It's June 2022 and I'm on our first full family holiday. Me, our 4-month-old, 3-year-old, and my wife... and I've abandoned them all. Well, only temporarily. I've got a Zoom with Refresh Sports which, due to me wanting to hit the ground running, I'm taking from our hotel balcony, whilst Katie keeps the kids happy.
It's a meeting that's been a long time coming, the fact I've scheduled it during my holiday probably sums up last year! A lot of saying yes, putting in the hours, gaining experience and learning... at the cost of seeing my family as much I should have. But perhaps things may change off the back of this chat...
Fast forward to May 2023 and I'm sitting on the ground floor of the University of Salford's MediaCityUK campus building signing up with Leon Mann and his Refresh Sports team, led on the 'talent' side of things by Lauren Ferdinand.
It's been a completely bonkers few years since I re-trained and left teaching. And it's been challenging. I get a lot of messages from young journalists asking how I've got here and as I'll no doubt repeat on this blog a lot, it's through a combination of sheer luck, hard work, reflecting on my practice and luck again. It's also been through a lot of sacrifice. I think making Out of Our League worked out at about £1 an hour (a 10-part podcast series for BBC Sounds on Bury FC/AFC) and I missed seeing Byron a lot during that time. He was around 2 and would come into the bedroom to say goodnight, whilst I was on a Zoom with Mark Crossley with a shared screen of Adobe Audition. And that was every night for about 6 months during the pandemic. Going back to university to re-train and picking up shifts in local radio was a brilliant grounding but also left us struggling to stay afloat and that was still the case going into presenting BBC Squad Goals.
These are the sorts of issues that freelancers can regularly face. Or at least, the experience of it then feeds the fear of that situation arising again. And that’s partly the drive of the freelancer to say 'yes' to all the shifts going. You're constantly at the crease, batting away and either scoring runs or holding on until the light fades.
I've come into this with no connections in journalism. No friends or family that can hook me up with some work experience. And no direct line to any decision-makers at any football club, media organisation or newspaper. My childhood dreams of becoming a journalist had long-since faded. The only reason I'm here at all is through BBC Local Radio's New Voices search in 2019 and through gaining a fee grant from The Journalism Diversity Fund. That and luck, coincidence and just so happening to be in the right place at the right time.
So here we are - how much longer can I go it alone? Well, basically until today. This is as far as I have taken things in three and a half years, going pretty much non-stop, mostly through necessity and also, through a desire to be better and roll the dice with this journalism malarkey and see what happens. And what a journey it's been! If it doesn't get any better than this then I can say I've had a good run.
At some point in this media world, you hit a ceiling. You get stuck. It's not just media though - I was at that point in teaching. And it can coincide with life getting in the way anyway. But it definitely exists in this industry. I think I probably have the bloody-mindedness and sheer force of will to break through eventually. The cost though, may be too great. The amount of energy to keep posting, emailing schedulers, meeting people, cold emails, waiting for a phone call that may never arrive... it actually takes away from you being a better broadcaster. It gobbles up your downtime and has stopped me being a better dad, a better husband and a better friend. Sports broadcasting can take a lot from you and to allow the hustle to take the last of you, is quite a difficult prospect. And after all that, you don't have all the answers either!
So, what if (keeping up that earlier cricket analogy) you had someone, at the other end of the wicket batting with you? Someone who's faced every type of ball coming, and can have a word in your ear whilst changing ends and give you just the right advice at the right time? What if (and I'm giving up that analogy now) you have someone in your corner who already has all those doors open that you're banging on and they already know who you may be the perfect person for, and can knock on doors you didn’t know exist?
That's my general rationale with getting an agent and I’m really excited about Refresh. Leon has been on a similar path to mine and did it at a time where hearts and minds were not as open as they are now. They are pushing and succeeding in doing things differently at a time where that's really needed. Having journalists and broadcasters that have a wider range of life experiences, outlooks and backgrounds helps the industry stay relevant. After all, it's broadcasting not narrowcasting. And having come through the JDF, it's something I care deeply about. The diversity imbalance in our newsrooms is something that needs redressing. And when you look at the Refresh roster, diversity is a part of that but the sheer talent and brilliance of all those signed up is what shines through and it’s quite unbelievable to be able to be put up anywhere near them. But enough of that…
I'm excited for what happens next and keep developing, working hard, having someone to bounce my ideas and pitches off and keep on this rollercoaster - with the added help of Refresh Sports. And if it means I can focus my energies on being a better broadcaster, a better father, and a better husband (not in that order!) then it can only lead to better outcomes all round.
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