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A day in the life of a...Racing Post Reporter

13 January 2014

By David Carr

Being paid to write about racing. Free admission to the racecourse every day. Santa Anita as well as Southwell. What could be better than that?
None in my profession would deny we are lucky to do the job we do. Reporting from big meetings and small. But it is a job. You are not there to enjoy yourself and the most exciting pastime can become a chore when it is work. Whatever is going on, there is always the thought of deadlines to meet, information to post on the website, 'tweets' to be sent, as well as copy to file for the newspaper.
Always the need to think on your feet. What is the story? What does it mean? Who do I need to speak to? And, above all, to turn it into compelling copy. No matter where I am working, I always imagine someone reading my words and aim to have them thinking after reading five or six paragraphs: "Gosh, it's lucky they had someone there."

How did you get involved in this role?

I have followed the 'traditional' career path that began with an apprenticeship at Timeform, the Halifax racing academy graced by the likes of Richard Austen, Adrian Cook, Graham Dench, Colin Russell and many others on the Racing Post down the years. I also worked for Rapid Raceline and the Press Association before filling the vacancy on this paper's northern team left by the departure of Graham Cunningham (another Timeform graduate) in 2002.

What attracted you to the job?

If you're working as a reporter, you can't beat writing for a paper on which everyone's specialist subject is the same as yours - the whole staff live and breathe racing. And any writer wants their stuff to be read - being at the Post you know everyone who is anyone in the game pores over your every word (though that means you had better get things right).

What is a typical day like for you?

Most days involve going racing. Jumping into the car to go anywhere from Ayr to Aintree, Perth to Pontefract. What you do when you get there has changed in the last decade - there's no waiting until after the last to file something nowadays, as the demands of the internet call for continuous live copy, and Talk Of The Track has altered the nature of reports. And the essence of live sport means even on the quietest afternoon you can suddenly find yourself covering a front page story when there's a bad injury, a false start, a non-trier, etc. Other days involve working on news shifts from home, phoning round for stories. Writing features. Columns. Opinion pieces. Visiting trainers for stable tours. Attending press conferences. Very few days are 'typical' - though my blog is one constant thread.

What is your favourite part of the job?

Anyone lucky enough to cover racing abroad would acknowledge they particularly look forward to overseas trips and I've been fortunate enough to have enjoyed great times working at the Breeders' Cup in California as well as reporting from Dubai, Hong Kong and Singapore. But you enjoy any place where you come across a good story – the retired psychiatric nurse from Sri Lanka winning with the horse he bought with his life savings, the chaplain taking out a jockeys' licence - and any time you come up with a good line on the most humdrum of pieces.
And because you are employed as the eyes and ears of the readers, it is always rewarding when a racegoer tells you they enjoyed something you wrote (even if it is the medical news reported in my blog and they take it as a cue to explain how they had their vasectomy reversed).

Which part of your job would you like to change?

Move Ayr next to Aintree. Make Perth a neighbour to Pontefract. Anybody who works in racing resents the hours on the road - time spent in traffic could be so much better used. What bliss it must be to work in the US where meetings can last a month at a time so they don't have to drive somewhere different every day.

What is the career progression for someone in your role?

Progress as a reporter involves covering bigger and better meetings, with perhaps a column thrown in. Alternatively, you could move inside and become part of the team at Canary Wharf. News editor. Editor, even. Somebody has to tell people like me what to do!

What advice would you give to someone thinking of taking a similar role?

Make sure you love racing. It can be a pretty one-dimensional role at busy times and the hours can be anti-social so you've really got to care about your subject matter to keep at it. Make sure you love people. You need to get on with and get stories out of countless different folk, many of them complete strangers, so this is not a job for a misanthrope. Make sure you love writing. Getting ten scoops a day is worthless if you can't turn them into something people can read, so you must enjoy putting your ideas down in words.

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