“There’s a distinct difference between a blogger and a journalist and it’s becoming extremely blurred by the internet.” Sportswriter Richard Hinds speaks to Sam Mills
How did you get your start in journalism?
I got a cadetship straight out of high school. Back in the old system the Herald and Weekly Times would take on cadets and you had to do a test. Usually they’d have 500-600 applicants and they’d whittle it down to about 12-15 who would work on the morning Sun or the afternoon Herald and I was on the Herald. It was a really good model back then, you’d work part time and study part time all paid for by the employers. It was hard to get into the industry back then but once you got in, you were really well looked after.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I’ve just been really lucky. When I first started, I was always going to do federal politics. After a few years of police rounds, industrial relations, and state politics, I was offered a job in Canberra in the bureau. At the same time an editor made me an offer to go do some sports writing. The guys on sport would write and express themselves. I thought to myself I’d do that for a year and I’ve ended up doing it for 30 years. That decision opened up all the sports I’ve been able to cover, internationally and local.
You’re quite active on Twitter and you tend to interact with the “common man” a lot more than the majority of other journalists. How has social media changed the media environment in your experience?
I’m having a bit of a break from it at the moment! At its best it can be a really useful tool for getting instant feedback on your work if you get a reasoned or nuanced response. It can also provoke ideas or thoughts you might not have already had by listening to other people. I’m an opinion writer so it can help form your opinion the right way. The downside of that is the trolling and negativity, and I think it can have really serious detrimental mental health risks. I kind of went through that a little bit. I think the cumulative effect of that [negativity] can be quite inhibiting, and I think some of the younger journalists can get caught up in it as a first-hand source rather than being a feedback sounding board. We’ve fallen into reporting people’s public opinions and reactions as opposed to it being a footnote in a bigger story.
Can you see a day where sports writing shifts back from the clickbait format to quality, long form content?
Absolutely. I think there’s some teriffic writers around. With sites like The Ringer, The Athletic, the original Bill Simmons stuff on ESPN, Jonathan Liew on The Independent – he’s one of the best sports writers I’ve read – I’m not one of those old timers who sits there and pronounces the death of sports writing. I think there’s brilliant writers and creative writers around. I’m also very sympathetic to the limitations they work under. Way “back in the day” we had so much more first-hand access to the athletes, players and coaches. We’d drink with them, socialise with them, get to know them and have their home phone numbers. Today the younger guys are fed a player in front of a sponsor board who might not have anything to do with the story of the day, and that’s their access. It’s bloody tough to be a good sports writer today. Those who do well are doing it against the odds as well.
It’s no secret you’re a Collingwood supporter. Have you ever felt pressure to hide this to appear unbiased?
In the earlier stages of my career I didn’t make a big thing of it. I remember as a reporter walking into Victoria Park for the first time and you get no more entrée than anyone else. You kind of feel a bit down about it because you’re a bit of an outsider in your own club suddenly. I probably didn’t enjoy going to football as much then because I felt more neutral and disengaged a bit, whereas now I’m pretty much a part-timer so I don’t feel the need to conceal it anymore due to the personal nature of my work.
You’re from Melbourne but you have spent most of your career writing for Sydney newspapers, was there a media cultural difference between the two cities?
Absolutely. Melbourne is saturated in sport and when you’re writing for the Melbourne market there’s so much more you can take for granted with your readers in terms of their knowledge, investment and passion. In Sydney, it’s very segmented. You could’ve had on any day football, Aussie rules, rugby league or rugby union on the back page as the big story whereas in Melbourne it’s always going to be footy unless there’s something exceptional in the others. I was versatile, I could write across many sports so Sydney was probably where my value was.
Any tips for aspiring sportswriters?
Just write. Get off the couch, go to things and meet people, talk to people and write.