Steve Bunce, sports journalist

Steve Bunce

"To be a good sports journalist takes many things, but the main thing it takes is the ability to listen and follow your nose," says the sports journalist.

Raise Your Game: How did you become a journalist?

Steve Bunce: I became a journalist when it was obvious I wasn't going to be a professional sportsman. I didn't mind being a Sunday footballer or an amateur boxer at 16 or 17-years-old, but I wanted to be good at my profession and I knew I was never going to be that good at sport. I thought I might be a half decent writer and broadcaster.

RYG: What does it take to make a good journalist and a good presenter?

SB: To be a good sports journalist takes many things, but the main thing it takes is the ability to listen and follow your nose - see something, sense something and follow it.

At my first Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 I could just sense and smell a story. It was like I had this internal sense. I'd walk past people and I knew there was something there. I'd follow them and sure enough it'd be a Romanian who wanted to defect.

When I come back from an Olympic Games, my wife will tell you, I'm like a zombie for two to three weeks because I'd been working on overload. I'd been chasing every single story, not just boxing and not just the big stars of the track.

I remember in 1996 falling in love with the Chinese divers. These were people on 20 metre and 10 metre platform boards, doing stuff that you couldn't believe. Then when you saw them afterwards they were about the size of my leg. That was just sensational.

RYG: When you first start to put a story together there's the blank page or blank screen syndrome. Where do you start?

Profile

Name:
Steve Bunce

From:
London

Job:
Sports journalist

Programmes:
Inside Sport (BBC)
Fighting Talk (Radio Five Live)

SB: First of all I have to ask myself what am I trying to say and who am I trying to tell the story to. So if it's just 300 words going in the Independent it's very much where, what, who and when - fantastic. If there's a little bit more scope, if I've been given 1500 words by the sports editor, and I can have a little bit of fun, then I need to maybe entertain, include some different stuff.

Before computers were everywhere I used record books, the old-fashioned way. I loved to cram, and I still love to cram, anything I write with extra facts, stuff I picked up. I'll add something from the Commonwealth Games, from a World Championship I went to, not just boxing and not just traditional sports.

You've got to add stuff in and you've got to make it fairly interesting. At the same time, especially in this day and age, you've got to make it sound like, or read like, you've not just been Googling because that's not fair, that's not right!

RYG: Do you ever have a complete mind blank? You know the story, but you don't know how to start writing it?

SB: When I was a far more straightforward journalist, which was what you might call meat and potatoes, I'd go and cover a football match, I'd go and cover a rugby match or I'd go and cover some boxing. I used to blank there quite a lot, and the reason why I was blanking was that I was working within very straight lines - give us the facts, give me the figures, give me a quote and that's it. Well I can't work that way.

I don't use the word creative because it makes me sound like an artist, and I'm not an artist I'm a hack and a broadcaster, but I need a little bit of space. I don't mean I need loads of words, I just need a little bit of freedom.

RYG: What are the highlights of the job for you?

SB: When you're at an Olympic Games watching someone you've known for a long while and he or she has done something, even if it's only coming in the top 50, then you have a monumental night.

In Athens, the penultimate night of the athletics, in a stadium with 70,000 people, it was absolutely boiling. The 4x100m team had no right to be in the final, let alone chasing the Americans. The Americans had three medallists in their team, including two gold medallists and two men that had held the 100m World Records. It was the greatest gathering of athletes ever, that was the American team.

It was a case of what new record are they going to set, what new world record are they going to smash. Then four Britons, who had been attacked all week on British TV, they won the gold medal! Phew, I cried like a baby - fantastic!

RYG: What about the lowlights of the sport?

SB: I think when you're tasked with covering Premiership football week in-week out you know that no matter how good a story that your chasing is you're not going to get it because the footballers just don't talk. They work through agents, through newspapers, and they work with a journalist who's written their book, or about to write their book. It's a closed-shop, and they never say anything. Even when they retire they don't say anything.

If I was switched from whatever I'm doing, and I was, for some reason, made the chief football writer in any newspaper, then I'd retire. I'd go back to being a barber.

RYG: Do you ever get let down by sport?

SB: It's possible to feel let down every time a drug story happens, every time you see someone not giving 105%. But that's a story. That provides me with sexy copy.

1998 was the first year that snowboarding was in the Olympic Games, Nagano was a fantastic venue. It was a fantastic Winter Olympics. Ross Rebagliati, Canadian, wins a medal. The first snowboarding medal in the first snowboarding event, and within 48 hours he's thrown out of the Olympics because he failed a drugs test. But he escapes from Japan with the medal in his underpants. So of course that both let me down, and made the trip.

RYG: What advice would you give to someone who wants to be like you?

SB: I don't do a lot of training seminars, I don't take them, and I don't go to them, but occasionally I'll meet a young journalist and he or she will say to me 'Oh Bunce you've got a great life, I love you on this, what can I do? I want to be you, how can I be you?'

I say 'Well just work very hard, because my talent is working very hard and having a decent nose. A good nose for a story and the ability to get a little bit dirty sometimes, to get a little bit physical sometimes chasing a story. And to feel it, I mean I feel it.

I couldn't go and cover a Premiership Football Match, I wouldn't be using a percentage of my passion, and yet I would go and watch a Bridge tournament if I know that it's the best England U21 team against the best American U21 team. I know about the skulduggery and I know about the side bets. I can watch bridge and be like this! Trust me because I believe in it.' So that is the main thing I tell them.

If you want to be like me, work hard and believe in it, and if you don't believe in it, get rid of it.


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