New rules of sports journalism: lend no pencils

From Frank Keating, The Guardian
I had just been reading how the current financial gloom was causing despair among the many thousands of university students reading general media or sports media studies, when I opened a heartening letter from the former England footballer Terry Paine’s professorial amanuensis, David Bull.

Together they have been promoting the new paperback edition of Terry’s full-on and vivid biography Constant Paine (Hagiology, £12.99).

Boswell-Bull wrote to tell of the appreciative clamour which greeted Paine’s recent visits to the universities of both Winchester and Southampton Solent. “I could never have imagined such absorbed and rapt attention from a room full of 20-year-olds for a footballer who'd retired 35 years ago,” Bull wrote. “In all my near-40 years in universities, I’ve never seen a guest lecturer being treated with anything like such enthusiasm; sure, Terry is a bountiful source on most sporting issues, but I’d never imagined successive packs of students so greedily devouring a visitor’s knowledge.”

Apparently, about 1,000 UK students a year read the more narrow specialist course of simply “sports journalism”. Where will they end up? Radio 5 Live and, er, that’s it. The other day John Motson said he replies to the shoal of letters he receives from would-be commentators with the same advice: “Trust in persistence and determination.” Not very practical these days.

I tell budding columnists desperate for ideas to sell to sceptical editors to aim down the anniversary route ” there are at least seven every week. Such as, did you know, 50 years ago yesterday President Eisenhower watched a day’s Test cricket for the only time (8 December 1959, Pakistan v Australia, Karachi; only 105 runs were scored all day)? Today, 9 December, had he lived the late Billy Bremner would have been 67. Tomorrow, 81 10 Decembers ago Don Bradman was dropped by Australia for a Test for the only time.

At least modern students have as their holy writ Rob Steen’s definitive Sports Journalism: A Multimedia Primer (Routledge, £24.99). All Motty, me and our generation had was How To Become A Sporting Journalist, written 72 years ago by London Evening Star luminary BJ Evans who began his treatise with this most basic of counsel: “Often I have arrived at the press-box to be asked by a colleague if I could spare a pencil and a few sheets of paper. On no account ever do so.

“As I have never arrived myself at this place of work without having at least three pencils sharpened and enough paper to do trebly as much work as originally foreseen, I am never able to spare anything to accommodate these improvident colleagues. I once caught a rude remark about my meanness ” but when on the job never have time for others’ opinions.”

To read Keating’s column in full, click here

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