THE WRITER/BROADCASTER: DOMINIC MCGUINNESS
Dominic McGuinness has worked for the BBC, Sky and ITN as a writer and broadcaster, and has independently produced documentaries for ITV. He is currently North West correspondent for TalkSPORT radio.
McGuinness’ biggest tips for prospective sport journalists are to show enthusiasm and be useful. “Get as much experience as you can,” he says, “there is luck involved with the timing. But if you show you are willing and contact producers and reporters then you can show that you have that bit extra.”
McGuinness cites his own route into sport journalism as evidence of the enthusiasm needed. “I managed to meet the then sport editor of BBC Manchester. He offered me a game to cover – Stalybridge. I was just helping out in my part time, but through that I learned a little bit more about it and made contacts within the station.”
Once you get the contact, that isn’t the end of the story. “They don’t want people just coming in and hanging around,” McGuinness is keen to stress. “Then they just end up babysitting, and you are a drain on their time. Show you can help. Once you get into places be yourself be friendly and try to learn, not be a spare part.”
As a freelance broadcaster, McGuinness is constantly aware of the competitive world of journalism.”It is an excellent job and I’ve been very lucky,” he says, “but I’ve always wanted to do new things and mix it up a bit. That creates pressure: you’re constantly mindful that you have to fill your diary.”
‘Fill your diary’ is an understatement for McGuinness, who balances his writing and broadcasting with community work and education. When asked for his career highlight, he struggles to single out one achievement; he is clearly proud of everything he does.
“If I had to choose, it would be my Hatton book [‘Ricky Hatton – the Real Hitman’, published in 2006] I had to work to get a publisher involved, to get Hatton involved. I was pleased to get it off the ground and see it come to fruition- to see it there in black and white is fantastic, as I’d worked on it from start to finish.”
One of McGuinness’ current ventures is ‘The Sport Business’, a Community Interest Company based in Manchester that he co-founded. As McGuinness puts it, their purpose is to “get people involved in sports at a grassroots level, playing or watching, and do some good for the community.”
One aspect of this that is particularly relevant is the Broadcasting Masterclasses, provided by the company, where attendees can learn more such tips from McGuinness and other top sport journalists-and many of these classes offer a student discount. Find out more at www.thesportbusiness.co.uk
THE PUNDIT: GUILLEM BALAGUE
Guillem Balague is a Spanish football expert, probably best known for his appearances on Sky’s show Revista de La Liga, in which he provides consistent, accurate analysis. He is also a regular columnist for Spanish paper AS, and appears as a guest writer for a host of other sporting outlets, including the European football magazine Champions.
Balague has an intimate knowledge of Spanish football, and much of his journalistic approach comes from sources close to the heart of some of the biggest clubs and names in Spain. In January this year, for example, he correctly denied that Guardiola was resisting the overtures of Ambramovich, and would not be heading to Chelsea.
In early November, Balague came to Manchester as part of his book launch, Another Way of Winning, which was a biography on Guardiola. We caught up with him to try and prise some secrets of the trade.
“Trust,” he says, “is key.” Balague’s style is heavily reliant on sources in good positions. Keeping them sweet is essential, in his eyes, to good journalism. His success, and respect as a journalist, has stemmed from building up a strong and loyal base of sources; as he says, he’s “been knocking on doors for years”. They know that they can trust him not to reveal who they are, and that he will feed the information out to the wider world at the correct time.
Cross-checking sources to validate information is also crucial to Balague. “You normally check at least two sources”, he says, “as long as you as you have as much information and checked it with enough sources… then you report it.”
Balague also stresses the importance of adding an element of character to the stories that he builds. “You should not just give the results, you should be talking about the characters behind it”, he says. “Give it three dimensions!” This element of Balague’s style is most prominent in his biography of Guardiola, in which he was given unprecedented access to the Barcelona coach. The result is a captivating character study of the Catalan.
THE COMMENTATOR: ROB PALMER
Rob Palmer is Sky’s main commentator for their coverage of Spanish Football. He began his career with Granada Television and ITV before making the switch in 1996.
Palmer was present at Balague’s book launch in Manchester, and we took the opportunity to find out how he managed to make it as a commentator.
Interestingly, despite playing football professionally as a goalkeeper, Palmer’s first steps in the world of sport media came in Rugby League, where he then moved onto football. This is the path that he feels is most successful. “I would say, to anyone, to not try and go straight into football.”
Of course, there are reasons for this. Everyone wants to talk about football; even more so today than when Palmer first started doing it in the early 1990s. Now, there are countless blogs and websites out there, all competing against each other and often working for little or no pay. “It’s an oversaturated market”, Palmer says. “Try and find a niche sport, to begin with, and then make the step.”
Within the football world, Palmer’s emphasis is again on ‘niche’. When he and Guillem first started to cover La Liga for Sky, it was very much an ad-hoc affair with little professionalism and little interest. However, they had found a niche area at the time, and once it began to take off with the Galatico era in the early2000’s, their careers followed.
Palmer’s advice: keep a keen eye on the Bundesliga.