An Interview With: Luke Edwards

Last week I caught up with my friend and the Daily Telegraph's North East reporter, Luke Edwards. We covered Luke's early journalism career, his love of the North East and much more. Where did you start your career as a journalist? When I was about 15 or 16 and I realised I wasn't really good enough to play football professionally, I did some work experience at the East Anglian Daily Times in Ipswich. I decided then that I wanted to be a journalist and then I worked for a student newspaper at Newcastle University. In those days, The Chronicle and The Journal used to offer scholarships to the best student reporters and I went to the Journal, did paid work experience for a summer and then I went over to Australia for six months. I came back in January 2000 to start on the training course at The Journal and stayed there for eleven years and then went to The Telegraph.

When did you know that you wanted to go into sports journalism?

I was always sports journalism so right from the start, that is where I wanted to go. I was just very lucky really because when you used to get a scholarship you would do news for 18 months, and then I was always going to go back down to London as that's where all my family were and obviously where all the National newspapers are. A job on the sports desk came up just as I was finishing, so they put me straight on to sport and eventually I became Chief Sports Writer of The Journal. During that time I was offered a job at the Daily Mirror in 2003, in London and I turned it down because I met a young lady, who is now my wife so I stayed in Newcastle for love and it's the best thing I ever did.

Do you have any advice for people trying to make in the industry? Yes, just write. Write as much as you can do for fanzines or websites - the more you write the better. I got my job at The Journal because of all the writing I had done for the student newspaper. In my day you had a portfolio, so you would print off the articles or cut them out of newspapers and put them in your portfolio. That would be more important than your CV, just show people your work and you have to be very tenacious. Unfortunately the way the world is at the minute, you'll probably have to do stuff for free. I did loads of work for free when I was a student. There are a lot of university courses you can do - I didn't do journalism at university, I actually studied history. Just offer to write articles, be self-motivated and if there's a subject, sport or something going on in your local area then write about it and offer the articles up to your local newspaper. The way newspapers are, especially local newspapers they are so understaffed, if you can offer them content for free, obviously you don't want people to take the piss out of you and keep using you for free but it's a great way to get noticed.

Having a degree in journalism is slightly better in this day and age because it will give you the basics of the job and then you can go out and be self-motivated and proactive by finding stories in your local area. Everyone wants to write about sport but it is one of the hardest areas to get in to. In terms of general journalism, if there's something happening in your local area, write about it, the key thing is to have examples of what you've written. Podcasts are a huge thing now as well, I do a lot of work for the BBC and I really honed my broadcasting skills by doing podcasts and TV interviews. Even though I was learning those skills in my 30s it was still about getting the practice in. When you go for your first journalism job, your CV is irrelevant really, it's all about your portfolio, that's what will get you the job.

How has social media changed journalism? It has changed journalism. At its best social media is a real opportunity to engage with readers constructively to gain instant feedback, pitch ideas almost, but effectively it is a marketing tool. You have to promote yourself on social media. It annoys me when people say "Oh you just write this for clicks" as I don't get paid for anything I write on Twitter at all and we don't get paid by clicks at The Telegraph either - you have to pay to read the articles so that's nonsense. At its best it's a really useful tool, particularly in sports journalism to engage with fans and get a feel of the mood of the fan base. At its worst, and I do think it's getting worse, it's incredibly toxic. The comments and the abuse, now look, I have a thick skin where I'm not bothered about what someone I have never met thinks about me so I don't mind the abuse, but it is getting worse. It's the amount of fake profiles, the people with multiple accounts, a lot of journalists now do not engage with anybody on Twitter any more, they won't reply to comments, they won't even read comments.

A lot of journalists will turn their notifications off because of the abuse they get and I have to admit, there was a time over the summer where I just thought "What is the point?" I'm saying something in good faith, sharing my opinions and views, that's what I'm paid to offer. The amount of abuse this leads to, it does discourage you from actually engaging with anyone. That's not fair on other people, in fact I've met some really nice people through Twitter including yourself.

It is because of the actions of a very loud and dogged few, once you become a target on social media these people will not stop. This does upset a lot of journalists, it doesn't particularly upset me, I have to admit, sometimes I think I bring it on myself because I argue back. Once people see that you are reading the comments, it actually makes it worse.

I still want to engage with readers and fans because I think it's important for my job but if you're going to constantly get abuse then eventually that interaction will fade. In terms of how it's changed the job, the fundamentals of it are exactly the same. Write what you think and know has always been my principle when I started in journalism and that hasn't changed now. None of the abuse that I get on social media will change that principle of what I do.

Everything I write on social media or in the newspaper, those are my honestly held opinions and views. I'm not going to change that just because it upsets people or because I tell people what they don't want to hear. I think there's a slight worry at the moment that some journalists are more interested in being praised and liked by saying what people want to hear rather than having an opinion that is different from the mainstream. I am talking hypothetically here but there is a danger that this could creep in.

You've lived in the North East for a long time now, what do you love most about it and do you see yourself staying here for years to come?

I love the people the most, that was something that really hit me particularly when I left university and started working for The Journal. When you're a student you live in a university cocoon in a way. I love the city and the nightlife, I love the buzz about the city - it's small and compact, which is really appealing when you're a student because everything is close by and you don't have to use public transport too much. In my 20s it was about the nightlife but I love the attitude of the people. What really links in with the nightlife is the attitude of the people, they work hard and they play hard, I know that's a bit of a cliché but that has always resonated with Newcastle. I also like the confidence of the city, the Geordies - actually the whole of the North East, Sunderland, Northumberland and Durham is the same - there is a confidence about the people who live here and are from here. The people are incredibly proud of where they're from and there is a reason they're proud of where they're from, it's just fantastic. Newcastle is fantastic, for me, it is the best city in the country and I might be biased because I've lived here for so long but it has everything you need in a city. It's surrounded by amazing countryside up in Northumberland. I live 7 miles from Newcastle city centre and 7 miles from the coast.

Before lockdown, I was probably spending half my time in Manchester for work. Obviously the BBC are based in Manchester as well and there has been loose talk of maybe having to relocate but we've decided that the family home will always be in the North East. My two kids were born and raised here, they're Geordies, my wife's family are all up here and now obviously my family are here too.

We will never leave now I don't think, this is the area where I'll live and grow old, retire and die probably. I wouldn't want to live anywhere else in the country, I cannot stand London now. I love London to visit but it's not home any more and it hasn't been for many years now. This will always be the family home and if I ever do have to relocate to Manchester for work, we'd probably buy or rent a flat down there but the family home would always be here.

What was your view on Newcastle United when you first arrived in the region and how has it changed since? Well I loved Keegan's Entertainer's and I think that's always subconsciously or consciously been the case. We used to come up here when I was a kid because my Mum's best friend lived up here. When I was living in Sheffield I was football mad then and Keegan's Entertainer's played a huge part in me choosing Newcastle to go to university. When I started at The Journal, Sir Bobby Robson was the manager and they were a Champions League team. I've always thought that Newcastle could be one of the biggest clubs in the country, I still believe they could be one of the biggest clubs in the country. You're talking about an urban area of a million people and one football club. Football is so important to the everyday lives in the North East - more than it is in other parts of the country. Newcastle will never be a top 6 club with Mike Ashley as owner, though. That era of the likes of Robson and Keegan is gone unfortunately and Newcastle had that 10-15 year period when they were one of the biggest clubs in the country. Now what we are seeing is they've probably slipped back to what they were in the 80s and they've been at this level that they're currently at now for the entire Ashley era. We're approaching 14 years of Ashley as owner of this football club now and unfortunately until there is a change in ownership I can't see them progressing. For example, if Steve Bruce or any other manager were to build a really good team, you just know that Newcastle would sell it. You know they would sell their best players with Ashley as owner. If you remember the Demba Ba, Papiss Cisse, Cheick Tiote and Yohan Cabaye team, they were always likely to sell their best players. That will sadly always be the case, even if they do put together a really good team. Until there is a change of ownership Newcastle are going to be about where they are now, which is at best probably a top 10, maybe a top 8 club because of the way football has changed now and the amount of money that the big six clubs have. It has become disproportionate and it is harder and harder for Newcastle to be what they should be. I've said for years that Newcastle United are the last Premier League club worth buying. I've said before that the owners of Manchester City bought the wrong football club. They should've bought Newcastle because Manchester City will only ever be the second biggest club in Manchester. I know we would all love to have the success that Manchester City have had and we're obviously jealous of what they've done. The owners would've been better putting their money into a club like Newcastle and seeing this city and this region explode off the back of that. The rejuvenation of Newcastle wasn't just down to Keegan, however, it was part of that rebirth of the city and it started all of that European Capital of Culture in the early noughties when The Sage was built. Newcastle became fashionable and trendy and it went hand in hand during that time with the football team.

What do you enjoy most about reporting on Newcastle United? That it matters! That I know people are reading it and the interest is there, the things that I write are being widely read and digested. I love the passion of the place, I love it when things are going well, I love the city when Newcastle have won. Equally, it does seem a bit bleaker when they've lost. I remember the Miguel Almirón goal, which was almost a year ago against Crystal Palace. We had a house party that day and some of the people went from the party into town, they said that town was absolutely jumping. It was all because Almirón had scored his first goal for Newcastle, it's the way that it's woven into the city. Football is massive here and therefore it makes my job feel like it matters a bit more.

Do you see a takeover happening within the next two years? Look, Ashley has been trying to sell it for 13 years and has failed to do so. History tells us that we should always, always be cynical. Amanda Staveley has been trying to buy the club for 3 years and still hasn't managed to buy it. We got closer than we ever have done before during the summer as it went to the Premier League. Ashley does want to sell, there is interest that stretches beyond Staveley and there are other people out there. We're not talking about Henry Mauriss now but there are other people who are circling. It will be sold eventually but to try and put a timescale on it after 13 years isn't right. I thought it would've been sold by the end of this year, I was absolutely convinced of that in the spring and it still hasn't been sold. I don't think the PIF takeover will happen. I think it is best for the supporters to keep that frame of mind, don't build your hopes up because we've had them built up for 9-10 months now. If you don't think something is going to happen and then it does, you get a wonderful surprise. Both long-term history and short-term history tells us it is far from certain to go through. We've had so much false confidence and false hope drilled into us by the buyers and it was the buying side that did all that. We have to be very cautious but we will se how it plays out in court. It is in the hands of lawyers now, none of us are legal experts so we just have to wait and see.

In the meantime the problem with PIF hanging around is I don't think anyone else will come in for it while this is still going on in the background. Ashley seems to have put all his eggs in one basket, we have to wait for this saga to conclude one way or another before we can get other viable buyers coming in to buy it. It will be sold eventually and that is what we have to cling on to.

Out of all of Ashley's mistakes, which one is his worst? This might surprise people. Well, giving Alan Pardew an eight year contract was one of them and I don't solely blame Ashley for Rafael Benitez leaving. I think Benitez played an absolute PR masterstroke with that.

The biggest mistake of Ashley's era was not the summer Benitez left but the summer before. Ashley took £30m out of the club to repay his loans from The Championship season because Benitez wouldn't sign a new contract. The club said to Benitez "If you're not going to sign this contract, you won't get this money." Ashley had a ridiculous power struggle with Benitez and Benitez is difficult for any owner. They had a manager there that the fans really liked and united behind. They had momentum and it all unraveled in that summer before Benitez left. Then I think it was just a long goodbye. The thing that frustrated me the most about Benitez leaving was he could have had all that money to spend that Bruce got. Benitez still wouldn't stay, so this idea that they wouldn't back Benitez but they would back Bruce isn't correct. It wasn't that summer that he left that they wouldn't back Benitez, it was the summer before. That was just a very stubborn Ashley trying to win a power-struggle with a hugely popular manager.

That was the second time Ashley had lost a power struggle, obviously it also happened with Keegan. You would've thought after the Keegan episode back in 2008, he wouldn't have got himself into a ridiculous stand off again. I have to stress it wasn't last summer but the summer before because I think that basically sewed the seeds for Benitez going. We have to remember that Benitez was in for both the West Ham job and the Leicester job in his final season at Newcastle and didn't get either of them. Ashley knew that Benitez was in for those jobs, so when it came to Benitez saying he would only sign a one year extension - it had gone too far. The situation had deteriorated so much and there was a complete lack of trust on both sides.

It was the summer before Benitez left that Ashley deprived him of £30m to spend to pay back his loans. He had no reason to pay back those loans, my understanding was if Benitez signed the contract at that time, Ashley would not have paid back those loans.


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