and bars are full of casual obscenity, but most British
newspapers are ... well, not necessarily careful about language,
but careful about bad words anyway. The phrase 'family newspaper'
is an ineluctable part of our lives. Newspapers are not
in the business of giving gratuitous offence. It is a limitation
of newspaper writing, and one everybody in the business,
whether writing or reading, understands and accepts. There
are many other necessary limitations, and most of these
concern time and space.
Newspapers have dominated sportswriting in Britain for years,
and have produced their own totem figures and doyens. But
ten years ago, a new player entered the game. This was the
phenomenon of men's magazines; monthly magazines for men
that had actual words in them - words for actually reading.
GQ was the pioneer and, in my totally unbiased opinion
as the long-term author of the magazine's sports column,
it leads the way still, leaving the rest panting distantly
in its wake.
Sport, is of course, a blindingly obvious subject for a
men's magazine - but it could not be tacked in a blindingly
obvious way. Certainly, one of the first things GQ
was able to offer was a new way of writing about sport,
but this was not so much a cunning plan as a necessity.
The magazine was doomed, as it were, to offer a whole new
range of freedoms to its sportwriters. Heady and rather
alarming freedoms. Freedom of vocabulary was simply the
most obvious one and, inevitably, it appealed to the schoolboy
within us. But space and time were the others, and these
possibilities meant that the craft of sportswriting had
to be reinvented.
Unlike newspapers, a magazine can offer a decent length
of time to research and to write. These are, you would think,
luxuries - especially to those of us who are often required
to read an 800-word match report over the telephone the
instant the final whistle has gone. Such a discipline is
nerve-racking, but as long as you can get it done at
all, you have done a good job. No one expects a masterpiece
under such circumstances. In some ways the ferocious restrictions
make the job easier. But a long magazine deadline gives
you the disconcerting and agoraphobic freedom to research,
to write, to think.
To write a piece for a newspaper, at about a quarter of
the massive GQ length, you require a single thought.
The best method is to find a really good idea, and then
to pursue it remorselessly to the end, where ideally you
make a nice joke and bale out stylishly. If it is an interview
piece, you look for a few good quotes, and if you get them,
that's your piece written for you. For a longer piece, you
must seek the non-obvious. This is a good quality in the
best of newspaper writing, but an absolute essential for
any writer who hopes to complete the terrifying amount of
words that GQ requires. If you write for GQ
you are condemned to try and join the best. There is no
GQ is not restricted by the same conventions of reader
expectation as a newspaper. You need not worry about offending
people or alienating them; the whole ethos of the magazine
is that readers are there to be challenged. There will be
readers who would find some of its pieces offensive or even
impossible in a newspaper, or even in a different magazine.
But the same readers will read the piece in GQ and
find it enthralling.
That is because the magazine is always slightly uncomfortable
to be with. It is not like a cosy member of the family,
nor even like a friend. It is the strong, self-opinionated
person that you can never quite make up your mind whether
you like or not. You admire him, but you are slightly uneasy
with him. The people around him might not altogether approve
of everything he says; some might not care for him at all.
But they feel compelled to listen. The self-confidence is
too compelling. And just when you think he is beginning
to become rather a bore, he surprises you with his genuine
intelligence. He makes a broad joke, and then suddenly he
is demanding you follow him in the turning of an intellectual
Source: Adapted from (Pre-2013 Revision) CPE Handbook