By Delme Parfitt
What’s it really like to be a sports journalist, right now, in a busy digital newsroom? We sat down with Simon Thomas of walesonline.co.uk, one of the most respected and experienced media professionals in the country, to find out. He’s been writing about sport for almost three decades and has covered stories and events all over the world. In part one of a three-part series, Simon underlines just how much the industry has changed – and continues to change.
BY his own admission, newsprint is in Simon Thomas’ blood. It has been ever since, as a six-year-old lad, he used to help his mum and dad bag up the batch of assorted daily titles in the family shop in Carmarthen.
But like the profession that has become his life, the former chief rugby writer of the Western Mail has been forced to change.
Of course, the core essentials that every good journalist requires remain ingrained in his psyche and everyday routines.
Yet the breakneck speed of the industry’s digital revolution means what he will do today and tomorrow is, in so many ways, incomparable to what he was doing only 10 years or so ago.
Simon told us: “For the first 10-15 years of my career print was everything. When the paper was put to bed, you could go to bed.
“But in the last 10 years it’s completely changed. The focus has switched so much towards digital and I must admit it’s given my career fresh impetus.
Speaking to my contacts about the Six Nations TV situation, the message I am getting is that appointing a commercial partner comes first, then the TV deal follows and nothing is set in stone yet. Interesting times ahead.
— Simon Thomas (@simonrug) 12 July 2019
“Five or six years ago print sales were falling and you were wondering about the future of the industry. Now, more people than ever read what I write. The clue is in the title…it’s a worldwide web.”
Simon, who started out as a work experience boy at the Carmarthen Journal and went on to work for weekly titles in the South Wales valleys before specialising in sport, stressed that the old adage of a journalist never being off duty is now truer than ever.
He explained: “It is more 24/7 than ever before. You find yourself getting messages via social media or text at whatever time of the day.
“In the past you would just write it in the morning for the first edition of print, now you are looking to get it online immediately.
“In sports journalism there is always something happening. It’s an industry that is fuelled like few others by gossip and people telling you little bits of information.
“The way I find out information has changed a lot and the way you contact people has changed a lot.”
And Simon expanded on just how that has impacted on him.
He added: “Fifteen years ago I’d have the phone number of every player in the Wales squad. It doesn’t work like that anymore.
“Press officers have come in now, it’s more controlled and you rarely have the opportunity to talk on the phone to a player.
“But now you have other ways to find information, the internet, social media messaging and fans’ forums etc.
“The one thing that has changed more than anything since I started is some of the trust has gone between sports people and journalists.
“That has made things more difficult. It’s more important than ever now for someone like me to generate and build trust.
“In my business you can’t be a hit-and-run merchant. If you break someone’s trust once, they don’t forget it.”
Don’t miss part two of our series of interviews with Simon tomorrow, when he explains how he exploits social media, and reveals what it’s like to work in a newsroom where the popularity of what you write is instantly visible on a screen.