The Craft of Journalism: “Google will not replace shoe leather.”
Soccerlens editor Steve Amoia recently had the opportunity to interview respected investigative journalist and film maker, Mr. Andrew Jennings, whose recent book, “Foul! The Secret World of FIFA: Bribes, Vote Rigging and Ticket Scandals” painted FIFA in a hue that many at the world governing body would have rather not seen. Mr. Jennings is one of the few journalists who have written extensively about the inner workings at FIFA.
What follows is Part 1 of the hour-long interview, where Andrew and Steve talk about football journalism and Andrew has some hard-advice for aspiring journalists and bloggers. Parts 2 to 4, which deal with the inner workings at FIFA, are present on Soccerlens (along with the full audio of the interview).
Steve Amoia: Mr. Jennings, welcome to Soccerlens. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today.
Andrew Jennings: Pleasure to be with you! Let’s go.
SA: Where did you grow up, and when did you decide to become a reporter?
AJ: Well, it was a very long time ago, I was born in Scotland, and grew up very near London. Reporting occurred to me in my early twenties, I thought it was what I wanted to do, we don’t know what’s going on, and I want to find out what’s going on and tell people. That was somewhat naïve, but that what has powered me for the last 41 years in Britain, I have wanted to tell people what is going on. Which is why I became a research journalist a very long time ago.
SA: In the introduction to “Foul!” you said that “Sport belongs to the people. It’s part of our culture, the social cement that holds us together.” Have you always had an interest in sports, and which football team did you support as a child?
AJ: I have to be honest. I wasn’t very good at soccer/football, but was a very good cross country runner. I had stamina. And that has certainly helped me as an investigative reporter because you have go a long time, against all kinds of threats, etc. to get the story. The club I supported, most have never heard of it. It is in East London. It’s now called Leyton Orient. It used to be called Clapton Orient. My grandfather played for them a long time ago. I never supported one particular club. I support good sport, athletic sport, I don’t care which football or rugby team, I don’t care, as long as they’re doing it honestly and with panache, it’s good for me.
SA: You began your career in the traditional print media. Are new programs such as the Chelsea Journalism Centre reflective of how quickly the Internet changed sport journalism and has fueled the demand for a different skill set for writers in this genre?
AJ: I don’t think that many of the skills have really changed, for example you must honestly investigate the potential story, and then you must learn to present it to your readers, whether it is print, Internet, visually, or in a television program. I think that no reader or viewer should think ‘This is really boring. I think the nicest praise I get for my books is when people say ‘I couldn’t put it down.’ Even though it’s investigative journalism based upon vast amounts of documentation that are indexed at the back… I don’t bore you with every document in the text itself. What’s interesting at the Chelsea School is that I’ve helped changed attitudes there because most of their teachers are out of print journalism.
Print journalism has been in decline due to the current economic climate. There is decline in advertising revenue. I won’t call it the death of ad revenue. I like to tell the kids, as I call them, I try to rouse hope in them. I say ‘Do you want to go tell interesting stories? and they go, Yeah.’ I then talk about technique.
It hasn’t been a good economic situation. Hasn’t been for a long time, never mind the recent problems with the banks and the shares, but I tell them, ‘You are the luckiest young journalists ever!’ And they look at me because all they hear is about print journalists losing their jobs.
But I tell them, you are free from what Mr. Murdoch wants you to be, you don’t have to be like Fox News, the New York Post, the Sun or any of these newspapers. You are free to spend $300 dollars on Dreamweaver or the software of your choice, you can have an Internet site. People will find you. If you learn how to investigate, how to write attractively, how to make your own videos, people can teach you some technique, and I think you’ll get better.
I think it is very exciting time. They might have to wait tables but what’s wrong with that? Journalists are overpaid, anyway. I could do with more, please send money! But earning a living is not why you go into journalism. You go in because your heart is in it, your guts are in it, what makes you vibrant is in it, and you hope to pay the rent. You might get a bit lucky if you write a book. You go into it to find out what they, authority, doesn’t want you to know, and tell it to people. That’s the joy in it. That applies to my work now over the last 20 years with international Olympics and FIFA.
SA: As a follow up to the last question, could you please elaborate on this quote?
“Google will not replace shoe leather.”
AJ: Google has its uses. But let’s get serious. It is a fine research tool, but it doesn’t do what a journalist is supposed to do… Shoe leather is cheap. That’s how I get the story. If you walk down any suburban street, there is a story behind every door. There are people who work in factories, good people, that bad things happened to, and they are waiting for a knock on the door… If you knock on their door politely and say ‘I’m Andrew Jennings, I’m a journalist, I’m very interested in asbestos poisoning’ for example, that is where your story is from.
Many journalists think you get it from the Presidents or press releases. You get it from the janitor, the concierge, the guy who is a driver to Mr. Enron. It’s ordinary people who want to talk about it because they have to earn a living, but it’s shoe leather. Google can help, but you have to go out to get the story, and get people to trust you. Whether it is in any type of journalism: economy, sports, etc, people have stories. You have to persuade them.
If you read my book “Foul,” you’ll realize there are thousands of FIFA’s confidential documents in there, and you’d never guess where I got them from. If you do, I’ve gone wrong. And the bad guys tap my phones, they follow me, put detectives on me, but I don’t think they have figured out where I get my documents.
SA: What were your initial motivations to launch Transparencyinsport.org, along with your goals for the project?
AJ: Well, I still work in the traditional media, and I present investigative documentaries in Britain and around the world for the BBC, but I wasn’t really sure what to do about the Internet… Then I realized that people all over the world wanted to know about the stories I’m doing. It seems that if they hear about your work, they immediately do a web search to find you. So I started to put my articles on Transparencyinsport.org, and if people wanted to contact me, and it’s been quite a response from around the world, and I’ve made even more friends in every culture, every ethnic group, and every language. It’s been satisfying to find out there you are going in the same direction as the guys at the very top. But with morals. That’s what binds us together.
Parts 2 to 4, which deal with the inner workings at FIFA, are present on Soccerlens (along with the full audio of the interview).