British journalist talks ‘football,’ impact of COVID-19 on media

Joe Donnohue is a freelance production assistant at DAZN Group with experience in sports media and sports journalism realms. He has had written work featured for both Sky Sports and Guardian Sport while also working as a social media manager, freelance writer and podcast host for Scouted Football. Being from the United Kingdom, Donnohue was asked about his interests in the various platforms of sports journalism and media production, the effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had on his own work and how the outbreak has been covered by the British media.

Justin Sousa: With the ease of access to the internet and social media, nearly anyone in the world can consider themself a journalist to an extent. At what point in your life did you realize this was something you wanted to pursue as a hobby or potential career? Why sports specifically?

Joe Donnohue: I’d always enjoyed writing but only saw it as a hobby, particularly given that writing about football came so easily to me. It had always been an idea, but my school were traditional in the sense that they tried to encourage their students to pursue more traditional degrees. I followed suit and applied to study Economics, but that did not last very long as I was doing more amateur journalism than my degree program, which was the point I decided to pursue it as a future career.

Sports in particular were always an interest to me as a child – I remember religiously collecting the Premier League stickers and copying all the players’ information down into notepads, so I suppose the two have always been intertwined.

JS: You have experience with broadcasting and radio with the Leeds Student Radio as well as hosting a podcast show for Scouted Football. Do you have a preference between hosting a radio show/podcast or focusing on written work? What are some advantages/disadvantages you see with either?

JD: I love writing because I can take my time and be very deliberate and with the words I use, while broadcasting is a lot more instant and makes you think on your feet. Having said that, I’d side with the broadcasting side of things probably because it’s more demanding and as you said in an earlier question, anyone can write and be a journalist to an extent. Broadcasting requires a little bit extra and feels a lot more exciting, even though it can be a touch more stressful.

I think there are lots of differences between the two, but the main parallel is that doing your preparation and research, whether it be before writing a piece or before a live radio show, is essential. There’s only so much you can blab without sounding uninformed – it’s always better to have more discussion points, than to run out because you don’t know enough about a given topic.

JS: Who were some famous figures you looked up to in these fields? What about them made you idolize or appreciate them more than their peers? Do you try to mirror your work based on their styles?

JD: In terms of written work, I’d say The Athletic’s George Caulkin is a print journalist I’ve always looked up to and tried to emulate. He has covered Newcastle United for many years and writes so emotively and beautifully and finds a way to make serious pieces humorous at times, and in the appropriate places. His range is outstanding, he’s very reliable and level-headed and it’s evident he loves his profession.

JS: Given the sudden halt in professional sports due to the COVID-19 pandemic, how do you see sportswriters and media adjusting to the current conditions? How do you personally plan to adjust your own writing and content in these circumstances?

JD: It’s a strange scenario for all involved in the world of professional sports journalism, especially given the transitory and often freelance-dominated nature of the industry. With no sporting events, there is nothing – or at the very least a minimal amount – to cover, which strips a lot of people in this industry of their purpose, and of course their incomes.

I plan to get to grips with writing pieces I have had on hold for a while, as much of my paid work has been cancelled. It’s an uncertain time.

JS: Where do you stand in terms of calling it quits for this season across Europe? Do you think postponing matches until after the pandemic is reduced is possible, or would it serve best to just start fresh again in August? Are you in favor of not declaring a champion for any league this season, or do you feel that would be robbing the current league-leaders of their work this season?

JD: I think calling the season void would be a financial nightmare for leagues, clubs and governing bodies – it would be a complete mess. The lost revenue of the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Leeds United by missing out on their probable promotion to the Premier League would be scandalous. Matches should be postponed until it is safe to stage them, whatever that takes. Starting afresh again in August may also be a wasted effort if the pandemic is still ongoing, so I think it is best to wait it out and put everything on hold.

JS: Being from the UK, media coverage of this pandemic is bound to be different than here in the states. How do you feel they’ve done in terms of covering the outbreak and promoting proper precautions to avoiding the spread of it?

JD: I think the British media has for the most part carried out their informative function well, imparting the necessary information where and when it’s been needed. The gripe I have at present is with the Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s article the Telegraph, which was behind a paywall. That just seems baffling to restrict necessary information which the public have a right to know, behind a paywall. Similarly, small snippets of information being leaked from Westminster such as the notion that elderly people may need to self-isolate for numerous months should be expressed in a national broadcast, rather than fed to journalists as on/off-the-record conjecture. Having said that, they are isolated cases.