Paul Hayward: “Let us defend the reporters”

PAUL HAYWARD was declared the 2012 SJA Sports Writer of the Year while on assignment in Montenegro. Here, he calls on his colleagues to celebrate, and defend, our business of journalism

The last time the SJA inexplicably passed the John Bromley Trophy my way, 16 years ago, sports journalism was still a boom town. Human thumbs had not evolved into twitter typing tools and the printed page still ruled the web.

No award could be accepted now without a thought for those who are losing jobs as the industry fragments and everyone in the country claims columnist status through social media.

Working on deadline: Paul Hayward, the SJA's 2012 Sports Writer of the Year, working at the Montenegro v England World Cup qualifier tonight
Working on deadline: Paul Hayward working at the Montenegro v England World Cup qualifier tonight

In those 16 years I have seen professional reporters fight an increasingly desperate battle against the culture of immediacy, which elevates opinion over journalism and turns most news events into a thunder-flash of response and counter-response.

For this year’s SJA awards I was in Podgorica for Montenegro v England. As the names of the winners filtered though to us I felt emboldened, and not just by own lucky break (thank you), or the local grapes.

Newspapers are evacuating print in favour of digital. Of course they are. The logic of falling circulations and the massive changes in reader demand mean that Fleet Street must adapt or die. We are all throwing on these new costumes and hoping they look right on us.

But beyond this organised panic a few old truths survive. Reporting is still journalism’s highest form. There is still value in describing what we see, not just what we think. Sporting stories cannot be told without journalists recording what they see and hear. The sad death of Christopher Martin-Jenkins was the strongest possible affirmation that reportage still matters.

Maybe we need to defend what we do more bravely. The old news organisations are still paying huge amounts to generate sports journalism that relies on people being on the ground. Fortunately my paper, The Telegraph, still believes strongly in sports reporting. Our industry’s notebook is still out. This is a virtue seldom advertised in the rolling mash of “news” and reaction.

In a London Olympic year, and in the season of Lance Armstrong’s debunking (well done David Walsh and Paul Kimmage), our corner of the trade seemed to be winning its fight for “relevance”. Among colleagues who never seem to tire of the journalistic process – despite the pressures of web, blogs, twitter and webchats – I proposed a toast in Montenegro: “To the reporters.”

  • Paul Hayward was namedas the 2012  SJA Sports Writer of the Year after a poll conducted among the national newspaper sports editors.

Among some of the highlights of his work in 2012 were…


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