You have a choice between an all-expense paid trip to Fiji on business class to interview golfer Vijay Singh only days after he set a US PGA Tour record OR cover the early rounds of the Malaysian Open badminton tournament.
What would any normal person do? Unfortunately, journalists are far from normal – in the hours they work, the way they write and their perspective on who is a star and who is not.
That’s why sports journalists will tell you it’s not about the name, it’s about the story they tell.
This is the second time I’ve turned down that Fiji trip, the first one being a couple of years ago when Singh went to his native country to start work on his own golf course there.
Was it an easy decision? Yes it was. Reuters asked me a week before whether or not I’m okay for the badminton and I said I was.
Was it painful? Extremely. Coup plots aside, Fiji is the sun, sea and sand desert island of choice when it comes to being washed ashore after a shipwreck.
But the thrill of sports journalism comes from the unusual, which I will explain later. This is how all sports journalists learn to write. Or at least should do.
The Fiji offer came from Asian Golf Monthly, for which I write a column entitled “Bunker Blues”.
The boss told me that Singh had only decided on making the Fiji trip after winning at Kapalua, Hawaii on Sunday to grab his 30th career title and 18th since turning 40 – edging ahead of Sam Snead for the most post-40 victories.
As a journalist, you’ve got to be professional about these things (he says as he cries into his morning tea, which comes in a conical glass with a cherry and mini-umbrella sticking out just to remind him of what he’s missing).
I write in my ebook “Secrets to how top pros write news” that it doesn’t matter if you’re interviewing Tiger Woods or your local under-15s lawn bowls player because everybody has a story to tell.
As I was learning to write and grew as a journalist, this concept was strengthened, especially when you realise how bland some of the better known sports “stars” can be.
Still, this is Fiji we’re talking about, eh? I’ll get there one day, God-willing.
Sports stories are not as confined as hard-hitting news articles, which can constrict you in the words you use and what you are allowed to relate.
In sport, you can get into your subject’s life. You can explore the human side.
When the US bombed Iraq in late 1998, I was at the Asian Games in Bangkok, stringing for Agence France-Presse.
I went to the athletes village that morning and found a Kuwaiti runner who said he had been taken prisoner by Saddam Hussein’s army prior to the first Gulf War and was eventually freed by US forces.
His sport, his results, his training regime were mere side stories to his ordeal.
When writing sports stories, you have so much more than A beats B. You have emotion, ambition, achievement, sacrifice and countless other aspects that add drama to your writing.
Talk to athletes, ask them how they got there, what did they do last night, what did they eat, any problems getting to the venue. Ask them about their life.
You will see how much it can enrich your articles. Journalism is about people, and sport can tell their stories better than any other writing genre, in my humble opinion.
So, whether it’s Malaysia’s top badminton player Lee Chong Wei or Vijay Singh, they are both equals on the other side of my notebook. Their star status will depend on the story they have to tell.