Pressing Matters With Gary Jacob
This week in ‘Pressing Matters’ we speak to Gary Jacob, Sports Reporter for The Times.
Gary can be followed on Twitter @garyjacob
So why journalist and why Tottenham?
I fell into it after an argument about football in the university common room during France98 and so decided I wanted to work in sport. I explored sports marketing and PR but was fortunate to be offered a traineeship by The Times, starting on news and progressing to sport. No reporter was covering Tottenham a decade ago, but nowadays, you have to work a wider patch and your contacts move, so you pick up stories from around the country. Through those contacts, I’ve developed a football transfer column, which was a departure for The Times. I keep to the facts of a proposed deal rather than over-egging things.
How difficult has your job become now that players/clubs have PR teams, communication directors, media savey agents etc?
The gap and level of distrust between clubs and the media grows wider in the top-flight and especially the bigger the clubs. They are less willing to engage in discussion, answer questions, are economic with the truth, mislead or do not tell the truth. They believe that they can control their PR and image via their website – which insults the intelligence of fans – and they limit availability to sit down interviews with players. Hopefully this might send fans to look to newspapers for their information. Smaller clubs who try to limit their exposure – Fulham are a good example – miss opportunities to tell good stories, which is free marketing and branding for them and their sponsors.
Do you think Alex Ferguson’s standing in the game affords him and United a more sympathetic press?
It should not do – as he doesn’t cosy up to the media to get those concessions. United seem to keep the media at arm’s length. Ferguson and the players talk through MUTV and do no regularly face questions direct from reporters.
The media seems split on the Benitez/Chelsea fans issue – some feel that fans have every right to voice their opinions – but equally many condemning us – where do you stand?
What good is a game in which fans cannot voice their opinion? Fans seem to be increasingly less powerful. Club Supporters’ Trusts allow fans to get closer to the club, but it is a double-edged sword as they fear criticising them for fear that their access and privilege will be reduced. Perhaps only Liverpool have supporters groups that seem genuinely powerful?
For Chelsea fans, maybe the manager is the wrong target. It is nearly a decade since Roman Abramovich took over the club and yet, from the outside, it looks like a club inflicted with too much politics.
Football journalism seems to have changed in the last 20 years and is now largely sensationalist and centred around personalities – why do you think this is & is there no place for “proper” football journalism anymore?
Newspapers believe that people want to read about names – or names sell papers – and maybe they are right to a degree as popular culture is obsessed with minor celebrities. So fairly bland quotes from a Chelsea player can be published while a proper story from, say, West Ham, never goes in. Many newspapers believe that some important football stories are too dry and complicated, for example, those to do with Uefa or the FA. In addition, there are few opportunities/time for reporters to dig for stories nowadays – which may amount to nothing – as of other demands placed on them.
You are not as active as some of your colleagues on Twitter but what impact do you think that Twitter has had on your profession?
I can see that Twitter has the benefit of being able to acquire a wider and different audience for you and the newspaper, and sometimes it is useful to get immediate feedback from fans about a particular issue or player by throwing down a statement. Eg I once tweeted about Wojciech Szczęsny. And had so many replies that it helped as the basis for a match report.
But there is often a lot of nonsense to sift through that dilutes the medium and a lot of people liking the sound of their own voice. Some journalists use Twitter for their own brand and to put things out first. But that can be a disservice to their newspaper and further fragments the media.
What has been your worst experience when covering football?
For different reasons, being at Pride Park for a FA Cup tie when it was so cold that I could not type, and being at the San Siro when I was unable to get a phone line or get on the internet to file. But if that is the worst, I’m fortunate.
Given the extent of phone hacking (& other questionable practices) within your industry how do you think journalists are now perceived by the general public?
The public have always been a bit sceptical about journalists – even though they do a vital job in explaining and conveying information – but hacking probably has more affected tabloid reporters.
At which club do you get the best treatment?
Arsenal have good press facilities and are aware of the media’s needs, eg internet access. But clubs such as, Norwich City, are far more accessible for interviews and that is what journalist really want.
Who has been the most interesting person you have interviewed?
Chris Coleman bared his soul about the impact of Gary Speed’s death. He was articulate, emotional and utterly honest. Few players or managers are that comfortable to open up much. It is a pity that clubs now train players to say clichés and bland quotes – it insults the fans – and there are few genuine characters in the game with an opinion, so when one comes along, the media jumps on him.
As a football fan as well as a sports journalists, how do you remain impartial when writing about a club you have strong personal feelings about?
You have a service to the reader to be impartial, accurate and balanced and football has become a job and that has changed my relationship with the team is support. In addition you find out things about your club that tarnish your image.
What advice would you give anyone thinking of embarking on a career in sports journalism?
Think about how the media is changing, fragmenting and which avenue to take. Television has a more certain future than newspapers. Will tablets/ipads make the internet profitable for newspapers and other sites? But if you really want to work in sport, for a club or organisation, training as a marketer, lawyer or financier is a sound background as a stepping stone.
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