James Pearce: The Authentic, the Exclusive and the Athletic


James Pearce is a name familiar to those in the football world, especially with connections to Liverpool Football Club. 

Pearce, who worked in the Liverpool Echo from 2005 until earlier this summer, chats to Prost International in-depth about his career in journalism, life in Liverpool and his new adventure with the Athletic.

A family man with a driving passion for football and an affinity with Reds supporters, Pearce was a pleasure to speak to and is a true gentleman.

Q: So James, naturally, lets start at the beginning. When was the realisation that journalism was the career for you?

A: “To be fair it was at a pretty young age. Growing up in Bath, like all of us, I was obsessed with football and I wanted to play professionally. But it wasn’t really too far down that road before the penny dropped and I realised I wasn’t good enough. I always loved writing, always loved English at school and, from the age of about 11, I thought; ‘Well, if you can’t play football for a living, then writing about it sounds like an amazing thing to do’.

“In Bath from about the age of 15 I’d go to volunteer to do non-league games and that was my way into it really. I managed to put myself in the position to get a trainee job at my local newspaper and they offered me it whilst I was backpacking in Australia in 2000. I had to go home 2 weeks early but I was excited to start the job in hand.”

Q: How did you get from Bath, a town in the South-West, up to the Liverpool Echo in 2005?

A: “Well I worked my way up for five years at the Bath Chronicle, covering pretty much everything, then got the job at the Echo. This was such a massive change for me.

“Again, I had to start at the bottom, covering the local cricket, gymnastics, athletics, and with no disrespect they were the jobs that no one wanted to do. Back then, covering Liverpool seemed like a distant dream to be honest.”

Q: Were you ever tempted away from sports by current issues or legal journalism? And was there any time you got tired of covering smaller sport?

A: “Ah, that’s a good question actually. No, not really, I was always sport-mad and I was lucky to join the sports desk immediately at the Echo. There are loads of ways of going about it, but for me I had a four month intensive course down in Hastings, learning short-hand, local government, and the legal side of journalism.

“In order to get my diploma in journalism I had to go to cover court cases, council meetings and the like. Back then to become a fully fledged journalist you had to prove that you could cover all aspects of the world around you, but I was always headstrong that sport was my speciality. Even when I was around watching games with 100 spectators, I still had that buzz. I loved the fact you were there covering football, writing about football. The actual qualities needed don’t differ in terms of Premier League and Non-League.

“Those days gave me a real grounding in terms of learning what skills I needed to acquire and what to do in certain situations.”

Q: So, by starting at the bottom of the pyramid, were you always set on covering Liverpool? And were there any times where you felt that target was unreachable? 

A:”Covering Liverpool was my dream. But in realistic terms I knew that it was a very, very long-term ambition. At the time Chris Bascombe (currently at The Telegraph) was the senior Liverpool reporter and was/is incredibly well-respected, he’d been there a long time.

“Back then it was a lot different to what it’s like now, certainly on the Echo a large amount of people write about Liverpool. But back then it was all really the domain of the Liverpool reporter and the chief sports writer (Dave Prentice) and for a number of years I was the last minute substitute. If someone was off, I might get the chance to speak to a former player, and I used to ghost-write Ian Rush’s column which gave me a real buzz. The man I grew up idolising.

“In terms of actually going to cover Liverpool games it was a rare commodity. Occasionally I’d get a press pass to do the managers quotes after a game, but it was only really after Tony Barrett took over as Liverpool reporter that I started to be a more regular face around the Echo.”

Q: What was it like first covering the Reds and what was the feeling around the club like at the time?

A: “It was a really turbulent time for the Reds. Tom Hicks and George Gillett were wreaking havoc and there was so much going on that it was too much for one person to handle. You almost needed to have someone to cover the football and another to cover the off-field politics. As a result I was able to move across from more general sports stuff, as well as page design and sub-editing, to become one of the football writing team.

“That was a really important step for me, and it was February 2011 when I finally got the Liverpool writing job. It was a feeling of immense pride, as just under seven years earlier I had dreamt of this. It was fourth time lucky for me in terms of applying for it, and to finally get that job was massively satisfying.

“It was surreal as well because Kenny Dalglish had just arrived as manager, and he was a guy I grew up idolising so much in the early 80’s. I found myself in the position of speaking with him on the telephone every day and meeting him at Melwood on a regular basis. It’s stuff you can’t even comprehend really, and took a long while to get used to.”

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CREDIT – The Mirror

Q: Moving on, what impacts do you think social media have had on the world of media and journalism?

A: “Oh it has a massive impact. In terms of the way it has affected my job, especially in the last five or six years my focus was almost primarily on the website more than the newspaper. With the shift across to it being about web hits, social media has become massively important in driving traffic to people’s websites.

“Clubs have really embraced that too, and Liverpool I think are absolutely exceptional at creating engaging content for fans to view. This gives them an insight into what’s going on behind the scenes and really feel a part of the Liverpool family if you will.

“It has its pluses and minuses. I always try to engage with people on social media, and I think sometimes you can pay too much attention to it. The noise after a game after we haven’t done too well isn’t the entire audience. This has given birth to social media rumours and people are starting to accept them as fact.”

Q: What’s the craziest rumour you’ve come across whilst covering Liverpool?

A: “You know what, there’s been that many! One that I found absolutely hilarious, from about three or four years ago I imagine, was that Liverpool were favourites to sign John O’Shea!

“There’s some rumours which you can see, with common sense, are completely based in false pretence. I didn’t have to chase the club up on that one at all!

“Nowadays its a bit of a minefield when it comes to transfers. There are so many websites now that can just pick a name out of a hat and it will get web traffic. It’s very important to me as a journalist to be regarded as a reliable source of information. It’s great having exclusives and being the first to report something, but you have to make sure you’re right. If you get things wrong, people have long memories!”

Q: You’ve been doing this for a little while now, so what would you say is the greatest game you’ve ever covered?

A: “Before last season it would’ve been really difficult, but the 4-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League Semi-Final back in May trumps the lot.

“That’s one of the most amazing parts of this job, you get to experience nights like that, and you really have to pinch yourself that this is actually work. During my time at the Echo there’s been some amazing days and nights at Anfield, you think of the fightback against Dortmund, Steven Gerrard’s hat-trick in the Merseyside derby, the awe inspiring brilliance of Luis Suarez.

“But it has to be that game. Over the years I’ve got stick on social media for being almost too optimistic and being honest, going into that game, I never thought Liverpool had a chance that night. For a start, I thought Barcelona would score and then Liverpool would need five which wasn’t going to happen. Especially just the whole situation without Salah or Firmino,  Barca had the weekend off, Liverpool had a gruelling game at St James’s Park, but somehow they did it. That night was sensational.

“Some people dismiss the power of Anfield as a cliché, but for any doubters it’s there for all to see if it wasn’t already.”

Q: Do you find it tough not to breach the journalist to fan barrier?

A: “Going back to the Barca game, I found it very difficult to get my report out because I was that engrossed in it all, but at the end of the day it’s your job.

“For me it’s a different situation though. At the Echo, I was solely writing for Liverpool fans, so even though you try your best to achieve some balance you need to have that Liverpool edge too. If you want to read an Everton perspective look no further, it’s there written by the Blues reporter.”

“By that same token writing for Liverpool as a fan had given me an advantage in this job. You spend your time talking to more fans about something you’re also interested in, and if you write about the same issues that they’re discussing in the pubs on a matchday then they’re more likely to read it and engage with it.”

Q: So, after fourteen great and surreal years at The Echo, you’ve decided to move on to the Athletic this summer? What does the future hold for James Pearce and The Athletic?

A: “They contacted me around a week before the Champions League Final, and I did a bit of research on the Athletic. They’ve been running since 2016 since launching in Chicago, basing their subscription model on real high quality journalism, and I was really interested to see what their vision was and how they would translate that on UK shores.

“The more I thought I about it, the more I was convinced. It was something new, something innovative, and a challenge which I really wanted to be a part of. A frustration of modern day journalism is the lack of in-depth and quality work, due to the high demand placed on them, and that’s exactly what they asked of me.

“Instead of producing 5+ pieces of content every day, which naturally is quite tough for subjects that maybe don’t even need to be written about, the Athletic came to me and said we would like you to write 3-4 quality pieces a week about Liverpool for us. We don’t want you to type up press conference quotes, we want in-depth, high quality longer form writing.

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CREDIT – The Athletic

“It’s a very slick, reader friendly application and their business model is fantastic, with no adverts, no pop-ups, no surveys and just a small monthly subscription. This is a chance for me to do the stuff that I really enjoy about the job.

“I was blown away and was 99% sure I was going to join them, but then seeing the likes of Oliver Kay, Daniel Taylor, George Caulkin and Simon Hughes who’s doing Liverpool with me sealed the deal even more.

“I’ve been with them just over a month now, and it’s just been a breath of fresh air not only for myself, but for journalism as a whole. It’s brilliant to see that the demand for high quality writing is still there and the response so far has been very positive. This is just the start of an exciting new chapter.”

Q: And finally, what does the future hold for your beloved Liverpool? What will their priorities be this year?

A: “I think the league has to be the priority for Liverpool this season, especially after coming so close last time out. Yes, Madrid was absolutely incredible, but the Premier League is the holy grail for them.

“It’s probably going to be a two-horse race this year again unfortunately. It’s going to be intriguing. The way in which Liverpool handled this summer has divided opinion but I think Klopp has done the right thing. He has decent cover everywhere really except that front three though. They have to stay fit.”

“The Super Cup was an example in which Klopp has changed the mentality. They found a way to win and Jurgen Klopp has earnt the trust of every single supporter.

“The issue is Manchester City. There has never been such a formidable force than them in Premier League history, and maybe their head will be turned by the Champions League and maybe that will impact them in the League. Who knows?

“But it’s going to be a fantastic season and I can’t wait to be there every step of the way with The Athletic.”



About Author

Sports Journalism student, streamer at LFC Transfer Room, Anfield Agenda. Liverpool fan with a particular interest in Welsh, Youth, and African football.

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