Photo by Kirsty Anderson / Herald & Times
Angela Haggerty is a freelance journalist, broadcaster and editor based in the west of Scotland. She has worked at The Evening Times, CBS News, The Glasgow Journal and The Cardonald Courier, among others. Her most recent work includes editing the best-selling book Downfall: How Rangers FC Self-Destructed, charting the demise of one of Scotland’s biggest football clubs. As a result, Angela recently appeared on Channel 4 News, discussing her experiences of intimidation and harassment at the hands of hostile football fans.
How did you get your start in journalism? What was it like transitioning from being a student to taking the first steps in building a career?
Angela: I fell into journalism by accident, although in hindsight it was such an obvious career path I wonder why I didn’t begin sooner. A community radio station was set to launch in my hometown in July 2009. I was keen to get involved in some way, only as a token of support, and having a show of my own couldn’t have been further from my mind! However, after chatting with the station manager about ideas, he helped me talk myself into agreeing to take on a weekly topical show covering local news and views. I became host, researcher, interviewer, director, you name it, and all at once.
The best way to learn is at the deep end, and I really threw myself in there and thrived on it. I loved chasing stories and got a great deal of satisfaction from putting a good show out there that listeners really took something from. After almost a year, I was hit by the big realisation that this was what I wanted to do – and I was actually good at it – so I applied to Cardonald College Glasgow for a place on the NCTJ-accredited HND Practical Journalism course, considered one of the best in the country. Of, I’m told, around 125 applications that year I was delighted to gain a place on the course, and I haven’t looked back since.
What do you think you've done well in terms of getting yourself out there and getting work?
Angela: I know it’s probably the big cliché these days but social media really can be a Godsend for putting yourself out there. Not necessarily in terms of how many followers you can clock up on Twitter, but more about building links with other journalists and finding opportunities.
As a bit of an experiment when I was at the radio station, I set up an accompanying Facebook page with the idea that it could carry debate on throughout the week and serve as a build-up to each show. I was genuinely surprised at the positive reaction the page received and after I left the station I carried on moderating it on Facebook.
Storms in Scotland at the beginning of 2012 left my community on Bute as one of the hardest hit, so I was asked to appear on a BBC1 programme which was covering the events in order to give an overview of the problems experienced by residents and how they felt about the handling of the situation. When I set up a little Facebook page sometime in 2009 I certainly didn’t expect it to build up such a strong reputation. Social media is there for the taking. It’s an amazing – and completely free – tool for a journalist, and particularly for those starting out, it can become a way to begin showing what you can do.
Downfall: How Rangers FC Self-Destructed is a book which has been involved in its fair share of controversy since its release. How did you get on board as Editor and what did the job involve?
Angela: Again, we’re going back to social media. I first got talking to the book’s author, Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, through his Facebook page and Twitter account. Given I had been following Phil’s work for a fair while and had a great deal of respect for him, I was delighted when he took a look at some of my own writing. At the time, I was online editor of The Cardonald Courier, and I was responsible for leading the team which launched the first ever website accompanying the newspaper. Much of the practical side of that job was endless editing for the website, and Phil kindly took a look at the site and offered some feedback. Luckily for me, he was impressed enough by the skills I had been building for him to ask me if I would come on board as editor for a book he was planning to write on the self-destruction of a massive football club, Rangers. Having followed events with great interest, I really was honoured to be asked to be involved in such an important story.
As I’ve said already, I don’t mind throwing myself in at the deep end, and I certainly did in this case. Taking on an editing role for a book that I knew would attract a great deal of interest was daunting, but I really loved the challenge. My job involved working with the author to settle on a structure for the book and establish themes; organise and select the various blog posts which would feature in the book; and liaising with Phil over the freshly written material in the book, which literally involved endless hours and days of throwing material back and forth – via Skype, email and between two countries – until we got it right. All of the book’s fresh material was written within just four weeks, and let me tell you, it was an incredibly pressure-filled four weeks putting it together. As editor I worked on the entire manuscript and it was a huge amount of work to take on. Again, I loved every single minute of it. If you don’t thrive under that kind of pressure and all those deadlines, journalism isn’t for you.
For those who may not be familiar with the Rangers FC saga, can you describe the hostility you and other journalists were faced with? Were you expecting this type of reaction when you first got involved in covering the story?
Angela: From the very first exchange of tweets I ever had with Phil Mac Giolla Bhain, I immediately began getting hostility from a minority of the Rangers support who, it appeared, did not want journalists reporting the club’s dire financial trouble. Before I took on the job of book editor, Phil and I had a frank discussion about the realities of covering the Rangers story. Those who are not familiar with the intimidating behaviour of some Rangers fans – and I use the term 'fan' loosely – will most likely find all of this entirely baffling. The very notion that a significant number of journalists, bloggers, football club officials and QCs, have felt so threatened and intimidated by these people that they require police advice is shocking.
Phil was honest with me and gave me an idea of some of the experiences he’d had as a result of his work on the story. His work has covered much more than the Rangers financial problems – he has given a great deal of coverage to the problematic fan section at Ibrox, and he has become a target because of it. I knew when I took on the editor’s job that I might receive some hostility, but that couldn’t have prepared me for the extent of it.
Personal details about me – including the very small town I lived in - were posted on blogs. Vile broadcasts were put online discussing me and even my family members. I was harassed and intimidated on social networking sites. It was just utterly appalling behaviour. I now live with the advice that I should try not to broadcast my whereabouts to anyone that doesn’t need to know about them. This is Scotland in 2012.
This is a problem that I feel is not confronted by the Scottish media in the way it deserves to be. Channel 4 News, a national broadcaster, can clearly see there is problem in the west of Scotland and it is a story worth covering, hence my appearance in a report by Alex Thomson discussing my experiences.
My belief is that those who seek to intimidate journalists simply for reporting bad news are attacking the right of every person in Scotland to be informed. It is undemocratic and wholly disrespectful to every British citizen. It has been a frightening experience for me but I absolutely refuse to allow it to influence the way I work.
Do you have any advice for aspiring journalists on how they can best deal with irrational hostility and/or criticism of their work?
Angela: I believe that criticism of your work is one of the best things you can use to strengthen it and it brings maturity to the way you approach any new project or story. Criticism, even from those who really (really) dislike your work can still be worth taking on board. However, when that criticism is nothing more than relentless attack on anything you do, and it’s clear that it’s more about the critic than it is about your work, you have to learn to disengage from it and not allow that negativity to make you doubt yourself. Journalism is a funny old world and as a job it can feel extremely unrewarding at times – particularly if you throw heart and soul into a job only to be lambasted for it because a reader cannot accept a different viewpoint.
When it goes a step further than that and you really feel that the hostility is threatening, my advice is simple – contact the police. The police can advise you on your safety, your rights, and if appropriate, take action against any individual or group you feel you are being targeted by. Also contact your NUJ branch and make sure you have representation and a friendly ear. There is some great support out there, use it.
In what ways do you think someone aiming for a career in journalism can get noticed ahead of their peers?
Angela: Very good question and I’m not sure of a definitive answer. It takes real dedication. Journalists become married to the job in so many ways – you live, eat and breathe the news. If you can’t get your usual fix of news updates then you begin to feel withdrawal symptoms. The commitment required to have a chance of getting noticed in this trade is immense. I have been told many times over the last few years that I’m obsessed with my job. That’s pretty much spot on, but it’s a job that I love to do and I am at my happiest when I’m doing it. If that’s how you feel about journalism then you just have to stick at it. You will get your break.
is there any particular piece of advice you'd like to impart to journalism students/graduates, or any insight you'd like to offer which we did not cover in any of the above?
Angela: Be prepared to work much harder than you ever thought you would have to. Don’t be deterred if you feel like you’re getting nowhere – your hard work will be noticed and it will pay off. Remember why you began this career path and remember it often. Use all of the tools you have available to you and always have faith in yourself.
Angela can be found on Twitter: @AngelaHaggerty