“Racing is my passion and my hobby. I adore the sport and get paid to write about it in numerous forms. That makes me extraordinarily fortunate.”
Lee Mottershead – Journalist
There is not really such a thing as a normal working day, given my job encompasses many different roles – news reporter, news editor, racecourse reporter, feature writer/interviewer, colour writer, columnist, ghost writer and audio-visual contributor being the principal ones.
This makes for an interesting and varied working week. I’m also lucky as most people working in racing journalism do not get to take on so many different briefs.
If on a news reporting day, I’ll generally start between 8am and 9am. I’ll be given tasks and stories by the daily news editor and also offer ideas of my own. By about 10am I’ll have been assigned five to six writing jobs. The day is then spent making many phone calls, hearing what people say, taking down quotes, taking a view on what they have said and then submitting stories, which for a modern writer means servicing online and digital platforms as well as print editions, plus sourcing photographs, writing headlines and much besides.
A news job is also governed by writing to length and meeting deadlines. That is crucial.
Within a normal week, aside from news roles, I’ll often be on a racecourse on a Saturday (and midweek during the big festivals) when before racing I’ll write previews of the following day’s action before concentrating on race reporting in the afternoon.
If handed a big interview, such as the ones that appear in our RP Sunday pullout, I’ll be given a day on the rota to see the interviewee and talk to him or her (which could be where they live or on a racecourse) and then a day to write up the interviewee – which can only be done after all the quotes in the conversation have been transcribed.
As I also have a full-page column every Monday, I work almost every Sunday, generally starting between 7am and 9am and filing by 2pm. As a columnist I also spend much of the week working out what I want to write about – the idea of a blank page can be quite a motivator!
From May to November I write Richard Hughes’s weekly column. As such, I’ll spend a lot of time talking to him before writing about 1,700 words, in his own name and voice.
I have always loved racing. In fact, one of my earliest memories was watching racing on Saturday afternoons as a child with my parents.
I knew right through school and university I wanted to work in the sport, but I didn’t know what I would do. Growing up in a Lancashire town in a family that did not have much in the way of leisure income, there were certainly no ponies to ride, which meant a career as a horseman was never really an option.
Fortunately, I could write. After writing numerous letters to lots of people and different organisations, a few of which were answered, I managed to get a junior job in the Racing Post’s advertising department. That was in September 1996. To get to what I’m doing now I did a lot of ‘freelance’ writing work for the Racing Post, in a bid to show I could be a valued addition to the writing team. Fortunately they agreed.
Racing is my passion and my hobby. I get paid to write about it. That makes me enormously lucky, something I remind myself about constantly.
As a columnist I have to express opinions and views on a weekly basis. Not all racing writers do that or have the chance to do it. It’s a luxury but potentially at times also a burden. I need to be confident that what I write is what I believe. I don’t want everyone to agree with me – indeed, it’s good when they do not – but I always hope people will at least respect the validity of any point of view I express.
However, as a columnist I write things that sometimes anger or annoy others. Sometimes people written about, either directly or indirectly, do not like the things I’ve said. However, as a news reporter I’ll sometimes need to speak to those people the following day or soon thereafter.
That can never influence what I write but it can lead to occasionally awkward conversations.
The general rule is mature and sensible people will recognise that a journalist criticising them is generally not seeking to be nasty or cruel, nor is he saying that person is terrible at what they do. The less mature ones may not see that but there is little I can do about that and their reaction often says much about them.
The other main challenge, in a wider sense, is accepting that the media world is changing and so are the needs of the consumer. That can make my job less enjoyable and sometimes frustrating – speed of delivery becomes ever more important – but a reporter has to move with the times.
You absolutely must have a strong knowledge of racing and a real interest in racing. When you speak to as many people in the role as we do you cannot bluff. You can become a better writer, certainly. In fact, you would expect to and will do. However, you must start from a position of having a genuine interest in racing.
I would also say, stick at it. There will be many rejections along the way, some fair, some not so fair, but persistence can reap dividends.
Unlike when I started, aspiring racing journalists can use online blogs and social media to show what they can do. That’s a massive opportunity. Use it and let everyone see why they should be paying you a wage.