Exclusive: Gabby Logan on sports journalism

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As the 20th anniversary of BBC Sport presenter Gabby Logan’s Durham graduation approaches, she generously gave up a rare afternoon-off to talk to Palatinate about a range of topics from her Durham experience to rise as one of the most recognisable faces on TV.  I was able to ask her about the difficulty of taking the first steps towards a prestigious career in journalism and broadcasting.

She told me: “Experience is so valuable, wherever you can get it from. Whether it’s the university paper, a radio station, or going along to a Sunday league game and writing a match report; it’s all about learning how to get the skills.

“I think there is however a slightly worrying trend in internships where young people don’t really get the experience they need. Some places do offer proper experience, but it is harder and harder to get actual hands-on stuff that is going to lead to a career.

“But go for experience, don’t be put off by rejection, and keep going. If it’s what you really want to do, just keep pushing. And have a passion for what you do as well. It’s not a job that millions have the opportunity of doing, so if you’re not passionate about it it’s going to be quite hard taking the rejection.  You’ve got to really want to do it.”

Gabby also opened up on how journalism has changed throughout her career, using the example of how tricky it is now to interview famous faces.

“Getting scandal and salaciousness out of people now is very difficult; they’re not going to tell you stuff about drug use and sexual relationships.

“Sportspeople are more careful, they’re more political, or they decide they’re going to mention their sponsors name fifteen times in an interview. Sometimes you know a lot more is going on but you can’t be seen to ask that question directly.

“The really clever ones do that because they know what journalists are after. People like David Beckham are so good. He’s very charming and he’s very easy to interview, and at the end you feel like he gave you loads, when he didn’t actually give you anything at all. At the end you think, how does he do that? He hoodwinked and conned me!”

Gabby has had an extremely illustrious career – she’s presented Champions League finals, Match of the Day and Olympic games. She’s interviewed some of the most famous people in the world, but is most passionate about finding out about sportspeople’s lives, and what makes them so special, rather than standard and monotonous media-trained answers.

She told me: “What I find more fascinating is how they pick what makes them who they are, for example, the Brownlee brothers.  You hear about their relationship and their togetherness – they fed each other’s success.

“Those kinds of people like Katherine Grainger who keep going, who have an incredible desire to win, as well as mercurial talent, something they’re just born with, and how they turn it into something else, something special. So I like learning a bit more about people in that respect. Because then you can apply that to all areas of life.”

Gabby Logan (Tim Edwards)

Logan is clear that in her industry you can never stop learning. She believes that she’s a much better broadcaster now due to her wealth of experience, and the mistakes she made earlier in her career.

“When I first started out at ITV I was so keen, I was doing the Saturday lunchtime football programme, and all my questions were loaded with facts because I was trying to impress the viewer that I knew what I was talking about – but that left the interviewee very little to talk about.”

Although something that became obvious throughout our chat was that Gabby holds an unbelievable amount of sporting knowledge, she thinks that not showing it off and using facts and stats in a limited way can be helpful for any presenter.

“Obviously it’s handy if you can then come back at someone and say something like, ‘well actually he scored last week’s winner.’ You’ve got to be knowledgeable without imposing yourself or overpowering on the matter to your interview subjects, so they can put their knowledge out.

“Sometimes I’m sitting on the sofa at home and watching sport and think about the presenter, ‘ask them this!’”

“I want to know why they did that or why they made that decision. But obviously live television doesn’t always lend itself to clarity of thought, sometimes there’s a lot of other stuff going on. You miss things – afterwards I always think I should have asked that question or I should have asked this.”

Gabby thinks that her long experience of broadcasting has allowed her to deal better with potentially difficult situations.

“Just recently at the European Athletics Championships, we were on air, it was a really long show, like 3 to 4 hours. And on the night we sit down, ready to go on air, and then the competition was suspended for at least two hours because the wind was too high, it would be dangerous.

“We were on air, we were on BBC 2! We didn’t know when there was going to be any sport, we didn’t know what we were going to do. The wind was battering me, my eyes were watering, people were holding on to desks, there was paper going everywhere.

“They wanted to take me inside as they said that it was dangerous where I was.  But that would be boring, at least being outside and really high-up with all the wind meant people knew why there was no athletics. When I looked at the figures the next day for overnight, there was no drop off; we didn’t actually lose any viewers. I think it was exciting for people to see whether or not we all died.”

She says that events like this are why she loves sport broadcasting – the drama and unpredictability of it all.

“You never know when the next Wayne Rooney is going to walk onto the pitch, or the next Jonny Wilkinson is going to step up. You don’t know when those moments are going to happen and catch your eye, even if the match isn’t great. That’s what sport should deliver.

“And that’s the thing about the sport – there’s always something in the script sends you into a story.”

Matrix Studios

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