A quick and pretty brutal lesson in social media

I hate icebreakers. The first 10 minutes of a workshop or event when you’re forced to play a “fun” game to get to know everyone.

A classic is ‘Two Truths and a Lie’ where total strangers guess which of your three statements is a lie from basically sitting and judging you. I probably hate it because I don’t think I have anything interesting to share, and even now writing this first post, I have the same sort of feeling.

My go-to disguised truth is that I was once banned by the football club that I support, Middlesbrough FC. I wouldn’t last 5 minutes behaving like a hooligan, so it’s usually picked as the lie despite technically being the case. And it seems like a pretty fitting story to break the ice on this blog.

I studied journalism at University from 2010 and manged to wangle a press pass to regularly cover Boro games for the campus newspaper and website, the first student to be lucky enough. This is as good as it gets for any aspiring sports journo; watching your team for free, meeting players and managers, and picking up a few inside stories to share with mates and fellow fans.

I turned up to every game like I had a Wonka Golden Ticket and a spring in my step like the notorious benefits-cheat Grandpa Joe on his way to the chocolate factory.

It became frustrating though as despite sharing the same media lounge with local, national, and sometimes international journalists and broadcasters, it still felt like I was the kid on work experience.

Trying to make a name for yourself and be taken seriously in an industry like journalism isn’t easy, you ideally need to be the first to break a new or exclusive story, but without the same sort of contacts or clout as the seasoned pros.

In 2013, I was in my final year and had three or four different freelance jobs writing 15-20 articles every day, some paid but mostly for the CV, travel expenses, and free sandwiches. I’d applied for more than a hundred opportunities, but even with genuine experience and the Boro gig, I wasn’t getting where I wanted and still didn’t really feel part of the journalist crowd.

That sort of changed when I started Tweeting updates from a source close to the club, which I knew to be true as this person couldn’t have been any closer. I was the first to share news of a new signing, a nice win but it was largely laughed off before it was announced, and a few months later I was spurred on by some Dutch courage and my mates at the pub to share that I’d heard an emergency meeting had been called about manager Tony Mowbray and it was the sort of meeting that could end his job at the club, which I implied.

I didn’t expect what came next. The Tweets started to get picked up, shared on forums, posted by fan pages, but there was one crucial difference, they said that I was reporting he had already been sacked.

It didn’t go down well, I had abuse in my feeds and posted online, and no amount of follow-up posts could stop fans jumping on it. Local journalists were being questioned late into the evening and the next morning I woke up to an email from Boro’s press team:

“This kind of rumour-mongering caused us problems last night and I’m afraid this has lost you our trust. For that reason, I have to inform you that you are no longer welcome in the press box at the Riverside or indeed at our Rockliffe Park press conferences.”

It was a quick and pretty brutal lesson in social media. Although I didn’t feel like a journalist, I was seen as one and had crossed a line into speculation. If it had happened today, I would have been called “fake news” with a load of Trump GIFs.

It was an awful experience and I remember getting upset for the first time in a LONG while. I had to Tweet a series of apology tweets and go for a meeting with the club (tail firmly between my legs) to make sure the University wasn’t affected and that other students could still benefit from the opportunity in future. I had f*cked up in one way or another.

The worst part was that my lecturers, who were all ex-journalists, knew it was harsh and that I hadn’t really done a lot wrong. One of them said I was “probably the youngest journalist to ever be banned by a club” at 20-years-old and that I should wear it as a badge of honour when I went to the Daily Mail later that year, having won a work placement for topping the University’s NCTJ (National Council for the Training of Journalists) grades.

It’s rare for reporters to be banned by clubs and usually creates its own news headlines, given that the key aspect of the job is to be there, so it would have certainly made me stand out. I didn’t want to be known for that though and if there has been anyone younger, I’ll happily hand over the title.

It was all smoothed out with the club to give them due credit and I think there’s a different press team there now. It blew over quickly with fans too, I doubt anyone will even remember, and the manager was sacked 5 or 6 months later.

For me, it didn’t impact any freelance work and despite opportunities to pursue a full-time career, it was the final nail in the coffin for my ambition. After all the time, effort, and unpaid work, I realised that it wasn’t for me, partly because of the abuse and fall-out. It’s probably why I’m overly cautious about what I post or share that’s work-related.

What would have been my “dream job” came up the following year in 2014, working in a digital role for Boro’s press team, but I’ve never actually looked back or wondered “what if?” Interestingly, the guy who landed it was my successor for the uni press pass and now actually works for a digital agency.

I’m glad it all panned out the way it did.

I was working with a digital marketing agency in Newcastle at the same time as all of this and landed a full-time role after graduating. This seemed perfect for me and I’ve been in the industry ever since, working my way through the different levels from an entry-level intern role, to my current position running and leading a fast-growing agency with 40+ staff and global clients.

I’m going to be more active in 2021 when it comes to writing and posting, about agency life, marketing, freelancing, and more, to hopefully provide some useful insight and shake off that reluctance to share – even if it’s not always positive.

I have a few ideas lined up and it’s hopefully going to be a busy year, continuing to grow the agency, plus helping a few freelance clients and working on a couple of ecommerce websites that I’ve started in my spare time.

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