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The Chronicle’s James Hunter

SB: What inspired you to become a sports journalist?

JH: It’s something I always wanted to ever since I was a kid. It’s something I wanted to do from the age of about 10 or 11. I started the school magazine, in the very early days of computers, and I just enjoyed writing and putting it together and it was what I wanted to do. I didn’t always want to be a sports writer; it’s something I kind of fell into, because journalism is what I was originally keen on. I like getting close to events, and finding out new stories whether it’s sports or politics, it’s just a natural curiosity I had.

SB: What part do you enjoy the most about being a journalist?

JH: I enjoy meeting people, the travelling and going to the games, and I like how there’s a different challenge all the time. I quite like getting out and about and meeting new contacts. I find that more, more engaging. There’s also something new every day, so you’re not just doing the same thing all the time. I suppose on some level you are, but there’s always a different set of circumstances, whether your writing about a relegation fight or a promotion campaign, so it’s different in that respect. I think the variety of it is probably the key to that.

SB: Are there any difficulties that you face in being a journalist?

JH: Sometimes you have to have some uncomfortable conversations with people and you have to write some stories that people don’t want to see out there. Sometimes you deal with press officers and figures within the club that say well I’d rather this doesn’t come out. As long as you can keep on an even keel, as long as you can agree to differ and respectfully say I can see where you’re coming from but this is how it is. As long as it doesn’t turn into an argument, and slamming the phone down then I think its fine. For the most part, these things are big news one day and two weeks later there all forgotten about. It can be difficult in the short term, because you can fall out with some people but others accept that the criticism comes with the territory in sport.

SB: What is your best memory on reporting on Sunderland?

JH: The first two seasons I covered were when Sunderland finished seventh in the Premier League, and at that time I had no idea that would be the high point. When I moved jobs and came from the Yorkshire Evening Post where I was covering Bradford City, who won promotion with Sunderland in 1999, you think this is the new normal finishing seventh and challenging in the European places, but of course that didn’t work out. There have been lots of different high points. Working with someone like Roy Keane was a real experience. Having a world football figure at Sunderland, and speaking to him once or twice a week was really educational. Peter Reid was manager at Sunderland when I first came and he was great to work with. Also the Capital One cup final was great because that was the first Wembley cup final I had covered as a journalist. There are lots of different individual moments across my career, so it’s difficult to highlight any particular one. If I had to go for any of those I would have to say working with someone like Roy Keane.

SB: What is your worst memory on reporting on Sunderland?

JH: There have been loads of low points. I think one of the things is the grind when you’re losing games. I covered Sunderland in the 15 and 19 point seasons, two of the worst seasons any journalist has ever covered. With two of them in a couple of years, it’s pretty low and depressing. These last six years of relegation battles have been pretty grim. When you travel to a lot of games and you get beat, it can be a pretty horrendous experience. As a journalist you travel to see another defeat then people have a go on social media, it’s not a nice experience. If you contrast that with a season like this where Sunderland are near the top of the league and winning games, you can see how far they’ve fallen.

SB: Have there been any significant changes in reporting on Sunderland after their double relegation?

JH: There has to a degree as the new owners, who came in during the summer, have been much more accessible than Ellis Short. You can go direct to the new owners unlike when Short was there. The big change from the relegation is the way the mood has changed amongst the fans. It’s nice to see a better atmosphere from the past two seasons. It’s now on an upward curve and there’s also talk of promotion.

SB: What are your thoughts on the new owners, and the impact they have made since arriving?

JH: It’s still early days but they’ve been very clever and got the fans back onside very quickly, which they needed to do because you could see what a big gap had built up between the fans and Ellis Short. The club as a whole, with the financial losses, have had to make a few cutbacks and they are bringing the club to a sustainable level in League One. Moving players like N’dong and Djilobodji have been crucial in reducing costs and it’s a step in the right direction. The next step will be to build the club up again.

SB: What do think of Jack Ross and what he has done so far?

JH: I’ve been really impressed with Jack Ross, and that’s something you’ve got to give Stewart Donald and Charlie Methven credit for, for bringing him in. He’s very approachable from a journalistic point of view. He is willing to take a phone call and talk to you which not very many managers have done in the past. It’s very beneficial for the manager as he gets to inform the media so you don’t get loads of wild stories flying about.

SB: Do you think that Sunderland can achieve promotion and also win the Checkatrade Trophy?

JH: I think they’ll be in it to the very last. It’s not an easy league to get out of but I think they can win automatic promotion. When you look at the squad, compared to their rivals, I think they have probably got the best chance of going up. In terms of the Checkatrade Trophy, they’ve got a good chance. The Checkatrade Trophy is by League One and League Two teams plus academy teams, and Sunderland are near the top of League One so they should win it. It doesn’t always work out that way as we know, but seeing as they can get a Wembley final and one million in prize money, it will give them more of an incentive. It involves a lot of games which you don’t want to get in the way of your league form.

SB: Finally, is there any advice you would give to young aspiring journalists?

JH: It’s hard work, but listen to the advice that you get off other people. It’s always worth asking for advice as well instead of keeping your head down. It’s always good to listen to what your being told because it will help you out a lot.