Michael Potts talks about how he got into sports journalism and his career so far
RadioTimes Sports Editor Michael Potts talk about how he got into the journalism industry, while also talking about his experience as a journalist. Michael goes on to talk about his role at the RadioTimes and any challenges he has faced in his career to date.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
“It involved a fairly simple combination of my greatest passion and skill when I was a teenager. I grew up glued to the back page of the Sunderland Echo for the latest stories, transfer news and more, before the internet and social media took over.”
“I delivered the newspaper every day for about three years during secondary school and would read through the sports pages every evening as I did the rounds.”
“I also really enjoyed writing at school and took up media studies. I always wanted to go into a career I would genuinely enjoy, and sports journalism was the perfect overlap between a love of football and writing.”
How did you get involved with WhatCulture?
“I went to university with one of the guys who worked there on the WWE side of the site. He told me about their plans to move into the world of sport, so I wrote a couple of test pieces and one of them proved very successful on the site.”
“That, combined with a little extra knowledge about TV and film (more traditional WhatCulture topics) led to me getting a full-time job there. There’s a lot of value in seeing university friends as more than just students, they’re all aiming to be journalists and therefore potential colleagues/contacts in the future.”
How did your role at WhatCulture help you improve as a journalist?
“It simply got me into the routine of writing thousands of words on fresh subjects every week – a transferable skill for every writing job. I actually wrote far more about TV than sport at WhatCulture but the principles are the same.”
“WhatCulture helped me grow into the habit of generating feature ideas in my head on a daily basis. Not all of them turned into articles, but just having fresh ideas each day meant I could pick and choose the best ones to write.”
What does your job as sports editor at the Radio Times entail?
“The Sport Editor role at RadioTimes.com was a brand new role when I first started. I was effectively given a blank slate to build whatever I wanted. Of course, Radio Times is not traditionally associated with sport, but the demand for live sport on TV is growing and they needed someone to produce content in the sweet spot between sport and TV.”
“The job mostly consists of writing previews for major sporting events including the Premier League, F1 Grand Prix weekends, major boxing events and many more, with a focus on how fans can watch from their own homes.”
“We had started to build on that platform with more comment pieces, previews of sports documentaries, a weekly podcast and interviews with big name sport stars until the coronavirus lockdown put our plans on pause for now.”
What do you like most about your job?
“I watch sport, I write about sport and I get paid to do so! That was always the aim, and I’m just very grateful to be able to do that. I used to work for Express.co.uk, which built on the principle of coming up with new ideas every day, but it was very heavily focused on racking up pages views and ‘clicks’ by any means necessary.”
“That is still an important measure of success for online writing but there is far less pressure to bring in short-term, instant page views at RadioTimes.com.”
“We place more emphasis on playing the long game, slowly building up an audience without resorting to cheap tricks or copying from other sites, as is increasingly the case with tabloid media. That blank canvas and room to experiment with higher quality writing is great.”
Did you face any challenges earlier in your career?
“Lots! It takes time and effort to get the ball rolling. I used to cover Gateshead games sporadically as an assistant for a freelancer for minimal pay and I covered Women’s football for a freelance agency for petrol money – no set fee – as well as writing short blog posts for a few sites.”
“I struggled with a lack of journalism jobs out there for a while, and that’s normal, but experience adds up. I also found some of the more ‘clickbait’ writing tedious. National and local newspapers, websites, blogs are all competing against each other now, and that can lead to all kinds of tactics to get ahead, not all of them fun to write about.”
How did you overcome them?
“I just tried to keep in mind that experience is key and sometimes you have to just grin and bear it. I can officially say I’ve done it on a wet Tuesday night in Gateshead!”
“I also had to be flexible. Writing about TV isn’t what I wanted to do in my career, but it led to a sports job at the Express because I understood online writing.”
“The sports job at the Express wasn’t always an easy environment to be in, but it gave me some great experience, I met a lot of excellent journalists in a similar situation who I now class as friends and contacts, and that led to RadioTimes.com where I feel at home and settled.”
What advice would you give to aspiring journalists?
“I had more spare time at university than I’ll ever have again, and the experience you gain writing for papers, websites or anyone outside of a university setting all adds up.”
“I found employers rate experience very highly. Graduating with a good number on a sheet of paper is necessary – it’s 100 per cent worth aiming for the absolute top marks – but a lot of journalism graduates can show the same. Ultimately employers want to see more than just that piece of paper.”
“They want evidence of using your initiative to write for various publications because that is what you will be doing for them. A combination of a strong grade, strong final project (mine was a magazine) and experience writing for a few different outlets will set you up nicely. Then it’s just a case of waiting for ‘the chance’ to come along.”