Bolton School Former Pupils
James Ducker (1988-1998)
Occupation: Northern Football Correspondent for The Times newspaper
What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?
English Literature by some distance. Charles Winder was a gentleman, Steve Holland wonderfully eccentric and Mel Shewan the best teacher I ever had – he recognised the importance of not sticking rigidly to the syllabus week in, week out and took us all on some marvellous detours. Reading had never been so much fun. I remember my creative writing lecturer at university being generally taken aback (in a good way) that we'd done Richard II as a Shakespeare text and studied The Spire by William Golding at A-level. Mel also had this amazing ability to make a cup of coffee last a full hour-and-a-half.
What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?
I studied Film and English Literature at Sheffield Hallam University and then got sponsored by the Manchester Evening News (MEN) to do a Postgraduate Diploma in Newspaper Journalism at the University of Central Lancashire, Preston.
What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?
I'm the Northern Football Correspondent for The Times newspaper, which predominantly involves covering Manchester United and Manchester City, wherever they happen to be in the world. In short, I did a week's work experience at the MEN a few months into my first year at university. They asked me back and by third year I was pretty much juggling my studies with a busy job as a freelance sports reporter at the paper. I spent two-and-a-half years as a news reporter at the MEN and then joined The Times in 2005.
Who/what influenced your career choice?
I'm not really sure who influenced it, although I suppose my mum – unwittingly – played a part. She's a make-up and hair designer, so was always jetting off or disappearing to work on television programmes and films. I'd always been an avid reader of the sports pages and sports books, in particular, and there were one or two teachers who recognised my interest in journalism quite early on and encouraged it. I think I was fortunate to establish at a relatively young age – I'd say 14 or 15 – that I wanted to do something that involved sport and writing, that allowed me to travel and meet interesting people, that wasn't conventional and that didn't involve having to negotiate a traffic jam every morning and evening. I also realised pretty swiftly that to get on in journalism I'd have to gain as much experience as I could as early as I could. Still, when that involved getting up at 5am on Saturdays – around the time house-mates were getting in from nights out – to travel from Sheffield to Manchester for a 7am start, it's fair to say I was questioning the wisdom of it all.
What/who has been your biggest inspiration?
I wouldn't say I have a single biggest inspiration – I suppose I've had different ones at different junctures of my life, some obvious, others less so.
Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?
A thick skin, integrity, perseverance, curiosity and an eye for detail, good people skills and – depending where you are in the world – a strong constitution!
What do you like most about your job?
I get to travel the world watching football and meeting all manner of people – what's there not to like!?
What is your biggest challenge in your current role?
The internet and the rise of social media. Newspapers might not be around in five years, they might still be in 15, and the industry as a whole was probably quite slow reacting to the rise of the internet and digital. Personally, I think it's very exciting and have embraced it. The options now open and available to media companies are huge – the product that can be delivered online is vastly superior to that which appears in print. Clearly, how that content is best monetised is a question the industry is wrestling with, but then there are plenty of industries that are having to adjust to the challenges presented by the internet: the film and music industries and the retail industry to name but three. Obviously my workload has increased dramatically as the internet has grown – you're servicing a paper, a website and the multitude of things that entails, from podcasts and webchats to video analysis and audio commentaries, and, of course, there are the social networking tools such as Twitter. You can get your work out to a much larger audience than ever before, and in an instant, too.
What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?
I suppose I've had mini personal milestones – winning a few awards and being nominated for a few others – but I'd like to think my greatest career achievement is still to come. Is that cheating?
How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?
It wasn't all about academia, even though that was important – the School was committed to turning out rounded, engaged individuals and encouraged you to have and to pursue your interests. It helped that the facilities and choices open to pupils were diverse. I count myself extremely fortunate that my parents sent me to the School.
What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?
Make sure you know what you're letting yourself in for – the media is not for the faint of heart – and if you decide it's for you then don't do anything by halves. I'd also look beyond the traditional media platforms of television, radio and print. The rise of digital has created all manner of new and exciting opportunities.