From Ugo Monye to Gary Mabbutt to Beth Tweddle: My interviews @

3 12 2010

What do UFC’s John Hathaway, Patrick Barclay of the Times and Spurs legend Gary Mabbutt have in common?

What links England rugby’s Ugo Monye, Steve Borthwick and Lee Mears to Wales rugby’s Ian Bishop, Dan Lydiate, Sam Warburton and Leigh Halfpenny??

What secret does Ryder Cup hero Sam Torrance, Great Britain’s champion gymnast Beth Tweddle and Irish and Lions icon Keith Wood share???

He's got a little secret

The answer: they’ve all had a chat with me, Sam Rider!

Click here, on the highlighted names or click the link below to check out my revelatory, eye-opening, exclusive interviews during my internship with


REVIEW: News Associates journalism training

11 08 2010

Here I hope to offer up some of my personal experiences of journalism that could help those considering disembarking society and becoming a career hack. First I review my training with News Associates.

Enough is enough. I’ve been completely side tracked. I set this blog up in the first place with the interests of journalism at heart. Specifically to give a firsthand account of the travails experienced in pursuing a career as a trainee in the media. Upstart Liverpool and Man City supporters respectively and of late David Beckham’s Achilles have distracted my attention. So back to the subject at hand…

I tumbled out of university back in 2008, a history graduate, with the big, bad world sprawled out ahead of me. My dissertation studying the portrayal of the first black heavyweight boxing champion, Jack Johnson (please refrain from picturing the beach-bum surfing, acoustic guitar strumming Hawaiian) in the black and white newspapers of twentieth century America turned my attention toward the role media has to play, both for sport, society and primarily for my career.Jack Johnson (right) no watered down lyrics in sight

I perhaps did not take full advantage of the array of opportunities provided at a well run student union. (See Stewart Maclean’s route to The Mirror and a nomination for the British Press Awards Young Journalist of the Year.) I dabbled in reporting for the paper, covering boxing and football events. Yet there is so much more scope for experience at this level and one should take every chance to practise a bit of feature writing, interviewing, sub-editing, broadcast and radio journalism as possible. Even try to take a year abroad and dabble in foreign forms of media if you are ultra keen and focused. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the finer things in life along the way. Think Gonzo journalism in Fear and Loathing. Anyway, I didn’t grasp every opportunity. We live and learn.

So in early 2009 I enrolled on the News Associates journalism course. Acceptance on the course is fairly liberal but I did attend a one day taster workshop. Here they ask you to sit a short current affairs test to prove you aren’t brain dead (example: Who is that horrible racist man always in the news? It’s a trick question. They want you to answer Nick Griffin even though we all know the real answer is Prince Philip.) There was also a writing exercise requiring you to show you can cut down on waffle and trim a short article into a shorter article (basically just delete anywhere it says ‘that’ and don’t follow my lead on this blog).Prince Philip dashing and lovingly racist

The course is National Council for the Training of Journalism (NCTJ) accredited and ideal for developing the practical elements essential for a hard-nosed, hungry local newspaper reporter. But herein lies the key word: local. If council meetings and disgruntled neighbourhood watch residents are your thing, and you don’t mind your local celebrity being a ninety year old organ player then this course and above all the public affairs (PA) module will be right up your partially obstructed ginnel (that’s an alleyway in the quaint Yorkshire dialect! Who knew?).

Regardless of this caveat, the skills learnt with News Associates are quintessential for a long and successful career in the industry, at all levels from local to national, so don’t stop reading just yet.

  • News Associates
  • NCTJ accredited pre-entry journalism certificate
  • Wimbledon or Manchester centre
  • News writing | Media law | Public Affairs | Shorthand
  • 20 weeks fast track | 40 weeks part time
  • £3,150 – £3,500

As for PA, tedious is not even the word but it is useful, just painstakingly so. The news writing module gears you up for all the local community-centric predicaments you could get yourself into but the exam is an absolute bitch! On average only half the class passes this first time, something they conveniently chose not to divulge until you’ve handed over the cheque. Always remember to read the small print.

By contrast, the fundamental learning offered on this course is shorthand, learnt in teeline with a target of 100 words per minute, and media law. Get your head around the Sexual Offences Act, 2003, defamation and contempt of court and you’re halfway to being hired by lawyer-loathing editors up and down the country. Another essential item to walk away with is a shiny, sparkling folder containing all the fruits of your labour, emblazoned with that pride-inspiring four syllable word: PORTFOLIO.Gobbledeegook aka. shorthand

As News Ass’ managing editor James Toney says: “It’s difficult to get a foot in the newsroom without qualifications, it’s impossible without a portfolio.” Another memorable adage to live by is coined by head of journalism Andrew Moorhouse: “The future might be digital but teeline is around to stay.”

I’ll give you a further insight into how I went about accumulating this work of art on my placements in part duo shortly but firstly a couple of further things to remember about this course.

It will cost ya. Roughly £3,500 to be precise, although there seems to be an early payment discount available these days at £3,150. Why didn’t I have that option!?! And there are two locations, two timescales of study and two intakes a year I believe. They like to do things by halves. The centres are in Wimbledon SW19 London of Henman Hill and Murray’s Mound fame or in Manchester centre. I attended the centre up in Manc but there was a catchment area as far reaching as Leeds for me and the Wirral in Liverpool if you can stand the commute.

This commute was just about digestible as I chose to take the course in small bite-sized, part-time chunks. That’s 40 weeks, a full Saturday and Monday night per week with a six-week break in the middle culminating in a set of exams at the end of each term. I started in January 2009 and graduated (woohoo!) in November. The alternative is a 20 week fast track, full-time, full-paced, frenetic dose of journalism straight up with no mixer. A day out of the five is devoted to placements which help no end with the aforementioned portfolio.

Friends who have taken this full-time hit survived, just. You need to have the funds and energy to deal but they also said the intensity helped get their head’s around shorthand and peaking with the 100wpm. Those on my course on the other hand found it difficult to maintain speed and this seems to be the biggest dividing point between the two options. Both courses supposedly offer sub-editing and sports writing modules although I am yet to receive my training…suggesting potential organisational teething problems.

Richard Parsons, News Associates tutor. sterner than he looks Lastly, a further bonus of the Wimbledon office is its proximity to a fully fledged, leading sports news agency: Sportsbeat. Located directly under News Ass to be exact on the first floor. Don’t let the grimaces on their faces fool you, they are always happy to take on students for the one day a week placement; posting you out to far flung theatres of football such as AFC Wimbledon’s Kingsmeadow among others.

Ultimately it is the tutors who truly sold this course to me. They are utterly invested in your training and have a great wealth of personal experience to bring to the table; be it when they were flogging up and down the M1 to do through the night subbing shifts in an empty newsroom or when they were going toe-to-toe in an interview with their sporting hero or the latest corrupt politician. They are always available for assistance, whether for the course itself or for personal assistance. They understand the difficulties we are facing post-uni, pre-employment better than anyone.

Now if any aspiring journalists happened to stumble upon this nugget of insider information and find a morsel of use within, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch with any further questions. Hey, that’s what the comment box is for after all, not just to slate me and hurl obscenities please!

Sonya Says: England must learn from mistakes or fear punishment

4 03 2009

The rage on Martin Johnson’s face said it all.

The pure venom and anger, produced out of frustration and despair. The utter contempt for his players and their stupidity. The exasperation and infuriation. And above all, the realisation that he would have to face another inquisition after the game from the BBC’s rugby interviewer, known simply as Sonya.

After Danny ‘Careless’ Care got the second sin-binning of the game for England versus Ireland, I decided I cannot ignore the national sides current predicament any longer. I wished to see improvements. I longed to see that winning way and battling mentality and exciting rugby I remember not so long ago. I wished to see these individuals show their true potential. But all I can see are the same mistakes repeating themselves time and time again, and it is becoming embarrassing.

Before the Ireland game as I understand it, England had the unfortunate record of 8 yellow cards in 10 games. Now it stands at something like 10 sin-bins in 4 games. To quote a plethora of pundits and commentators of the game – it is “unforgivable”.

The expression on Martin Johnson's face says it all

When presented with these stats, the same sorry excuses and mutterings have been heard over and over. “We let ourselves down. Everyone is hurting. We know we have thrown away another test match there for the winning. We’ve got to work on discipline.” But this Sonya lady wasted little time in cutting straight through the bull shit: “It is not sinking in,” she retorted to the forlorn Steve Borthwick after Saturday night’s defeat. She’s got a point.

The same ruthless conclusions were delivered to the man in charge, Johnson, with equal bravado. “Thank you for your honesty,” she said as Johnson trudged away from another grilling interview, having to take the brunt of scrutiny for his charges inadequacies. The courage and at times cheek this lady is able to conjure up makes watching these BBC productions compelling, if not for the quality of rugby. She is developing something bordering on cult status in asking such probing questions, whilst craning up at these 6 ft 8 plus colossuses in front of her, fuming and hurting and ready to rampage around the dressing room.

As for those who repeatedly cut dejected figures in the harsh light of day after another inexplicably stupid display, where can they possibly go?

It is clearly hurting the players and staff, but they simply have no one else to blame. The ghost is up as far as winning the Six Nations goes. If that does not present an opportunity to go for broke in mixing up tactics and team selection, then Johnson must accept that this game of management is clearly not where he belongs.

After such a mammoth display in the England white and Leicester green during his glittering playing career, it would take a brave man to tell him his time is up. Maybe Sonya’s expertise could be drawn on for such a task. Yet, this is not the football Barclay’s Premiership. He should not be axed so soon, if not for the simple fact that this England side has not been anywhere near the mantle of ‘world beaters’ for many years now.

Even in reaching the World Cup final in 2007, that feat was only stumbled upon through a form of grinding, defensive rugby that is no longer suitable for the elite rugby New Zealand, South Africa and even Wales specialise in. As the national side slumped to eighth in the latest world rankings, their demise has never been more obvious, and a need for reappraisal more urgent.

So Johnson, Mike Ford (defence coach), Brian Smith (attack coach) and co. must take a few strides back, consult their overly relied on drawing board, and reassess the players they have selected. For the problem the England team is facing can only be solved through the application of more brain and less mindless, incompetent brawn.

England's forlorn players realise defeat at the hands of Ireland after more self-inflicted errors

England flanker, James Haskell, in his column for the Guardian, wrote that over-eagerness is to blame for giving away penalties as a symptom of their ill-discipline. If such excitement and desire to be do-gooders is interfering with the synapses to such an extent, then perhaps their powerade and lucozade should be supplemented with herbal tea remedies to relax them into a game. The referee downright telling them not to play the ball on the ground is clearly not getting through their thick skull-caps.

“Because we haven’t been playing the quality of rugby we’d ideally like to be producing, people have been chasing the game trying to make things happen,” Wrote Haskell. “In such circumstances it’s easy to over-step the mark and, in my opinion, that’s why people have been getting carried away. Over-eagerness, over-anxiety … call it what you like, we’ve been trying to force the game.”

He said he had been in angrier dressing rooms…well why? Johnson should have been fuming beyond human recognition. He should have been breathing fire, hurling bodies out the way, knocking sense into the incompetent fools who are undermining what should be his glorious reign as coach and tarnishing the name that he established for himself as captain.

This team seems to think it acceptable to continually throw away games and let themselves down. Phil Vickery, who was guilty of drawing the first yellow card of the game at Croke Park, above anyone, should be inconsolable at witnessing such demise in form of the English rugby team’s reputation.

He has been in an England team at the peak of its abilities in 2003 and shown his undeniable abilities to get them there. Yet now it appears his weary limbs and his wearier mind would rather languish in the sin-bin than trundle across the park to the breakdown. He has countless times, fumbled about for the ball or tied up the player on the ground so as to slow the game to the pace he can still handle. As a former captain, before Borthwick’s ill-advised selection in my mind, what kind of example must he be setting for his younger prodigies?

Sir Clive Woodward’s name has been thrown up consistently for comparison. Since he guided the team, or forced as may be more accurate, to winning in Australia in 2003, and was there for the years of hard graft that ensured this assent to the world title, his story has been one seen as a basis for success. When his reaction to Englan’s woes was sought after the game, the conclusion was that these performances would have been utterly unacceptable with him in charge.

Phil Vickery should know better as the former captain gets sin-binned undermining the team's chances of winning

Players would have been dropped instantly for conceding penalties let alone being sin-binned, yet Johnson resists wholesale changes and has handed out more than one second chance to players in the Vickery mould. In contrast, the creative flair players like Danny Cipriani, guilty for his errors in having kicks charged down, have been removed from the firing line, for the time being at least.

This is suggested to be in the hope that a stability of being hard to beat will evolve within his England team. Only then can the exciting players on show in the Guinness Premiership be introduced and efforts to play fast paced, flowing, expansive rugby can be attempted. But the question remains as Woodward pointed out: is the inexperienced coach Johnson, finding himself in his first job since retiring from playing, the man that can teach his players the discipline needed to win in this style?

“It is very difficult having to learn coaching in international rugby,” surveyed Woodward following the defeat in Ireland. “You can talk about discipline and not giving away penalties but it can be coached. It is a question of whether Martin and his coaching team understand that because Martin has never coached before.”

All this points to one place: the old chestnut of the drawing board. The culprits of repeat-offences within the playing staff must either move out the way, or reappraise how they are playing the game. They must realise they have to learn from their errors, or fear punishments and being stripped of their place if they don’t.

As for the coaching staff, they have to start laying down the law to those who insist on undermining the team by being binned. They must look for the clever players and wise heads on young shoulders that do not make these mistakes. And both must go back to school in terms of understanding how successful teams are built.

There is no other answer. It is not the referee’s tough treatment of the players. It is not the opposition getting away with it. It is their errors and misjudgments that are costing the team. They are going to have to put in some serious homework if these lessons are going to be learnt, or else, fear the indignation of the fans and the wrath of Sonya.