In conversation with... Tom Roddy, The Times
Twelve years ago I fell into conversation with Tom Roddy when he served me in a pub near my home. Working during his holidays while at university, we got chatting about what he hoped to do when he graduated. He told me about his dream to be a sports reporter for a big newspaper and having worked in recruitment for many years even then(!), I gave him a few CV tips.
You can imagine how delighted I was when twelve years on I saw his name pop up on LinkedIn as a football writer for The Times. I was even more delighted when he agreed to catch up for New Beginnings’ first “In Conversation With…”
New Beginnings: Can you remember what first sparked the idea of getting a job writing about football?
Tom: I totally can! There tend to be two different types of people that make up the “pack” (sports reporters). The first are people who always had a love of newspapers and from the age of 10 dreamed of seeing their name in a byline. The second are people who loved playing sports and dreamed of being professional sportspeople. I am the second type. I have always loved football but realised early on I wasn’t going to make it as a player. I would listen to and read everything I could about it and then it dawned on me that perhaps I could be part of that world. I decided there and then I wanted to try to write about football.
New Beginnings: Did you ever have doubts or fears about being able to succeed?
Tom: I still have doubts every day. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t. In some ways it’s quite an insecure type of industry. I’ve been working at The Times now for around two years, and maybe because it’s such a perfect job for me - it makes me even more worried about losing it. But I think that’s also a good thing too because it keeps you driven and looking forward, always trying to improve.
Getting into the industry is really hard because it’s so competitive. You have to have lots of perseverance because you will inevitably experience lots of knockbacks. I was trawling through my emails the other day and I came across one I’d written to the Sports Editor of The Times years ago, asking for work experience. They didn’t have an opening and I realised I must have written hundreds of similar emails most of which came to nothing.
New Beginnings: How did you keep yourself focused on your goal when you got knocked back?
Tom: I think by just being incredibly persistant. My most painful setback was after I graduated and was doing some work experience at The Daily Mail. I realised I needed to get my NCTJ (Diploma in Journalism) and everyone said to me the most prestigious place to go was City University. So I applied and got an interview and when I arrived I felt quite over-awed because it’s like the Oxbridge of journalism, and so it was really grand. My interviewer was a former editor of the Mail on Sunday and he started asking me questions about politics and I didn’t have a clue! I could see the guy just switch off from me and knew I wasn’t going to get in and it was incredibly demoralising.
However, I looked at other places and ended up getting into News Associates in Wimbledon which was brilliant for me so I have no regrets. And I know I could answer the City interviewer’s questions now!
New Beginnings: Did you have a clear career plan from the outset, and if so, was it helpful?
Tom: Yes and No. Looking back I now realise that actually the pub job when I met you was invaluable and I definitely didn’t plan that. It was just so good for meeting loads of people and I made some really good connections there. Like meeting you and having that chat about LinkedIn which was a new thing then! And I also met a woman there who worked on the features desk at the Daily Mail and she helped me to get work experience there which was incredible.
I did have a plan to get lots of relevant experience while I was at University. I’d planned on writing for the university newspaper but when I got there, they didn’t have one, so I helped to get one set up. It wasn’t the best publication there’s ever been, but it turned out to be fantastic experience and I think really helped me for both my CV and interviews.
New Beginnings: Has the reality turned out to be like the dream?
Tom: I love my job but I’ve still got so much to learn. This year has been difficult of course, as it has for everyone. The job is so much about building relationships with people and it’s been harder to do that over Zoom all the time. It’s actually quite a stressful job because the deadlines are so tight that you have to be incredibly quick at finalising your copy as soon as the whistle has blown. You’re never really off duty because you never know when the next big story is going to break.
You also need a thick skin because football is such a passionate sport and everyone has an opinion about it. You report what you see but you’re always going to upset someone! But The Times is an amazing place to work and in some ways I already feel I’ve gone beyond my dream. There’s still loads I want to do.
New Beginnings: The job market is incredibly tough right now. What advice do you have for anyone who is struggling to achieve their dream job?
Tom: I’m not sure I know enough yet to impart any real wisdom! But the key thing that other people said to me and I would totally agree with is to be persistent. I think the majority of people are only too happy to pass the ladder back down to help others trying to climb up. And sometimes they don’t reply because they’re just busy. In my experience it’s worth it to keep asking. Quite often by the third time they realise it would be rude to ignore it again and then they’ll reply.
I was also really conscious when I was starting out that I’d be going for jobs up against people who had graduated from redbrick unis and I hadn’t been to one. But if that’s also you, don’t let that stop you. I seem to remember there’s a scene in The Crown where Prince Edward says something about how doors will fling open for him because of his background. I knew that wasn’t me but I just made sure I had something extra to offer. Something that showed how driven and determined I was.
Keep chipping away. It can be done!
It was an absolute pleasure to speak with Tom. His success is inspirational. We wish him all the best for what we’re sure will be an incredible future.