Raise Your Game: Do you ever think to yourself 'I don't know how I'm going to start this piece?'
Brendan Gallagher: That does happen from time to time. I very rarely start a piece by writing the intro. I start in the middle. I write the best quote of the day and write the rest of the piece around that. Suddenly I'll find I've got four or five paragraphs, which is between 150 and 200 words. That's the meat of the piece, and you start adding on top of that. Once you've got that the intro comes nice and naturally.
Once you've got your first 250 words you can relax. The piece is essentially done because that's the bit that will keep people reading. Then you start working in bits of information, bits of injury news and bits of information about the other team.
Sometimes the story is so obvious and easy to write that it just comes pouring out, and you can't type quickly enough. If I'm struggling I just start in the middle. I write the stuff that I know at some stage will have to be included, and then I write around it.
RYG: If you have a mental block, what do you do to make sure that you can get the piece finished on time?
16 October 1958
The Daily Telegraph
South Wales Echo
- Sports Council Best Story Award (2000)
- Had reports printed from 48 countries around the world.
BG: Panic and adrenaline always work for me! (Laughs). If you've got a tight deadline and a sports editor shouting at you, you normally come up with something. If I haven't got a tight deadline, but I'm still stuck, I'll walk away from it for half an hour and have a cup of coffee. At other times I'll read some pieces by my favourite sports writers, such as Henry Longhurst, to inspire myself. Once you get going, that's it.
RYG: What makes a good story?
BG: A good story is something that the reader wants to read. Sometimes they can be stories that are so newsworthy, so sensational and jaw-dropping that you just have to read them. They're the easy ones - breaking news - the stuff that's going to be on the front or back page tomorrow.
Human interest stories are the ones that I particularly love doing. You spend a day with someone interesting. You interview them, mull it over, take the temperature of the day and try to reflect that to the reader. You've got to make the reader think that they were there with you, enjoying the day. That, for me, is a good story as well.
You have to know which one you're writing. Hard news is hard news. Don't ever try and make it a feature. Hard news is what happened - when, where, why, what, quotes, what the likely developments are - bang, hard news.
A feature is a feature, nothing to do with hard news, and it has to be written differently. The other style of writing is the comment piece. A comment piece is comment. It's not a news story. It's not a feature. It's comment. It's what you think. Those different types of writing must always be kept separate.
RYG: Do you ever worry about a story you've written?
BG: Only legally. I never worry about the actual content. I don't get too stressed about that. Some people worry about getting the absolute quote, the absolute comma and that. You've got to be as accurate as you can, but it's much more important to listen to the person. If you listen to somebody you know what they meant.
Sometimes people don't actually mean what they say. They get confused in the way they use their words. If you use the quote word for word it can read like nonsense a lot of the time. Don't get fretful about getting the perfect quote. Be as accurate as you can, but make sure that it makes sense - that you've understood what the person means. That's been my rule of thumb for over 25 years and I've never been pulled up or queried about a quote.
You do get worried when you're into legal realms. All you can do then is write the piece as straight as you can, and always check back with the desk that the lawyers have looked at it. That's what they get paid for. Once that's happened, it's over to them.
RYG: What's the best piece you've ever written?
BG: Am I allowed two?
RYG: You can have two.
BG: I spent an entire day with Peter O'Toole four years ago. He's a Hollywood legend and he was in great form that day. He was very articulate and the subject matter was the parallels and the similarities between sport and the theatre. Between performing on the stage and performing at Croke Park.
I did 2,000 words in two hours that night. It just came out. It was a great day, a great piece and I had a very good feeling about it. To this day it's probably the single best piece I've written.
I went to Calcutta in 2000, and we did a huge three page article on the street kids in Calcutta who had formed a rugby team. I visited some really poor areas and it was absolutely dreadful. Kids would be lying on the street dying, but the charity I was travelling with would pick them up and take them back to this hostel they'd formed.
They got them playing as part of a rugby team and educated them. Out of that they formed an India U19 team, and I went with them to Sri Lanka to watch them play in the Asian U19 Championships. It was a very special story to do, and a wonderful project to be involved in, regardless of whether you're a journalist or not.
RYG: Do you still get the same buzz from the job?
BG: Yes. Occasionally, like in any job, you get very tired. You're very busy and sometimes things don't go exactly as you want them to. Sometimes a flight or train is late and it can be a hassle, but what else would you be doing with your life? It's still great fun.
I got to go to the Rugby World Cup Final in Paris in 2007. I also went to the World Cup Final in Sydney, 2003. I've been to the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games and the Tour de France.
To have a Tour de France press pass is heaven on earth. It means you can drive the Tour de France every morning in your car, and you get saluted every kilometre by French policemen. The fans wave and cheer at you because they think you might be somebody famous.
There's also the privilege of the quiet moments at the press conferences, or just hanging around Croke Park on a Sunday morning when nobody else in the world is allowed to be there. You can wander along the touchline or into the President's box.
We were in Adelaide for the Rugby World Cup in 2003, which isn't a rugby town at all. Ireland were playing Argentina at the Adelaide Oval. The Adelaide Oval is one of the most famous cricket grounds in the world. It was where Sir Don Bradman scored all his runs. I would go out to the middle of the Oval and just think about Sir Donald Bradman scoring his hundreds of runs. I don't know if that means much to some people, but it meant a lot to me. That was almost the highlight of the World Cup.
If your attitude is wrong you'll get found out in the end.
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