Media Interview with Dave Cottrell, editor of This is Anfield
About This is Anfield
How many people read This is Anfield?
ProgrammeMaster has been Liverpool FC's publishing partner since 2012 and nominally we produce two publications – the matchday programme This is Anfield and the club's official monthly magazine. On average for each home fixture This is Anfield goes out to 15,000 readers – purchased either at the game itself or via subscription. The magazine is read by 30,000 – not bad for a print publication in this day and age. There are also digital versions of both. On top of these, we've also launced Kop Kids for the club's junior supporters as well as a new club/stadium tour guide and special one-shots – most recently a tribute magazine for retiring Reds' defender Jamie Carragher.
What subjects do you cover? What stories are you most interested in covering?
The programme is the essential Anfield matchday companion, while the magazine should provide everything that a Liverpool fan wants each month. Both strive to inform and entertain the club's massive worldwide fanbase – we're failing if neither publication lives up to those billings. As well as exclusive interviews and photography with current stars, we look 'under the hood' of the club – providing access and insight for supporters that they just wouldn't find anywhere else – and tell the most compelling stories from LFC's illustrious past. All produced and presented (we hope) in the most professional and engaging way possible.
How closely do you work with Liverpool FC?
Very. We're in the same building in Liverpool's city centre and we liase with various club departments from press office, PR and communications, to licensing, commercial and ticketing, to the official website and TV channel. Plus, our writers are at Melwood (the club's training complex) pretty much every day to conduct interviews and build good relationships and rapport with the players and managerial staff.
Last season, we worked particularly closely with the club in the aftermath of September's Hillsborough Panel findings. It was paramount that we struck the right chord in terms of coverage in the first subsequent matchday programme – which happened to be against Manchester United – and we were very proud of the feedback we received from both officials and supporters.
What makes you different from other football programmes?
I try to keep an eye on what other programmes are doing, but really it's all about Liverpool FC. Without getting too many splinters from the fence, I think every football club tries to provide the best matchday programme (and magazine, where there is one) that it possibly can for its respective supporters. I can only speak for us, and as fans as much as professionals we're passionate about producing publications that reflect the club's values and traditions – which means clear, intelligent and meaningful editorial content.
How big is your editorial team?
Six of us in all – myself, an assistant/production editor, art editor, designer and two writers – although we also collaborate editorially with LFC TV and www.liverpoolfc.com.
How do you decide the content, front covers and headlines?
By its nature the matchday programme is more formatted in terms of its content – e.g. skipper's notes, visiting team analysis, fixtures and stats. But for the magazine, other than any content which the club has specified for inclusion – the latest community events and initiatives , for example – we build a flatplan with a good balance between present and past, big reads and picture-leds, 'serious' stuff and (in the best possible sense) more 'frivolous' material. The flexibility is there for any contigencies which arise – every magazine flatplan should change over the course of its production schedule.
Covers need a bit more planning and we liaise closely with the club's press office to organise photo-shoots with the players, trying where we can to anticipate who'll be 'hot' and what the fans want to see/read. Headlines should always be strong and enticing, occasionally whimsical but never too clever, or boring.
What does next season hold for This is Anfield?
We've refreshed both the matchday programme and monthly magazine in terms of look and feel. We hit the ground running last year (our first as LFC's new publishing partner) but we've since had some breathing space to take stock and implement new ideas based on those pages of content that our readers find most appealing – Brendan Rodgers' charismatic manager's notes in the programme, for instance, or enhanced coverage in the magazine of the next generation of LFC superstars. We've given both publications a modern, but in places subtle, makeover.
About you and freelance journalists
Do you pay for contributions from freelance journalists?
Rarely – we generate the bulk of editorial ourselves with some contributions from the club's PR department and also share content where appropriate with Liverpool's official website and TV channel.
Do you like freelance journalists to get in touch with you directly to pitch ideas? And if so, how?
By all means – they're welcome to email me directly or go via the contact form on the club website – but again, I'd stress that freelance opportunities are fairly limited.
Name the three most important attributes that make a freelance journalist stand out for you and would make you use them again?
Talent, originality, thoroughness. Having worked on both side of the divide – full-time staff and freelance contributor – I know how tough it can be out there in the real, unscripted world. You're only as good as the next thing you do.
What types of PR agencies do you work with?
Predominantly, the club's in-house PR team.
Do you find that your idea of what makes a story and a PR's tends to differ? How?
Sometimes – it depends on the publication and the nature of its audience and content. The best PR person I've ever worked with never sent me a single press release – their clients and ideas were usually discussed over a coffee, or something stronger, and I'd go away and think of the right story.
How do you think the PR/journo dynamic will change in the future?
The best PR people these days are astute enough to realise that ideas have to be tailored for different media. The dynamic is changing but not always for the better. Nobody likes reading magazines and newspapers filled with glorified press releases, and readers soon get wise. I don't really blame the PR person – if anything, it's complacent journalism. The boundaries between the two sectors are more blurred, especially with the popularity of paid-for content and the 'black swan' of digital culture that we're all still struggling to rationalise. Both sides should always recognise that the best 'content', whatever its format, should be about far more than simply information or even communication – it should be about quality.
Describe a typical day at work: What are your editorial duties/responsibilites at the outlet?
I typically start just after 8AM and leave the office just before 6PM. When the schedule's really busy – a magazine to 'push through' plus maybe programmes for three LFC home fixtures in a fortnight – it's evening and weekends, guaranteed. I manage the editorial supply chain from planning to delivery, liaising with key contacts at the club and working closely with our writers and designers. We're only a small team so I write, sub and research/take pics whenever and as much as I can. I'm a bit of a control freak in that respect but I can't let anything go through the system unless it's up to scratch at the very least.
What interests you most about your job?
The subject matter, for a start! What motivates me is getting the publication right and aiming to improve it next time round. I love all the day-to-day stuff about magazine craft: great images that spark ideas; dreaming up distinctive headlines and different feature concepts; last-minute additions and improvements; getting the best out of a talented editorial team by encouraging them to be proud of what they do; see the bigger picture and appreciate what makes a good product.
Where have you worked previously, and how did you end up in your current position?
I spent a dozen years in London learning my trade in magazines (mainly consumer titles at Dennis and IPC) then five back in Liverpool and another two in the capital before this current role. I'd actually been fortunate to edit LFC's programme once before, at Haymarket Network between 2000 and 2002, for which we won two awards – PPA Customer Magazine of the Year 2000 and APA Customer Magazine Editor of the Year in 2001. After that I edited a monthly lifestyle title at Trinity Mirror North West and wrote a weekly (non-sport) column for the Liverpool Post. It all started for me in the early 1990s as an editorial assistant on 90 Minutes magazine, whose boss Paul Hawksbee (now a talkSPORT presenter) would have us literally crying with laughter, before graduating to editor of the monthly Goal in the mid-1990s. A good time to live and work in London.
What is your favourite footballing moment?
I recall as a kid watching the great German star Rainer Bonhof, who was playing for Borussia Moenchengladbach against Liverpool, standing hands-on-hips at the intersection of halfway line and touchline at Anfield, preparing to take a free-kick during the second leg of the European Cup semi-final of 1978. The glare of the floodlights refracted through a big bulb of snot about to fall from his nose like the drip of a faulty tap. And next to me in the front row of the stand my dad suddenly leapt up brandishing a bar of chocolate and shouted, 'Ere y'are Bonhof lad – wanna piece of me Mars Bar?' To this day I've no idea why my late father did this, but at the time it just felt right.
Dave can be found tweeting at @TheLiverpolitan.