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Welcome to Totaal Liverpool Neil, first of all.. How did you start out in the journalism industry and how did you get the job at Liverpool Echo?– Thanks very much. My career path is a bit of an unusual one, in journalism terms. Journalism was something that I was interested in during my school years – my strongest ’suit’ has always been my writing – I would write match reports for school games, computer games, games I’d watched on television. I had a stack of ’Match’, ’Shoot’ and FourFourTwo magazines which I would read cover to cover.
– But once I had finished my A-levels, I opted not to carry on to University. I’m from a single-parent family and the desire, and in many ways the need, to get working and get earning money was always at the forefront of my mind.
– So I got myself a run of the mill job working for a bank in Liverpool, 9-5, no pressure, no taking work home with you. It was ideal for a time, but as you grow up and your life starts to change, you realise that you can’t do that forever. The journalism started for me when I underwent an operation on my Anterior Cruciate Ligament in 2008. I was signed off for 10 weeks, I couldn’t do any exercise, and the boredom was immense. So I started doing a few blogs, posted them on MySpace (I know!) and a couple of sites picked up on them. They asked me to submit on a more regular basis, and I did. One of those sites was Soccerlens, and they were the first site to actually pay me for work.
– It was from Soccerlens that I was approached by Goal.com to be their Liverpool FC correspondent for their new UK site, in 2009. That was when I was able to fully commit to journalism as a career rather than a hobby. I left the job in the bank, began learning the trade properly, and my first ’live’ game as a reporter was a 4-0 home win over Burnley, in glorious sunshine, on my birthday. It’s been downhill since!
– I spent the 2009-10 season working for Goal, and making some good connections. At the end of the season, it was mutually decided that I wasn’t going to stay on with Goal, and I asked the sports editor of the ECHO if I could maybe help out over the summer – the World Cup was on, of course. He agreed, so I signed up for three weeks’ unpaid work experience, which snowballed into four, then five, six, eight, twelve. Eventually I was doing paid shifts, usually of a Monday or Friday, helping out with the junior and weekly sports sections, and in January 2011, the week Kenny Dalglish came back to Liverpool, I was offered a full-time role as a sports reporter.
I have done some research and noticed that you’ve worked for Goal.com. How was that experience and how did they work compared to the Echo? Goal and Liverpool Echo are in many ways miles apart when it comes to credibility – if you know what I mean.
– I do know what you mean, but the key thing to remember is that Goal.com UK was, when I started there, a brand new website, and so credibility was always going to be a big issue. Especially given their correspondents were people like me, who basically had no contacts, no connections and no experience. They had actually done particularly well to get their reporters accredited for Premier League games, and in fairness to them they have grown hugely since I left (maybe because I left?!). Their credibility is definitely rising, though yes, it is easier for me to gain a contact’s attention/trust if I say I’m from the ECHO, rather than Goal.com.
– But the experience I got at Goal was fantastic. I attended every press conference at Melwood or at Anfield (Liverpool were still playing Champions League football at that stage), I did a ’mixed zone’ in my first week in the job, interviewing Lucas and Javier Mascherano, and I was getting really good exposure on a growing site.
– Goal are different compared to the ECHO, of course they are. They thrive on transfer season – January and the summer months are always the key ones in terms of generating interest and hits – whereas the ECHO tends to be a lot more steady in its coverage.
– The one thing I struggled with at Goal, and this is just my personal preference, is that all the work was ’remote’, there was no Headquarters at that stage, and I never met a lot of the people I was working for/with, it was all done via Skype, text and e-mail. I struggled with that because I need people to use as a sounding board, I need to be able to run things past people, ask advice, seek reassurance, and I found it difficult at times with Goal, especially as I was, essentially, an amateur doing a professional’s job. I look back and think I did an ok job for Goal, but there’s a lot that I could have done a lot better, and I think a bit more support might have helped in that regard.
– The ECHO is a lot more ’team’ based, there’s a lot more direct communication. And of course our core audience is different to that of a national website, or even a national newspaper. Our tone has to be far more ’local’, we have to be far more considerate of what the local audience feels and needs, and of course we have to have stronger relationships with key contacts in the city.
How does a ”normal” working week look like for you, on and off football season? How often do you hang around Melwood with a spyglass for example?
– I can honestly say I’ve never done the spyglass-at-the-training-ground routine. My working week depends on what my shift is. I vary between the ’weeklies’ shift and the ’ECHO’ shift.
– If it’s the weeklies, then Monday to Wednesday is taken up ringing around all of the local teams’ managers, getting interviews with them. So I will be on the phone to the Southport manager, Bootle, AFC Liverpool, Marine, Burscough, Skelmersdale United, Runcorn Linnets, Runcorn Town, then a few local cricket and rugby captains. Some people may think that’s not ideal, but I enjoy it. Those people give you a lot of time, and are far more candid than those higher up the ladder. I am quite active on the local amateur football scene myself, involved with a club on a Saturday, so I like my weekly shifts, even if there is a lot to do.
– If I’m on the ECHO shift, covering Liverpool or Everton, then my week is completely different. If there has been a game on the Saturday, then Sunday will be spent writing up the report and the quotes pieces from that. Monday could be spent doing follow-ups – e.g. an interview ’saved’ from after the match, or a statistical analysis – then we have columnists we have to ring, Aldridge, Molby, Howard Kendall, Ian Snodin etc – Tuesday you could be chasing up an injury or a transfer story, ringing press officers, texting players/the manager trying to find out what is going on. If there is no game Wednesday it might require a feature to be written, maybe a historical piece or a comment piece (e.g. ’why have TEAM X struggled at home this season, or is PLAYER X the man to lift the club).
– Come Thursday, you are in pre-match mode, looking ahead to the weekend. Liverpool and Everton usually hold press conferences on the Friday, which helps fill the Saturday ECHO and our 16-page Football ECHO supplement, and of course you are constantly chasing up the clubs to see if they can arrange any access to players or the manager. To be fair, the clubs we cover tend to be pretty good in that respect.
What was the first football match you attended as a fan and as a football reporter?
– As a fan, it was Liverpool beating Crystal Palace 3-0 at Anfield in 1991. Ian Rush scored a belter in what was one of Graeme Souness’ first games in charge.
– As a reporter, it was Liverpool beating Burnley 4-0 at Anfield in September 2009. Yossi Benayoun with a hat trick and Dirk Kuyt with one.
Online pay-walls on newspapers’ websites is a quite big media discussion here in Sweden. We’ve noticed many British papers demand a fee in order for people to read their articles online, while your own paper still have the articles available for free. What’s your opinion regarding this in many ways difficult subject?
– I think it’s a tough one, personally. I don’t know enough about the figures of the Times, for example, to say whether their paywall works, but I subscribe to them because I think the fee is worth it.
– That said, there are some papers that I wouldn’t pay to read online, because I wouldn’t see their content as value for money. I guess some people may think that of the ECHO or other local papers.
– One thing I’d say is that it is easier to do it the way the Times have – to charge first and see how it goes – than to give it for free for years, and then suddenly start charging. That would be a big risk. But if the content is good, then people will pay for it. And so they should, in all fairness. A lot of work goes into producing newspapers, and it seems a bit odd that thousands of people can simply bypass that by picking up a computer and clicking a mouse.
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In part 2, which will be realesed during the weekend, Neil is talking of how to reveal a transfer story, Carra’s outburst, Twitter, and the in many ways legendary Swedish manager – the one and only – Sven!
Part 2 is, in other words something special to look forward to! See you soon!
/ Totaal Liverpool, @JesperEss & @Pelle2x