Today I’ve got something special for you. An insight into the life and duty of an Arsenal journalist. During Arsenal’s visit to Kuala Lumpur, I managed to meet up with Josh James and have a short chat with him. Josh was kind enough to spare some to with me and this is what we talked about.
Me : Hi Josh, thanks for your time. Let’s get straight into it, shall we. How did you get to join Arsenal and can you describe a little what your job function as a journalist is.
JJ : I left university with a journalism degree 14 years ago. For 3 years I was with a local newspaper in Huntington, Cambridge. There I did all kind of sports, not just football. 8 years ago, I applied to the Arsenal and got a job there. I was working for the match programme mainly, then the magazine and now the website. Basically, it’s the entire media together now.
Me : So that includes player interview….all right up to press conference?
JJ : Not just player interviews but others stories as well. Like historical stories, fans related and the manager notes in the monthly magazine. For the last matter, every month I sit down with the manager for around 20 minutes and think of an interesting topic to talk about (hoping that the thinking wasn’t done when the manager is already right in front of him). On the match day itself, I do the post match interviews that goes up on the screens, highlight package on Arsenal Player. Apart from that, I also speak to the manager after he’s done with his post match press conference.
Me : Has journalism always been a passion/dream of yours?
JJ : Yeah, I’ve always wanted to do journalism. Maybe not exactly sports journalism, but definitely journalism. I’ve always wanted to write and be a journalist. Obviously, I’ve always been interested in football and Arsenal in particular. So, I guess everything turned out pretty well at the end.
Me : Wait….does that mean that Arsenal has always been the club at heart?
JJ : It is. I was brought up as an Arsenal fan. I was a season ticket holder before I worked there. It’s fantastic, really. My whole family supports Arsenal.
Me : Does that make the work difficult? In trying not to write from a fan’s perspective?
JJ : I’m writing for Arsenal fans anyway, so I’ve got to be positive and I generally am. But if I’m too positive then people will say that I’m not telling them the truth. Or if I’m too negative then people will say that I’ve to get behind the team and so on. We are club media and I think people understand that somethings we can’t write about and actually it’s better off written by bloggers. They are better at it than we are!
Me : Because bloggers don’t have restrictions or write under guidelines….
JJ : Yeah, because on Arsenal.com they know it’s the truth and there’s not much opinion on there.
Cutting in….. Me : Except for the media watch
JJ : Yeah, if you like that sort of things, go to the media watch. It is difficult to have a nice fine line between bias and supportive but I think we’re like the fans in that we all want the best for Arsenal and we want them to win. So we try to be as supportive as we can but if you like a different side of things, we tell you where (blogs) to go as well.
Me : Moving along, you’ve recently came up with a series of articles on the website titled “Behind the Numbers”, a statistics based article. How did that come about? Does it have anything to do with the increased number of source that can provide those datas?
JJ : We tried to put stats into the programmes and magazines because a lot of people are interested in it, especially in football it’s quite a big thing. We were quite limited because we’ve got no database, it’s all books based. Every now and then we write something based on research but it takes a long time to do such research. We’re not OPTA, we don’t have access to such data off hand. We’re hoping that from next season onwards, we’ll be able to work with OPTA but at the moment it’s all books and our own research.
Me : Do you see any of those numbers or sequence being something significant that can relate to our performance?
JJ : It is interesting when you see those trends and it could be Arsenal haven’t beaten Watford away for 20 years or something. You look at it and there could be no logic to that because every season it’s a different team that goes and play there. But then why does it happen? It’s the quirky side of football which happens and I don’t think that it’s just coincidence, perhaps there might be something in it, whether psychological or otherwise. When you see trends like that, there must be some sort of explanation. Which is why it makes it interesting and we leave it to the fans to decide whether it means anything.
Me : Some blogs have access or might even paid for some of these datas and micro analyse them. To have a quantitative perspective on the game. What’s your views on that?
JJ : Yeah, if you look for example the pass completion rate and you look at the top 10 players, they are all decent players aren’t they. It doesn’t tell you everything but it tells you something. It’s no coincidence that Cesc Fabregas was consistently up there for those numbers.
Me : Who?
JJ : Ok, Mikel Arteta is amongst the highest for pass completion. You can tell that by watching the game but sometimes it’s nice to have the numbers there to show for it. The danger comes when you focus solely on those numbers exclusively. That said, the numbers doesn’t lie. Take for instance last season. We conceded 49 goals in the Premier League and that’s just too many. You could say lots of them conceded at the start of the season or maybe more in one game, but overall that number showed just why we didn’t win the league.
Me : Or how we most of our goals were scored by one single striker, who shall not be named (cue laughters/tears – the latter mostly from my part)
JJ : We did a column on Arsenal being reliant on one striker, the percentage of goals scored by a single player. A couple were around the 41% range. The year (Thierry) Henry did it, we won the league. This year Robin hit that range but we didn’t win anything. Even though there are other players who contributed during Henry’s year like Pires and Ljungberg but essentially both strikers hit the same numbers. It’s these type of trends to interest me, how something can be so similar yet the end result is different.
Me : Behind the numbers series are really interesting to read. Long, but interesting nonetheless.
JJ : Hah, you can always read it over lunch or your tea break. We’re trying to give a wider range to the fans to read. Not only short stories all the time but something different and extra to cater for those who are more interested in trends like this.
That’s the first part of the interview done. Next one should be ready by tomorrow. Hope you enjoyed it.