or TV. I’ve almost given up now because so many people go on about it but I didn’t bring it up.
The other week, I asked Des Kelly to stop going on about it on TalkSport – so he mentioned it again the following week, including me asking him to stop! The fact is, it doesn’t cloud my judgement. But it seems to bother fans and readers. Strangely, there’s several anti John Cross tweeters because they think I’m so anti Arsenal. So that’s a great compliment!
In the summer, I remarked that Spurs sacking Redknapp (eventually replacing him with Villas-Boas) was something the Venkys might do as it meant bringing in a manager whose former team finished below them. I’d make that same remark if Arsenal sacked Wenger and brought in a manager who finished below. So there really is no bias.
I like Chelsea as a club to cover. I think Steve Atkins is one of the best press officers I’ve ever encountered, Brian the press steward is a diamond and Theresa Connelly is one of my favourite people I’ve come across in my job. I was delighted when they won the Champions League. I couldn’t be happier and that – like covering England – is a rare occasion when I have allowed bias to creep in because I think it’s great for English football.
As a reader I feel football journalism for the nationals has changed dramatically in the last decade – the focus now being far more on individuals and personalities rather than the teams and the actual football – do you feel the same?
It’s always been like that, not just the last decade. There’s more coverage now so there’s even more focus on the individuals. I remember George Graham castigating a few of us for not talking about tactics more. So I asked him a tactical question and he said: “I’m not giving away any secrets!”
We do focus, in the X Factor generation, on personalities. We’re led by our readers’ demands. Circulations are falling because of the internet not a decline in newspapers. But the internet allows us to see what readers click on – and the most read are always about big personalities. Our readers define our coverage.
The perception by many (myself included) is that the papers now try and shape public opinion on stories, rather than just report on them – do you think that is a fair comment?
Again, similar to above, readers seem to crave opinions rather than anything else. Note the invention of Twitter – that’s all about opinion. Similarly, the rise of the chief sports writer. But, for example, if the Mirror covers a John Terry story, Chelsea fans won’t remember the straight news story detailing the incident, they’ll remember the opinion piece. We cover both but the opinion is remembered and is, therefore, driving more opinion led pieces.
I did laugh this week when one Chelsea fan I follow said Martin Samuel is the only writer without an agenda. I like Martin. He’s a brilliant writer. He’s been very pro-JT. And because he’s pro-JT, he’s seen as not having an agenda. If he was anti him then he would have an agenda. Some fans miss the irony and only read and see what suits them. They read on their own club but not on others. Terry got hammered. So did Giggs.
Do you think football journalism is too sensationalist these days?
Not really. It’s what everyone talks about so why not put it on the back page? There’s headlines I like, headlines I don’t. But generally no.
What is the most difficult aspect of your job?
Getting stories! Getting stories, getting them right, building contacts is the hardest part. Tougher, in my view than match reporting.
From what I have seen, football journalists seem quite a tight knit group, especially those that travel to Europe together – do you think there is a danger of forming a “group” outlook on current stories because of this?
Some are guilty of this. There can be a pack mentality. Often a press conference will throw up one angle/story. It’s obvious. You’ll get similar back pages. Other times, it annoys when some don’t have the confidence or belief in making their own judgement. Few survive on a national without good news sense so this happens rarely.
Which other sports journalist do you particularly enjoy reading?
Ollie Holt on my own paper is brilliant, I love his stuff. Neil Ashton is a great story getter. Sam Wallace’s match reports are superb. I could go on and on. There’s some really good journalists out there.
Do you think the recent phone hacking scandal has tainted how all journalists are perceived?
It’s had an impact on journalism. It’s never been something I’ve been involved in and yet I’m being asked this question so clearly people think about it. I know so many great journos and they were never involved. I’m so proud to work for a paper with great standards and generally I think the industry has good standards.
What advice would you give a youngster embarking on a career in journalism?
Don’t do it!
Seriously, journalism is hard now as people can go online so newspapers are facing challenging times. It’s so hard in the industry. When I started there were no graduate trainees just tough times and low pay on local papers. I had to be hungry to succeed. Now, I do think you can get a leg up as a graduate but newspapers, like every other industry, are facing tough times.
Only go into it if you’re hungry and determined.
Posted by Trizia