In the 250th edition of Industry Insider, we sit down with Rich Fay to talk about his role as senior Manchester United writer for the Manchester Evening News, how he got into the world of journalism and much more!
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
My name’s Rich Fay and my current role is a senior Manchester United writer for the Manchester Evening News, which, as you might expect, involves covering Manchester United every hour of every day. I’m in my sixth year at the MEN now, having initially joined as a trainee journalist who largely took care of the lighter SEO, TV pieces, etc. I gradually made my way up through the company before solely focusing on United about four-and-a-half years ago.
What do you do in your current role?
United, United, United. My job is to provide daily updates on Manchester United via opinion pieces, news stories, features, interviews, transfer stories, and podcasts. Even despite their recent on-field struggles, they are by far and away the biggest English football club and there is a constant demand for coverage in all areas of the club.
It is both a blessing and a curse to cover a team so big, given that there is already so much coverage out there, meaning you have to be good to stand out, but also have a huge target audience and plenty to talk about.
“Normal” isn’t a thing in sport so what does an “average” week look like for you?
The start of the week begins by looking back at the weekend match that has just been, with analytical opinion pieces on the encounter and a podcast episode to further analyse the result. It can sometimes stretch into Tuesday as well, unless there is a midweek match, in which case you would cover a pre-match press conference and build up to that one as well.
By the end of the traditional working week, you will inevitably begin to look forward to a weekend match, with United so often the main focus, regardless of who they are playing. It is then a case of attending the match, writing some analytical pieces, interviewing the manager or players afterwards and then looking ahead to the next game.
It is a blessing to have a packed fixture schedule because you are always in the cycle of analysing a match and then quickly moving onto another, while international breaks pose a tougher test. There is still a demand for daily updates on the club, but it provides more time to conduct interviews with former players and create long-read features for the future.
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I always wanted to work in sports journalism but never thought it would actually be possible. I completely wasted my first year at university from an academic point of view and was given a reality check in my second year when the freshers arrived and all had far more experience than me.
I had just come out of a long-term relationship, so suddenly I had all my weekends free again. I wanted to keep busy, so I emailed my hometown team, Wrexham AFC, about any media opportunities. I ended up spending four years at the club, doing everything from social media, graphic design, match commentary, and even working as a press officer.
The harsh truth is that when applying for jobs, you all have the same degrees, so what makes you stand out is the real-world experience you have gained. Thankfully, for me, those four years at Wrexham were pivotal in getting my first proper job with the MEN.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
Pride. The nature of modern journalism means there is a demand for a lot of cheap, quick-fire content that is easy to turnaround and delivers page views. That is just the world we live in. However, I am at my happiest when I have the time and freedom to write pieces that I am proud of. These tend to be in-depth, feature-length interviews that provide insight and tell a story without rushing it.
It is not always that you get much positive feedback as a journalist, so to be thanked for writing a quality, long piece that you really have worked hard on makes the anti-social hours all worth it.
Can you tell us about a time you failed and what you learned from it?
Picture this. Fresh out of university, my first ever paid freelance shift. Wrexham away at Barrow on a cold Tuesday night, a tight print deadline to file my match report on the full-time whistle. I don’t own a laptop.
I was also a desktop computer kid growing up, so I simply never bought a laptop and never had the money to afford one either. So, I borrowed my mum’s tablet to write my match report. Then I realised it didn’t have any Wi-Fi, so I would have to Bluetooth transfer it to my phone and email my piece from there. Still, no problem.
I managed to type out a pretty decent match report on the touchscreen as the game approached injury time goalless. Then, out of nowhere, Wrexham scored a goal in the third minute of added time. In a frenzied panic, I started rewriting my match report so fast that it caused the tablet to freeze and stop working properly. Then, just as I managed to get it working again, Barrow equalised in the sixth minute of added time. We were back to square one, and I had just deleted most of the work that had initially reflected that.
I have never been so flustered or red-faced in a press box as I went way beyond the print deadline trying to reconstruct a match report on a tablet that wasn’t fit for purpose.
They say a bad worker blames their tools, but I honestly do in this instance. Oh, and always make sure you only ever move your initial intro to the bottom of the page, rather than deleting it completely, just in case you end up needing it again. I bought a laptop the very next day.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
Despite being a journalist, I’ve never really counted myself as a brilliant writer, so I’m quite excited by the multimedia aspects of the role and its appeal to different audiences.
I really enjoy creating podcasts and video content and believe that the future of journalism probably lies in transferring quality, expert journalism to newer social media platforms.
If you could change one thing about your industry, what would you change?
The indulgence of gambling advertisements. There is a great hypocrisy when high-profile figures are banned for gambling while wearing a kit promoting gambling, in a stadium adorned by gambling advertisements, in a competition that promotes an official betting partner and in ad breaks filled with, you guessed it, gambling advertisements.
It is true that gambling is not inherently bad, and the majority of gamblers are able to enjoy it without becoming addicted. However, the football industry holds a responsibility to regulate it effectively, something it isn’t doing.
Sport is a hectic industry, what do you do to switch off?
I enjoy a busman’s holiday. My great escape is being a football fan rather than a reporter and following Wrexham home and away with my friends.
Aside from that, I love the great outdoors and always try to get out of the house when I can. I also enjoy cookery, baking and comedy.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
Get as much experience as you. As mentioned above, most people applying for a job will all have the exact same degree from a university. So you need to focus on what makes you standout from the crowd by gaining real-world experience that is applicable to the working environment you want to be in.
Try helping out at a local lower-league club or sports team and learn how to do the job in a lower-pressure industry where you can make mistakes and have time to adapt. Ultimately, if you can report on Macclesfield, you can also report on Manchester United. The audience might be greater, but it is still fundamentally the same task, just with different teams and more notable names… Sorry, Robbie Savage!