The Questionnaire: James Toney

James Toney is managing editor at Sportsbeat, a press agency providing national and international sports news and features to more than 100 subscriber papers. Sportsbeat is also a provider of NCTJ-accredited newspaper journalism training, with James working alongside trainee reporters to build up their portfolios.

He started out as a news journalist at a London press agency, before moving into sport, initially as a freelance, and then with Sport First.

Here, James answers the SJA Questionnaire, and manages to mention Gordon Cowans, Michael Johnson, Nick Faldo and Lance Armstrong in a single sentence. Find out how by reading on…

What was your first sports journalism assignment?

A Wycombe Wanderers football match – I can’t remember which one, although some wag stood behind me during the entire game giving his advice.

What has been your most memorable/enjoyable assignment during your career?

I’ve been fortunate to cover five Summer and Winter Olympics and numerous other big international events. But I’m proudest of some of the stories I’ve broken – they are the ones I’ve got framed on my toilet wall.

What is the latest task you have been working on – was it good, bad or indifferent?

Our Ryder Cup preview supplement – I think it was good – but I’d rather wait for the editors’ feedback to be sure.

Which colleagues or managers have been most influential or helpful in your career, and how?

David Emery took a chance on me when I was just starting out as a sports journalist and has helped me enormously throughout my career – giving me my first back page when he was at the Express, first photo byline at Sport First and my first regular column at the League Paper.

Adam Parsons, then Sunday Business, now BBC News Sports Correspondent, encouraged me to be more expansive with my writing and my school friend Ian Pocock (now BBC World and Sunday Times newsdesk) has been a support throughout my career.

What has been the best sports-related book you have read recently, and why?

I’m not a big fan of sports books. But Bodyline Autopsy by David Frith is brilliantly written and researched and brings alive one of the greatest sports news stories of all time. Lawrence Donegan’s Four Iron in the Soul also stands out.

Name your greatest sporting hero, and why.

Very difficult to pick one but covering the Tour de France means Lance Armstrong has to be out there and he’s also a really nice guy – which sways your opinion. In addition, I’d choose Michael Johnson, Nick Faldo and Aston Villa’s Gordon Cowans (pictured left).

What changes in the business during your career have you most welcomed?

Better technology to file from events, internet, broadband, wireless etc…all make life much easier.

…and what changes in the business do you really dislike?

Lack of access and more PR control. Football’s increasing dominance of the sports agenda – although maybe that’s always been in the case.

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to enter the profession?

There is no such thing as a shy journalist. Be enthusiastic. Be prepared to work for nothing for a while, turn no job down, never miss a deadline and don’t be afraid to take some risks.

Radio 5 or TalkSport?

Radio 5.

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