David Tossell, director of public affairs (Europe) for the National Football League (NFL), has been involved in journalism for more than three decades. He is the author of twelve sports books and a five-time nominee in the British Sports Book Awards.
He attended the full-year NCTJ pre-entry course at Harlow College in 1979-80 before completing his NCTJ qualifications in 1982 while at the Barnet Press, where he worked from 1980 to 1984. After a four-year spell at the Slough and Windsor Observer, where he served as sports editor and then assistant editor, he joined the sports desk of the Today newspaper in 1988.
During almost eight years at Today he rose to the position of executive sports editor before accepting an offer to head the NFL’s public relations operations in Europe.
“To the exact minute, I was being interviewed for the NFL job as my colleagues on Today were being told that they were working on the final edition and the paper was closing. It was an amazing piece of timing. I received a pay-off to take a job that I would have accepted anyway.
“I have nothing but fond memories of my training at Harlow. I even enjoyed the shorthand! We were taught shorthand and typing by a little Scottish woman called Mrs Beavers who also used to teach the secretaries. If we were typing away with our feet crossed she would sneak up and kick you on the ankles and make you sit up straight. Still, I guess it worked as I got to 120 words per minute on Pitman’s. People may think it’s a lost art with the use of recorders these days but I still pull out the odd short form in meetings as a quick way of taking notes.
“The whole of the training has been invaluable throughout my career – from the first day when you are taught how to structure a news story like an inverted triangle with the important stuff up top, to libel law and public affairs.
“The most important part, though, is the practical stuff. Whenever I get contacted by people wanting to get into sports journalism – or, even more specialised, American football journalism – I tell them there is no substitute for basic all-round training. The skills you learn in news reporting are all transferable, not just in journalism but sometimes in life as well.
“As a nervous 20-year-old, knocking on the door of a bereaved parent whose child has been killed in a road accident, asking them if you can borrow a treasured family photograph for the local paper teaches you human skills you can’t acquire by sitting in your bedroom blogging.
“The NFL’s UK office, which will this year stage three competitive, regular-season games at Wembley in the autumn, has just become the sponsor of the NCTJ’s Awards for Excellence. The growth of the sport here in the UK owes a lot to the support and coverage we have had from all areas of the media. It is nice, therefore, for us to be playing a very small part in helping to produce the next generation of journalists in this country and to be supporting the fantastic work done by the NCTJ.”
NFL UK are sponsoring the NCTJ Awards for Excellence 2014. See here for more details on the awards and how to enter.