Interviews – Media – Matt Dickinson

Matt Dickinson is best known for his controversial interview with Glenn Hoddle that led to the England football manager’s sacking from the international scene. Dickinson, a Cambridge graduate, has worked at the Times for the past two years and is the newspaper’s chief football correspondent. We asked him for a few tips on journalistic success and just how difficult it is to land ‘the best job in the world’

How did you work your way up the ladder?
I did a one-year course at Cardiff University’s Centre for Journalism Studies before working at the Cambridge Evening News as a news reporter for 18 months. I subsequently got a regional contract for the Daily Express in Manchester covering sport, including Manchester United football club. About two years ago I got a staff job at the Times as a football reporter.

Is there a downside to your job?
It is the best job in the world. If there is a downside, it would be that it is getting harder and harder to speak to players. Travelling with Manchester United is a bit like travelling with the Royal Family these days. There are people who will still be as friendly as always, but the money and the celebrity involved has resulted in an increasing amount of distance between players and journalists. When you hear old-timers talking about how they used to sit with the players in the dressing room and go out with them in the evening, you realize things have changed. But in many ways, it makes the job more challenging and exciting.

What is the money like?
The money varies hugely. A lot of the top sports writers are earning six-figure salaries, but at the other end, on local papers, people can start on less than £10,000 ($16,000), as I did.

Any tips for staying ahead once you’re in?
Reputation is becoming more and more important, so it’s vital to have a good reputation as a writer and with the football club itself. If you get a name as an unscrupulous journalist, people won’t speak to you.

Does working for the Times make a difference to getting a story?
It definitely helps having the Times name behind me. But having said that, some of the very best sports journalists are on the tabloids.

How decisive a break was it, getting the Hoddle interview?
I would like to think I’d been heading in a successful direction anyway. But the impact of a scoop is always going to help. Mine was unique, because I hadn’t been looking for anything – the story came and found me. Usually everyone knows a story but not the journalist involved.

How much harder has it made your job?
It doesn’t appear to have affected it. No one has put a phone down or not spoken to me as a result of that interview.

What advice would you give budding young sports reporters?
It helps to have a news background. I was very glad I had 18 months of news behind me when I started as a sports writer. It helps broaden your perspective. It also helps starting on a local paper rather than a national because it’s best to make your mistakes when they are not going to be seen by too many people.

How important is it to do a journalism course?
It depends where you do one. Cardiff had something like a 90% success rate at placing graduates on newspapers, which is pretty impressive.

What do you see yourself doing in five years’ time?
I have just been made chief football correspondent on the Times and will be quite happy doing that for a few years. The ultimate job would be chief sports writer. Then you can do the best of football, the best of golf, the best of everything. Working in an editorial capacity is also a possibility, but I don’t know if I could cope with speaking to the guys at the World Cup from the office, rather than being there myself.

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