Sam Curtin, Deputy Sports Editor
University Express has a long list of alumni who have gone on to achieve great things in journalism all over the world. The sports department is not found wanting in this area either. This week I caught up with freelance journalist and former University Express Sports editor Joseph Sexton to tell his story.
Sexton has worked with print and broadcasting giants Marca and TalkSport, respectively. The UCC arts graduate is currently living in Spain and has been based there full time for the past two years. Having recently moved from Galicia to Madrid, it has been an interesting transition especially during the coronavirus pandemic. “Madrid has sort of gone under the radar here in Spain as there is no real lockdown as such. The city has been following the Swedish model, so it has been different to the rest of Spain in that regard.”
Although this might seem to be making life as a journalist easier at present, Sexton explains this is not the case. “Getting accreditation at the moment is problematic as only six print media journalists are allowed access so it’s complicated.” The UCC graduate also works as a translator which gives him another option for employment, something that he believes is important.
Sexton was a relatively late bloomer to UCC, beginning his undergrad at 26 and immediately began working with University Express through a mutual friend of the Editor at the time. “I was always interested in journalism be it sport, politics or music. I was also writing a blog at the time. One of my friends knew the Editor of the Express, John O’Riordan so I got talking to him and he offered me the sports editor gig in first year, but I just wanted to start writing so I waited until second year and then I took on the role of sports editor.”
In third year, Sexton went on Erasmus to Barcelona and would later get his first staff job working for the local paper Diario sport which would lead him to working as a content editor for Barcelona. Speaking of the Spanish giants, Sexton makes an important observation about the coverage of Spanish football. “Some papers might not have the depth of coverage of some of the other teams. It is very Barca/Real heavy over here and I think La Liga knows that they are missing a trick.”
As one can see, Spanish football is a huge passion for the UCC graduate, who was inspired by one book in particular. “‘20 years of Spanish football’ was what cemented my interest. This book inspired me.” What is it about Spain that is so fascinating to Sexton? “You have such a strong regional identity from Catalunya to the Basque country.” There is a lot of regional pride which goes into everything from politics, music, and food.” Sexton continues to say that football is no different. “I’m a firm believer that sport reflects society and football is a great lens to look into.”
Another aspect of his career that I wanted to talk to him about is the parts of his job that go under the radar and are often under appreciated. “Freelance journalism is often feast or famine. I have lots of war stories when it comes to getting accreditation especially with the smaller clubs which is complicated. I think it’s important to have a bit of persistence in that regard. Building relationships is very important. Players, agents and managers are often more willing to talk if you do that, especially in Spain. If you build these relationships along with the Press officers at different clubs. When you manage to do that, it can be very rewarding.”
This is a message that Joseph continues to emphasise throughout our phone conversation and is a key nugget of advice for aspiring journalists. Sexton also adds that its important to be “as honest as you can. There are a lot of stories that are a bit sensationalist particularly in the UK and to a lesser extent in Spain and in the Irish media. It becomes a vicious cycle. Everyone is so well media trained but if you can get past the initial guard, it can be very rewarding. I think it’s more of a cultural context.” This key cultural observation is the key difference between working in the Spanish media as opposed to the UK and Irish media.
One of the highlights for Sexton lies a little closer to home. “While I was in college, I wrote an article about a player called Daniel Osvaldo who had joined Espanyol and I sent an email around to see if anyone wanted to publish it. Instead, I sent an attachment of the article instead by accident. Anyways, I sent it out and the editor of the Examiner, Tony Leen sent me a text telling me to buy the paper the next morning. When I bought it, it was in the back pages and that was the first article I ever had published in a national newspaper. It got a great reaction and was shared a lot online as well which was nice.”
This is a running theme particularly in the beginning of Joseph’s career where he first started doing work on local football for the Evening Echo where he mainly covered Cork City, Munster Senior League, and schoolboys’ football while in UCC. This goes to show that a good grounding in local media can provide a promising path into the ever-expanding world of journalism.
From all of his highlights and experiences as a journalist, there is one sporting event that he wants to go to. “The Boca Juniors River Plate derby for me. If you go there as a tourist it’s a bit hairy. You wouldn’t want to go with your bank cards or phone. I love the atmosphere and the fans there have lunatic levels of obsession with football which leads to a miserable, grim, nasty side to the game there. I would love to do it ethically!”
As for the future? Sexton is not ruling out anything and states a desire to get back to what he was doing initially which was staff writing about Spanish football and non-footballing issues in Spain. Sexton also hints at long term projects such as starting his own YouTube channel. “I’d like to do YouTube videos showing a different side of Spain and Portugal. Get off the beaten track and show the side that doesn’t get covered in the international media.”
Whatever happens, it’s a testament to University Express that so many talented journalists like Joseph have gone on to become respected figures in their field and hopefully there are many more to come.
Watch this space.