Henry Winter: Tips For Aspiring Journalists

The Bib Theorists

It’s always been something close to my heart, so I decided to get in touch with the best in the business, Henry Winter, and ask him about young people in football writing. The relevance to the website is obscure but exciting; as the core of the website is made up of 15-25 year olds of which we are trying to promote. It’s clear from this interview that Henry feels very fortunate to be in the position he is in.

1. What was your route into Journalism?

I worked for a sports news agency off Fleet Street, plugging phones in at Vicarage Road and other London venues; doing 200-word match reports for the Sunday tabloids that were so bad they were rewritten beyond recognition. At the same time, I went to the London College of Printing to do a year’s photo-journalism course, couldn’t focus properly so I walked down the corridor and blagged my way into a pure reporting course. I got work experience on the sports desk of the Observer and four months later, I persuaded the Indy they needed somebody to make tea, play centre-half in their press team and write about schools’ and student sport.

2. Do you recommend blogging for aspiring journalists? How can they make it different?

Blogging is great. It’s self-publishing, responding to comments, improving. Bloggers should write every day, against the clock. Anybody can write a pretty piece when the clock’s not ticking. And, please, make that first paragraph interesting.

3. Is it better to go through the route of University than get a job in the industry post-A Levels?

Either. Some reporters have degrees, some don’t. It’s a meritocracy. I get sent CVs regularly and I never look at education, only cuttings.

4. Is it better to do a journalism degree than sports journalism if your chosen path is within football?

I go and give talks at journalism schools, chat to students, am bowled over by their talent but wonder how they are all going to get in? Football journalism is so popular but really how many places are there? Many end up in PR. There are too many courses.

5. You hear about it all the time, but how competitive is football journalism, really?

It’s a great job, going to 130+ games a year, but don’t apply if you want to see family or friends much! I’ve left maternity units to get to Wembley. Football journalism is very competitive to get in but incredibly friendly when in. Your rivals are friends. Six well-known football writers have passed away this season and I miss them loads.

6. As it’s so competitive, what will you need to separate yourself from the competition?

Great introductions.

7. Why don’t the big newspapers (Telegraph, The Times) offer the support needed for talented young sports writers to progress to the next level?

We do. Personally, I work with about 15-20 good young writers every year, either taking them on work experience, working on their style, advice, retweeting the best one’s blog. Talent is one thing. Hunger is the main thing. I’ve seen good young writers who expect to be Paul Hayward or Matt Dickinson overnight when those two brilliant chief sports writers have spent years getting to their esteemed positions.

8. We sometimes see you on television with shows like Sunday Supplement really helping raise journalist’s profiles. How much did you have to learn before you became confident enough to speak in front of the camera as well as writing for a paper?

Never thought about it. Television and radio is just talking about football, discussing the things I talk about in the pub or the office. It’s not the Reith Lecture.

9. I know you have ghostwritten for some prestigious Liverpool Football Club personalities in their autobiographies. How much of a different skill is that compared to writing in your personal style?

Totally different. I’ve done Scouse, London-Jamaican, Glaswegian, Welsh-London. I got out loads of radio interviews they’d done and listened to their voices. Steven Gerrard taught me a few new words.

10. It’s safe to say you’re are one of, if not the most, recognised English sports journalist; how fortunate do you feel to be in this position? Have you had any lucky breaks in order to get there?

I get spat at and asked for my autograph going into grounds; I don’t really worry about either. I’ve had death threats and marriage proposals and I don’t know what’s more unnerving. I’m incredibly fortunate to have the job I have, one that I’ve wanted since I was 14-15.

11. You have recently surpassed half-a-million followers on Twitter. How influential has social media become in the world of journalism?

Very. If I’m writing a column, I’ll lob a little idea out on Twitter, go for a run, come back, check the mentions, and I could have 30 replies on a subject from fans of that club. It’s great insight. Ditto if I’m interviewing somebody. Even the angry tweets are informative, giving an insight into moods. I’ve never blocked anyone. Never seen the need. As for the number of followers, I always think of the tweet I got from one punter that read: “I only keep following you to see what ridiculous shite you’ll spout next”.

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