Behind the Byline: Kenny Crawford
As ENRG Sport continues its series of interviews with sports journalists, reporters and writers, we talk to Kenny Crawford, Broadcast Journalist at BBC Scotland, about what it is like to work in sports media. Questions by Jamie Braidwood.
What was your particular route into sports journalism?
I think my route was a little bit different to a lot of other people’s because journalism wasn’t my first university degree. I had done an honours degree back from 2000 to 2004 in physiology and sports science at Glasgow Uni, and had come out of that and got a job with a health company which I was in for six or seven years. Then in 2011 I was made redundant but instead of getting down in the dumps about it I just thought, ‘this is perhaps an opportunity now that I’ve got a bit more life experience to do something that I want to do’.
So I looked at potential post-grad courses and I decided to go and do the multimedia journalism post-grad at Glasgow Caledonian University, because I’d always liked sport and I’d always liked writing. To cut a long story short I was at Caley from September 2011 to May 2012. I could’ve gone on to do my masters but I wanted to go out and get experience.
Shortly after finishing the course I applied to BBC Sport’s Kick-Off reporter scheme. At that point it wasn’t available in Scotland and they only had it at a few places down in England so I applied to the one in Cumbria in Carlisle. It was two or three days a week and it was unpaid for three months but it was a really good chance to get a foot in the door. Most of the work involved covering Carlisle United, going to games, doing interviews for radio, doing sports bulletins, preparing clips and scripts. I tried to be there as much as I could during that time, I didn’t look on it as, ‘I’m only supposed to be here two days so I’ll just do two days’.
When that came to an end they offered me a few freelance shifts but they also knew that I was based in Glasgow and that BBC Scotland was easier. There were a few connections between staff at Cumbria and staff in Glasgow and I started going in to do Saturday shifts for the website at BBC Scotland during the football on Saturday afternoons. That just grew into more stuff as time went on, I started doing some radio bulletin shifts as well as going to matches, and it’s just developed over the last four or five years. I’ve done all sorts of different roles from radio, website, social media, TV. Just a different mix and it’s been a really enjoyable time.
When you were at university during the post-grad and when you were doing your placement at the BBC, was there anything you did, or any skills you picked up, that made you more employable?
I think I was always keen to use my initiative as much as I could. When I was doing my post-grad and as well as doing my coursework, I tried to be as productive for local newspapers as I could. Even though it was unpaid stuff I just tried to get as much practical experience as I could. That’s why I didn’t want to stay on and do my masters. Sure, it would’ve been a useful thing to do but I knew that it wouldn’t be the thing that would get me a job and I might as well get out and get experience in the real world.
During the course I linked up with a local paper in Glasgow and offered to do their Queen’s Park coverage and basically wrote match reports on Queen’s Park. During the week when I didn’t have lectures I would go down to Lesser Hampden and interview the manager and some of the players after their training. They were pleased because it got them a bit more coverage, and this was only a free local newspaper. It was just good experience for me. I built up good relationships from the start and showed uni that I was keen to work well and try hard. I think a lot of it is using your initiative and try to not just do the basic amount to get you by, but instead always thinking out of the box and of ways to make yourself stand out.
What tips do you have for writing a match report, especially when you’re writing to a tight deadline?
Four of five things I would say here: First thing is in your match reports avoid repetition as much as you can, so try and read back over your work and make sure you’re not using the same word all the time. Especially when it comes to describing words, because otherwise people are going to think you haven’t got a great vocabulary. To follow on from that, avoid using the usual cliches that you would say when you’re with your pals, because when you’re writing it into your match report you’re not being very imaginative, you’re just saying the same thing everyone else is saying.
Also have different ways of describing the same player. Try and do your research to find out how old they are, their former clubs, what nationality they are, whether they have any caps, etc. So that every time you’re mentioning a player four or five times in a match report you’re offering something new. It helps your report flow a little better.
I would also say try to pick a scene in your match reports. If something has happened during the week, say the manager has put his players under a lot of pressure in his press conference, you can refer back to that to show a bit of context. It also gives you a better start to your report.
In terms of working under the pressure of a deadline, I would say try and get the main body of the report, the part where you describe the main chances, done well before the end. You want to get down the stuff that you know won’t change, and then you know that it’s done. Sometimes you can feel pressured by the final stages because you still have your first-half to write up.
And finally, just try to add a bit of spark to the report. Something that no one else will have and is your own.
When you are reporting on a game I often see that you are uploading videos of player interviews and fan thoughts, is that again going back to you using your initiative?
Social media is an area that I look to use as much as possible, maybe because I’m a bit younger and I’m aware of the things that can be done with iPhones etc. I always try and make the most of every opportunity. I’m really grateful for the chance to work a football/sporting environment and because of that I’m trying to give people who aren’t in that position, eg, the fan, the person whose sitting at home, a little insight into what we see. I suppose working for the BBC means that we get decent access because when we’re there at a match, and because we’re one of the biggest broadcasters, we get to see the mangers, we get to see the players, so a lot of other media outlets might not get that chance to get so close.
That’s why I like to do little ‘behind the scenes’ clips or interviews because I want to offer as much as I can to the fans. It’s good to show footballers as humans too and I think as well as asking about the goal or the save you’re trying to ask something about them as people as well, and trying to let fans see that they have a sense of humour and they are normal people. It’s nice to show them in a different way.
Finally, all the contributors at ENRG Sport are aspiring sports journalists and writers. What is one piece of advice you would offer them, as well as anyone who is looking to get a job in the industry?
My main piece of advice is something I mentioned earlier which is using your initiative to stand out whenever you get the opportunity. There will be times where you get work experience opportunities and whenever you get them try to go about it where you’re not just ticking the boxes of what your employer has asked you to do. But instead try and do what they’ve asked you to do and more.
That might mean working for a bit longer without payment, or it might mean going to that bit of effort at home when you could be at the pub. I think if this is something you’d really like to do you’ve got to be prepared to work hard at it. To follow on from that, working outside of the box creatively is key. Think of ways to cover things differently.
There are other things as well about you as a person. I think it’s important to treat people as you would like to be treated because you never know when you’re going to be in an unfortunate situation where you’re struggling for quotes or something like that. If you’ve had a poor attitude towards somebody else they might not be too willing to help you.
I also think you should always talk positively of people. I think if people see that you’re a person that talks positively about people when they’re not there they will trust you, and they’ll see that you’re someone who tries to do things for good reasons.
Last thing, deliver on your word. If a boss or a work experience guidance person has asked you to do something, and you’ve said you’ll do it, try and not be someone who goes back and says ‘I tried to do that but it didn’t really work’. Instead try and go back with what you’ve promised. If a problem has come up, then try and find something that you can offer instead. If you want to stand out you’ve got to be someone who can deliver something, even if the original plan goes wrong.
It’s also important to know that a lot of places, like the BBC, hire the majority of their staff on short-term and freelance contracts, and they just kind of make it work. That’s the situation I’m in just now, but because I’ve been there five years I feel like I’m a trusted member of staff so I don’t really worry about it. It’s probably important for students to know that although you do get permanent positions in some places, sometimes in the media world you need to be able to put up with not always knowing what your long-term future will be or not always having that security that’s guaranteed. It can be a little testing sometimes but I think the fact that you’re working in an area that is so good and that you enjoy so much more than makes up for that.