The life of a sports writer

Never be afraid to keep it simple, respected sports journalist from The Age Peter Hanlon (pictured) told Melbourne journalism students at Macleay College on a recent visit.

The writer enthralled our budding sports correspondents with his anecdotes about covering Olympic and Commonwealth Games, Ashes tours and countless AFL matches.

But one key skill, said Hanlon, who has also worked for UK titles The Guardian and Daily Express, is to never lose sight of telling the story.

“Sometimes we over-complicate the structure of our stories with language that we’d seldom use otherwise,” he said. “If the context demands it, convey the story in simple terms.”

One of the main areas where his role has changed in the 20-plus years he has been writing, he explained, has been in the immediacy of writing for the web.

Where once an on-the-siren match report, revised for the second edition, would suffice, now readers’ appetites demand far more.

On an average evening at the MCG or Etihad Stadium, Hanlon will file a report at full-time, plus three separate points about the match; player ratings; at least one news story gleaned after interviewing players and officials in the rooms; and a revised match report.

He spoke fondly of his early days at the Colac Herald in the UK, an apprenticeship that gave him the all-round skills to cover several sports.

A winner of several cricket-writing awards - and no mean opening batsman himself during his days with London-based side the Fleet Street Strollers - the self-deprecating Hanlon says it is nonetheless an AFL story that gave him great pleasure recently.

An interview with North Melbourne player Majak Daw while he was still a little-known talent at school was a memorable occasion, he said.

“Here was this guy who was new to the game but even then there was a sense that, if it happened, he would handle being cast as a trailblazer, as a Sudanese-born Aussie rules player, with poise and grace,” said Hanlon.


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