Cision: How did you get started in journalism and what steered you into sports journalism?
Craig: I got my first big break as a junior sub editor on Loaded magazine, having completed a postgrad diploma in magazine journalism at Cardiff University. That was a fantastic first job, having grown up loving the mag when it first launched in the mid-’90s, and from the start I was given the chance to do a lot more than simply subbing. Before long I was in charge of all the football content, which reflected my sports-obsessed background – I have a degree in sports science from Loughborough and my dad played for Arsenal and Aston Villa – but my interest in sports media can be traced back before I’d even gone to uni. I took a gap year before Loughborough and, encouraged by my dad to aim a little higher than my part-time job at Homebase, I wrote off to countless sports media companies and ended up landing some work as an editorial assistant at IMG Media (formerly TWI), at first simply logging footage of the 1998 Winter Olympics, then working on TV coverage of tennis and snooker. It was great experience, beat working behind a bar and made me determined to work in sports media when I graduated. After a fantastic six years at Loaded – in which I became the mag’s first football editor – followed by two years honing my online skills as deputy editor of nuts.co.uk, here I am now, a year into another dream job as features editor on talkSPORT.co.uk.
Cision: With competition being fierce in sports coverage and reporting, what makes talkSPORT stand out from the rest?
Craig: We have an unrivalled mix of comprehensive, 24-7 sports coverage. Whether it be live Premier League commentary, breaking news, serious debate, big name insights and opinions or a light-hearted comedy take on events, talkSPORT does it all and, thanks to an incredibly hard-working and talented team, does it so well that our audience is at an all-time high, both on air and online. Some sports media may offer breaking news, some may offer debate, some may offer entertainment, but none offer the sheer range of high quality sports coverage that talkSPORT does across so many platforms. That may explain why we are the current Sony Radio Academy Station of the Year, and why talkSPORT.co.uk has just been shortlisted along with Manchester City and The Guardian for Website of the Year at the 2012 Sport Industry Awards.
Cision: With the London 2012 Olympics fast approaching, will you be covering the said event and what are you most looking forward to about the games?
Craig: It’s going to be the biggest sports event ever held in this country, so we will definitely be covering it. The excitement won’t really build until the summer, however, because there is just too much sport – particularly football – to occupy the public’s mind until then. When it does come around, the most exciting thing will be the feel-good factor when British athletes are successful; suddenly the public will be interested in sports they normally couldn’t care less about. Everyone enjoys seeing ‘their’ team do well, so I imagine we’ll all be jumping on the Team GB bandwagon when we start winning golds in tiddlywinks or whatever event it is.
Cision: With footballers and sports professionals embracing Twitter and Facebook, how important is social media and what do you use it for with regards to your journalism?
Craig: Social media is very important to us, whether you’re talking about how footballers and sports people are using it or how talkSPORT uses it to communicate with our audience. For sport stars, it’s given them what I’d call an authentic voice, making the likes of Premier League footballers seem like the flesh and blood they are, rather than a superstar from another planet that the man on the street can’t identify with. I’ve spent most of my life blowing hot air about football and a large part of the fun with sport is people’s different opinions, so to hear players air their views frankly only adds to the enjoyment we all get out of discussing the game. Not only that, but Twitter has also enabled a lot of sports people to show their genuinely engaging personalities and humour, which can sometimes be hidden by stage-managed media and the old ‘We take each game as it comes’ interviews. For talkSPORT, social media allows us to get vital feedback from our audience – they’re not shy to let us know what they like and what they don’t, which is fantastically useful. Of course, with hundreds of thousands of followers and fans across Twitter, Facebook and Google+, it also provides us with additional platforms to get our audience involved in debates and to alert them to new content on talkSPORT.co.uk and our radio shows. We’ve managed to get quite a few of our topics for discussion as the top trend on Twitter – possibly my most bizarre achievement at talkSPORT has been to get a birthday tribute to Emile Heskey, using the hash tag #happybirthdayheskey, as the top UK trend, knocking Justin Bieber off top spot in the process! Also, I think it’s important that we manually update all our social media accounts, because we want our audience to know that it’s a two-way conversation, not a robot spamming their account.
Cision: What do you feel makes a good feature and what’s been your favourite feature you’ve written to date?
Craig: The best feature is one that makes a user decide to share it with their friends and return to our features section themselves, knowing that it will be time well spent. To that end, all our features must inform and/or entertain. It should also be a unique slant on events, which can be very difficult when there is so much competing sports content online, but it’s something we strive for every day of the week and our increasing numbers of unique visitors and page impressions (up by nearly 400 per cent in the features section compared to a year ago) suggest we’re on the right track. One way I believe we stand out from the crowd is through our comedy features – humour is a difficult field to nail, but if you get it right it’s a winner. My favourite features are probably the jokey ‘talkSPORT Spoof’ news stories we run, with headlines like ‘Chelsea set to smash British transfer record to buy a goal for Fernando Torres’. Even Chelsea fans had a laugh at that!
Cision: With your primary focus on sports, how does your relationship with PRs work? What kind of information do you wish to receive? Do you have any advice for PR professionals?
Craig: Most of our features come from daily editorial meetings and with football being by far the most popular sport in the UK, a lot of the content is focused on that particular sport. When it comes to relationships with PRs, these tend to be based mostly around arranging interviews with stars, be it someone from the world of sport or a celebrity with a sporting interest. Sometimes the website staff will arrange these interviews with a PR, other times it will be a guest arranged by the radio programming staff who we will nab 10 minutes with before or after they go on air. I’m sure they do already, but if not, I’d suggest PRs take a quick look at the site and it’ll be obvious whether or not the story/proposition they are pitching is suited to us.
For more insight into sports, read our previous spotlights with media including sportinglife.com, Footy-Boots.com, The Tennis Space, FitPro, Nicola Joyce, Oliver Brett and David Gurney.