Entry Thirteen

So...a pretty good month, all inall. The Mail on Sunday sports department was announced on the shortlist for Sports Team of the Year in the British Press Awards, and our concussion campaign was on the shortlist for the Hugh Cudlippe Award...the first time a sports campaign has made the shortlist.
Then...I discovered I had come 12th on the list of the most influential women in British sport...

Entry Eleven: December 2013


The World Cup draw takes place, and we all gather around the television in the office armed with notebooks, calculators, online maps, and close to the telephone to book flights.

Brazil is quite a difficult country in which to cover a World Cup because of its vastness and the spread of locations for matches. If the reporters and photographers base themselves in Rio and fly out to cover games, they won’t be able to get back to Rio that same night, so will need accommodation at the match venue. The book of the accommodation, the internal flights and external flights to make sure we have all reporters in the right place at the right time is quite hellish. We want the chief reporter with England, but do we need an ancillary reporter based with England’s next opponents?

One of the things about being on a Sunday paper is that you have to throw stories forward much more than you do on a daily…especially if England’s games are midweek…covering a game which takes place on Tuesday in Sunday’s paper, when the daily papers have covered it all week is a bit pointless…we need something different, so we need to make sure we have reporters somewhere different – picking up interesting stories from across the tournament.

So, the draw begins, and there are ooohhs and ahhhss as England find themselves in a tough group – the first match is in the Amazon – a place they expressly said they didn’t want to play – and in their group are Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica. There are lots of platitudes like ‘well – if you want to win a World Cup you have to be able to beat everyone’ – but Greg Dyke’s decision to slice his hand across his throat to indicate how tough this is says it all.

 We set about booking flights to the Amazon and wondering what the chances are of Luis Suarez retiring before the summer… The World Cup just got quite tough

Entry Ten: November 2013

I've been asked to be a judge of Sports Personality of the Year, and this afternoon the 12 judges are meeting at the BBC to discuss who should be on the short-list. We were sent a huge long list of all possible contenders weeks ago, and been told to add any others onto it so that by the time we meet, we have a faily exhaustive list of all possibilities. There are hundreds of possible names - all of them hugely deserving having had wildly successful years. The problem is that we have to get the list down to 10. As we all sit and look at one another, it's hard to imagine how on earth we're going to do it.

The panel is a mixture of national newspaper sports editors (three of us), previous winners, leading sports people and broadcasters. There's a 50:50 split between men and women, and they've given thought to various areas of expertise, so that lively debate can ensue between the judges.

The first thing we do is to go through the list and create a list of probables, so the names are called out, and if any one of the judges thinks that person should be on the shortlist, they are put onto the probables - sportspeople are only dismissed if not one of the judges thinks that person should be on the shortlist. By the end of the process, we still have a fairly long list, but much shorter than the list we started out with.

Then the debating starts, and that's when you realise how tough this all is...how do you compare the exploits of Joe Root in the Ashes series or Leigh Halfpenny in the Lions series, with Andy Murray winnign Wimbledon, or Mo Farrah at the World Championships? The truth, ofcourse, is that the victories cannot really be compared. Being the player of the series on a victorious Lions tour is to be the best your sport can ask of you. Winning Wimbledon is the best a sport can ask of you. All of their achievements are brilliant and deserve an award. Many, many people who did not make the final shortlist missed out by the tinniest margin.

In the end, the BBC's advice was to make decisions about who had made the biggest impact in the year - which victory resonnated more than others, and had the greatest impact on sports fans. So, that's what we did - we took lots and lots of hugley successful sportspeople and tried to pick the 10 whose victories made the biggest impact.

I think we did well. I know a lot of people will disagree, but it's not a science and there is no right or wrong. People said there should have been more women on the shortlist, but which men would you miss off it to put another woman on? We missed lots of brilliant sportsmen off the list as well, because we could only select 10. 

It was a fascinating process in which you found yourself wondering what makes brilliance, how sporting achievements compare and what makes an impact on the sports world. Andy Murray was the eventual winner - clearly his achievement had huge impact because it had been so long since a British man won Wimbledon. If he wins again next year, will he win SPOTY again? I guess that depends a lot on what else happens in the sporting world, but it seems unlikely - the shock, joy and delight of his victory resonated because opf its rarety.

The whole thing was fun to do & challenging to get right. I was very flattered to be asked. 


Entry Seven: August 2013

Perhaps it was only a natural step for us to run our first campaign so soon after our first big investigation in the sports department, but in August 2013 something that had concerned me for a long time came to a head. As a writer, I'd written a great deal about whether rugby was safe enough...it had turned professional without, it seemed to me, paying enough attention to whether the changes that would come about in the sport had been properly analysed or thought through. If players got bigger, tougher, fitter and stronger and if defences became more impenetrable - what would happen? And - particularly - what would happen when suddenly money was all important. You had to win to get the league position to attract fans, tv coverage and sponsors, because you had to pay the players. Winning would become everything at a time when players were bigger and tougher than ever - I just didn't think it had been thought through.
Then, in August, I saw a small piece in a medical journal which showed that the brains of rugby players were showing the signs you'd expect to see on punch-drunk boxers...except worse. The changes to neurons were greater than ever seen before. In boxing, if you got knocked out - you came off, and until your brain scan showed you were safe to carry on, you didn't have a licence to box. In rugby it wasn't like that, and eminent scientists and neurologists who knew way more about this than any of us or, indeed, anyone at the RFU, were becoming very worried by what they were seeing. Their trials were making a frightening link between concussion and long-term neurological problems.
We decided to set to work to investigate. Sam Peters led the investigation - talking to leading neurologists around the world, and to players who felt that their lives were different after suffering many concussions - they spoke of crushing headaches, forgetfulness and horrific depression.
We ran the story with an email address for people to contact us with their stories, and we were inundated with responses - depression was a common theme, but also players talking about walking out of the clubhouse after training or a match and not knowing their name, or how to get home.
I didn't want us to write pieces in the paper saying that all sports should be 100% safe - I know that's naive, and ofcourse there are risks connected to playing rugby - but does every person who goes onto a rugby pitch know what those risks are? Are they taking those risks from a position of knowledge?
The medical team who backed us and the rugby players who'd suffered thought not. The medics, in particular, thought that not enough was being done to analyse what the real long-term impact of multiple concussions was. When we went to the RFU with our questions, they told us there was no proven link between dementia and multiple concussions. If I'm honest - they dismissed us to start with. But all the time, the eminent surgeons continued to say that the links were there.
Then there was the tragic story of a boy called Ben who died on the rugby pitch, aged 14, because he suffered concussion, noone knew, and he carried on playing, when he went into contact again he was concussed and never recovered. By the next morning he was dead. That was enough for me - we were in a glorious position to act - we had to do something.
Hence, our campaign started. We had key campaign aims - like: we wanted independent research into the long term impact of concussions and for all players and coaches to have training in better understanding concussion (prompted by the horrific story about Ben), but one of the key things I wanted to do was raise the issue, and get people talking and thinking. I wanted a situation whereby whenever someone was knocked unconscious on a pitch, everyone knew that the right thing to do was get them off the pitch. I wanted all sports to look at themselves and work out whether they were doing everything they could to keep their players safe.
The campaign had some tough times - governing bodies, coaches and referees briefed against us and tried to make our campaign look worthless. But, slowly people came round and though it may sound boastful to say it - I think we've made a difference. The BBC and The Guardian ran big pieces about the subject recently, and other papers have touched on it too. The issue is now in the mainstream and it's being talked about.
This is not apolitical correctness gone mad, nor is it about saying that rugby is unsafe. It's not unsafe. It just needs to stop a while and listen to the experts - the neurosurgeons who understand the brain. If someone breaks a leg in a game, he comes off - you can see the damage and feel the damage. If someone bangs their head, you might not see the damage straight away but that damage may never mend, so why risk putting them back on? A broken leg mends; a broken brain doesn't.
Our campaign will run and run and we'll offer all the help we can to players who are hurt, and we'll battle again intransigence from governing bodies.
This is just sport - it's not war and despite the witty reflections of coaches - it's not life or death. Let's just be sensible with players and look after them properly. 

Entry Six: July 2013

The British and Irish Lions returned triumphant from Australia, Chris Froome won the Tour de France, and Andy Murray won Wimbledon. Not a bad trio of victories. Ofcourse, we covered them all on the Mail on Sunday with great attention to detail and with all the colour, verve, passion and analysis that four million readers a month expect.

But one thing I was very keen to do on the Mail on Sunday was to delve beneath the skin of sport a little - to investigate and, if the opportunity arose, to campaign. 

In July, just a few months after I'd started, we published our first investigation. Martha Kelner, young sports journalist of the year, was in the office when a tip off came through. A contact in Russia called to say that he thought there was gross illegality in the Russian drug testing set up. He spoke of athletes paying to get off psitive tests and athletes testing positive when they weren't because they wouldn't pay. We set up a journalist in Russia to talk to all the protagonists in the deabte, and had a Russian translator in the office in the form of Melkon. Nick Harris - our sports investigations specialist, joined the team and they began investigations which produced incredible results.

They talked to people who confirmed the initial allegations as well as athletes whose samples had been lost, and they unearthed the story that the sister of the man who runs the Russian Ant-Doping body had been arrested for handling drugs. It was a most astonishing investigation which went to the heart of corruption in sport. Wada, the world anti-doping authority, went in to check out the Russian system and threatened to close them down if it wasn't sorted out. The investigation made headlines everywhere, but particularly in Russia where the sports minister and even Vladimir Putin himself were moved to comment.

It was a brilliant investigation which made a real difference. It taught me that you really can make a difference. We can cover glamorous sports stars and offer insight and reflection - we can do all that, but we can also make a difference to the sports world, and make it ever so slightly better, safer and more responsible to the athletes.


Entry Five: June 2013

Everyone thought that 2013 would be a slow sports year after the glamour and excitement of 2012...how could a year with no major international tournament in it possibly compete? Well - 2012 was spectacular - but so was 2013. Perhaps it serves to illustrate one of the fundamental truths of sport - that you really don't know what's going to happen (which is a bugger when you're sports editor of a major national newspaper).

The joys of the great British victories of 2013 was that they came upon us unexpectedly - in the slip-stream of 2012 - the greatest sporting year ever. It all began in June with the British and Irish Lions playing the first game of their tour which covered the whole of the month. At the end of the month, there was the Tour De France, then Wimbledon, then at the end of July the Ashes series. A cracking summer full of huge events with great history and evoking great passion.

For the Lions tour we signed up Mike Phillips, the Wales and Lions scrum half, as our man in the camp and he was a star from start to finish. The only complaint was that he failed to grasp the notion of time difference on a couple of occassions, so phoned at 3am, full of apologies and confusion.

As a player he's a tough, uncompromising and committed man, and so he turned out to be as a columnist - working closely with Sam Peters - our reporter in Australia - to give real insight into life in the Lions camp. 

The tour was an odd one for me to cover from the office...in the past, I'd always been out on the tours myself - talking to players and picking up stories...being at the centre of the action, and certainly reporting from every game. But role of sports editor is very different to that of reporter and the time I felt the differences most keenly was during the Lions tour.

My job is to provide the best possible coverage - offering insight, bringing clrity, breaking stories and bringing life to the characters on the tour. You want to bring readers something to talk about - down the pub, in the office, on the phone - those so called 'water cooler moments' where you hope people will stop one another and say 'did you see the Mail on Sunday? They had an interview with Jonny Wilkinson in which he said that the Liosn will win the series if they......' You want to provide something that people will talk about because what they've written resonates with them - so you have to be on the same wave-length and thinking all the time about what will spark interest in the reader. 

But in addition to that, you want to make readers think....you should be able to make readers think. Most readers are at home, watching it on television - we have the luxury of having one of our top journalists over in Australia, in the camp, mingling with the players and spending lots of time talking to our signed columnist. We really should be able to provide stories, and ask questions that make people think, as well as giving them lots of talk about.

In addition to all this, because we're a sunday newspaper, everything has to be thrown forward to the next week. So, in this day and age - with the internet, smart phones and cable tv - few people are coming to us for the result. They know the result. What can we give them that they don't know? How can we interpret the  result? What does it mean? How can you analyse the result without squeezng the life and joy out of the spectacle...after all - it's sport - it's there to be enjoyed. We want to celebrate the glory, fun and overall joy of sport, without failing to analyse, question, call people to account, investigate and campaign for sport to be better, safer and more responsible. If you're on a Sunday paper, you need to do all this in just one hit a week.

What I learnt during the successful Lions tour - and without wishing to becoming corny and full of cliches, is that you really need a good team to cover a tour properly, as you need a good team on the pitch to win it. It's not just about the guy out there, filing his words back to the office (though it helped that we had a particularly good guy out there) - good journalism doesn't end with the words - the words need a stage, they need context and they need displaying well. 

The decision about what goes into the paper rests in the office, but the overall effect of every piece you read - from match reports to interviews to investigations - is the result of a journalist, sub-editor, headline writer, photographer, news editor and designer. It's a huge team effort. Good journalism and compelling articles need all of these factors to be right. It's the job of the sports editor to make sure they are. 



Entry Four: May 2013

I've been invited to the Football Writers' Dinner this evening, to meet the great and good from the world of football. It's a formal occasion at a grand London hotel. Gareth Bale is being awarded the Player of The Year Award, and various football writing luminaries are being thanked for their contributions to the media. The room buzzes and swirls with famous faces from the world of soccer.

The tradition is for newspapers to take tables at the dinner, and invite manager or players to join them. We have Rafa Benitez, the Chelsea manager, on our table for the evening because of the good relationship he's developed with our football editor - Rob Draper.

We arrive in the reception area and sip our drinks, waiting to be called down to dinner. There's a large gathering and in the distance I see the Chelsea party, with Benitez at the centre, regaling them with tales. He sees Rob and rushes over...pretty soon it's clear that there's a problem. It turns out that Benitez has been double-booked - he's agreed to sit on our table for the dinner while the media team at Chelsea FC have arranged for him to sit on the Chelsea table with them - and - crucially - some very important advertisers. Benitez siddles up to Rob Draper and takes him to one side to explain the dilemma. "But it's not a problem," he insists. "I'll be on both tables for the night - I'll move between the two - it won't be a problem, noone will notice."

And so begins one of the most humorous evenings ever, which involves Benitez scurrying from table to table like something out of a Fawlty Towers sketch.

First, he joins us at our table, and beguiles everyone with his talk about life in Madrid and the funny card games they play, his family and what life is really like at Chelsea. On the latter subject he's disarmingly indiscreet, witty and self-depricating. But after 10 minutes, he smiles warmly and says he has to go for a minute, would we excuse him? 

He stands, nods, then speed walks as fast as his legs will carry him, to the Chelsea table on the other side of the room, where he must woo important advertisers.

Meanwhile, on our table, the starters have arrived. "Is anyone sitting here?" the waitress asks, indicating the empty seat, recently left vacant by the fast-walking Spaniard. None of us is quite sure how to respond. "We think someone is sitting there, but not at the moment," we reply, helplessly. We're simply not sure whether he's coming back.

There is quite a performance while the cutlery is moved away, the vacant chair removed, the seats joined up and the starters served. We relax and enjoy the food, chatting amongst ourselves. Then, as the starters are finished, we catch sight of a fast-walking man, zooming over in our direction. He stands where his chair once was, and continues the conversation he'd been having as if his departure had never happened. The waitresses bring over his chair, re-set the table and serve the main course.

Benitez continues to chat, not referring to the fact that he's been away at all. Once the main course is finished, he rises, as before, nods and scuttles off again - speed-walking back to the Chelsea table. The bemused waiting staff are left to rearrange the table once again, and serve pudding.

This performance continues all night, as Benitez fights to be present at two tables. By the end of the night he looks exhausted.

"I ave eaten one starter, two main courses, two puddings and about three kilos of cheese," he says with a warm smile... "And I've walked about three miles."

Such class.


Entry Three... April 2013: The start of the day: Editor's Conference
Mail on Sunday is based on Derry Street, right next to High Street Kensington - a busy and fairly glamorous road full of shops, cafes, bars and restaurants. The building which houses the Mail on Sunday also houses the Daily Mail,  The Independent, 'I', Metro and The Evening Standard. It's a huge place packed full of journalists. You bump into the Sports Editor of the Daily Mail in the lift, see the Features Editor of The Independent on the escalator...it creates a vibrancy in the building. It's not sterile, like so many newspaper offices, but lively and buzzing. It's a good place to work.
The job of a Sports Editor sounds like a self-contained role in which you storm ahead and create the sports pages that you think are the best that can possibly be achieved. That's partly true, but the fuller truth is that the job is to act as custodian of the sports pages on behalf of the editor.
The sort of pages you create reflect both your own likes and dislikes, but also those of the editor. The newspaper needs to come together as a whole. He or she has the clearest idea of exactly who the target reader is and what that reader wants. It would be insane if the sports pages went off on a completely different direction and weren't written with the same sort of reader in mind, so - the editor is a key figure even in the rather separate pages of the sports supplement.
At Mail on Sunday there's an emphasis on being newsy, bright and appealing to the reader, but also there's an emphasis on doing things differently - trying to find interesting feature ideas to suprise and delight readers, as well as inform them. The ideal sports pages have a balance - a mixture of match reports, personality-packed interviews, big investigations and lighter, more whimsical pieces and the all-important results section at the back. 
Because the overall leader of the newspaper is the editor, every morning there's 'editor's conference' where the department heads (news editor, features editor, politics editor, diary editor, city editor and sports editor etc) gather in the editor's office with the editor, deputy editor and associate editors to run through what stories they're working on that week. It's an interesting process that forces you to really think through the stories you're working on, and how compelling they are. As you present them you need to be able to answer questions about them and take advice on them. It's a useful forum, and one which ensures that you start the day with a crystal clear idea of what you're working towards.
Because of editor's conference being such a key part of the mornings, you tend to start every day by reading all of the newspapers and talkng to writers to find out exactly what's going on in the world. For anyone interested in becomign a sports reporter, sports sub or sports editor the vital thing you need to do is read all the sports pages - work out what articles you like, what writers you like - what you thnk of them - what they're good at, bad at...become an expert. Many newspapers are available free online, others are in libraries...read as many as you can.
So, life of a sports editor so far - read everything you can about sport, have lots of good ideas and be able to pitch them at the highest level, and have a great team of people to work with.


Entry Two...April 2013


Some thoughts before I started:


I started work as Sports Editor of the Mail on Sunday at the beginning of April 2013. We'd had a glorious summer of sport the year before, with the Olympic Games captivating the nation and enticing normally sane people to rejoice as muscly bodies in lycra jumped, threw, ran, dived and somersaulted their way to victory. There was a warmth and pleasantness to life. No lives were saved, no important political decisions were made. We weren't celebrating something vitally important like the end of the slave trade, but - somehow - it was all so uplifting that it gained its own importance. Seb Coe was no Abraham Lincoln, but his stunningly successful organisation of an Olympic Games full of drama, colour, excitement and joy made everyone happy. And however cynical one is about these things, it's got to be a good thing to make everyone happy.

Allied to the happiness engendered by the summer Games of 2012 were three important factors... first, the notion of hard work being rewarded...winners being celebrated. There'd been an underlying feeling that reality tv and the notion of instant celebrity had created a nation with no sense of the value of hard work...no understanding of 'winning'. Everything had become a race for the bottom...vulgarity triumphed. If you wanted it enough, you got it. The Olympics was different...sure, these athletes 'wanted it'...they wanted it so much they were willing to train hard every day and push themselves to the point of exhaustion to 'get it'. Turning up at opening nights & perfume launches was out...hard work was in. It wasn't about what you wore on your body but what you did with your body. Those who worked the hardest gave themselves the best chance of success. 

Secondly, the glory of the Games was amplified by the fact that it was all so healthy... fitness and strength were being celebrated. We weren't talking about whether models were too skinny, children were obese, or whether stomache stapling or stomache bypass was the best way to lose weight. The Olympics was a celebration of fitness, strength and skill. Sales of bikes rose after the Games, as did attendances at swimming pools and purchases of trainers. That, it seems, is a rather more positive impact than celebrities frequently have. Getting a certain haircut, tattoo or handbag because you see your favourite celebrity with it won't change your life. If we all worked to be as fit as Jessica Ennis or Mo Farah our lives would be better. Buying the same shoes as the girl off Big Brother will change nothing...other than give you crippling debt (and possibly cripplingly painful feet).

The third factor was that women shone at the 2012 Games. There were women competing from every nation for the first time, and many of the stars of the Games were female. Two British women in particular defined female involvement at the Games - punchy Nicola Adams, winning the first ever women's Olympic boxing competition, and Jessica Ennis muscling her way to victory in the heptathlon. 

If you had a daughter, you didn't want her to be on x-factor, dressed in sequins and performing for Simon Cowell...hoping to win his favour, you wanted her to be Jessica Ennis - dressed in a tracksuit and needing to win no one’s favour - she was the best. Period. 

I mention the role of women at the Olympics not to make any sort of feminist point, but simply to point out that women make up over 50% of the population. They're not some minority group. The truth is that you have to engage men AND women to have a truly international event.

So, we'd had a fantastic summer of sport. But the really interesting thing, as the Olympics, and then the Paralympics, ended, was that there was still a load of great sport out there on the horizon. The Olympics ended and people fell into a minor depression, as if there'd never be any sport again...I felt like shaking them - there's sport every week, all the time. Of course, it was wonderful to have been spoon-fed lots of it every day...to wake up, lie on the sofa and let it all wash over you without needing to work out what time Rory McIlroy teed off, the match started or Wimbledon began. You didn't need to know what time anything started or finished...it was all there - in great colour before you - seamlessly moving from weightlifting to synchronised swimming to gymnastics and boxing. If you just sat there, you would see it all.

But the thing is - normal, everyday sport is just as fantastic. The Olympic Games was the opening of a curtain onto the world of sport... the scene was set...the heroes and villains had been introduced and we'd been given a glimpse of the sort of plotlines on offer. Now it was time to watch the play fully unfold. There were tennis tournaments every few months, World Championships in athletics and gymnastics, then there was football, rugby, cricket and golf. It was all there - every day - sport was everywhere - and the Olympics had opened many people's eyes to it.

So...I turned up as the incoming sports editor of a national newspaper with all this on my mind...how could we create the world of sport in 24 pages in a way that made sport as simple to access as those two weeks in the summer when it was all there - laid out like a feast before the nation.

There were things we needed to do: nothing is worth reading without narrative and characterisation - we needed to present all the characters (through interviews, question and answer columns and features), and we needed stories - we needed to tell people things they didn't know in ways that would beguile and entrance them. We wanted great, unusual stories. We wanted to surprise people. At the same time, we wanted to make sure we kept up our reputation as being a newspaper of record, including all the results, strong, definitive match reports and incisive game analysis. We wanted to cover all sports - not just football - but there's no question that football had to be covered well...it's the most read section of the sports pages by a long, long way - we had to do it justice. I also wanted brighter, more creative pictures, and to start some campaigns and investigations - it simply wasn't fair that drug takers were holding other athletes to ransom...they were ruining sport, as were those involved in cricket corruption - we needed to expose them, we needed to back clean athletes and by doing so we would be backing sport. 

We also needed humour - that's always important, as well as strong views and a few articles with different slants. We needed to do everything - to be full of the glamour and excitement of sport and challenging of the problems in sport. We needed to be in-depth and incisive, but also thorough and far-reaching...full of issues and personalities, but also full of fun. Could we make the sports pages as exciting, heart-stopping and emotion-tugging as sport itself? Could we tackle the serious issues and hold sports officials to account while being fun, lively and enjoyable to read? And how could we do it every week, in just 24 pages? How could we make it brighter and better while acknowledging that - with around four million readers a week - we don't want to alienate any readers currently with us.

Could it be done? Should we try to do everything? Should I try to do everything straight away? There were no answers...only questions. Luckily, I had a fantastic team of people waiting for me in the office on my first day...




Entry One...March 2013

I've moved over to the dark side....from the glamorous, light-infused world of attending sports events, meeting celebrities and penning articles that are read by millions (well, by my mum and dad, in any case), to the darkness of the office...sitting there at midnight on a Saturday wondering where the golf copy from the USA's got to and whether the headlines are punchy enough.

I'm the Sports Editor of the Mail on Sunday and it's a glorious job but I'm not sure that many people outside the industry have any idea what a sports editor does. Indeed, few people know anything about the journalism jobs that go on behind the scenes, without picture by-lines and to little acclaim. Sports fans can name their favourite writers, but will have no idea about those hovering in the background, appointing the writers and making sure they look as good as they can on the page.

Since I'm not writing now, and therefore embarrassingly short of material to put up on the website until the next book comes out, I thought I'd do sporadic updates about life as a sports editor, and attempt to run though and flesh out the other jobs that exist on a sports desk that go unnoticed, as well as dealing with some of the issues that arise and the problems that need to be solved, and some of the lovely things that happen...