We know the riders and the teams, but who gives us the news on these? Well MCN MotoGP correspondent Matt Birt recently sat down with us at Motoscene to disucss his career in journalism, how he got started, his best and worst moments and his own thoughts on the current MotoGP season. A dream that started in school to a job following the world’s best motorbike series across the globe see our interview with Matt below.
How did you become involved in motorsport journalism?
I always wanted to be a journalist from a young age and my first memories at school are of me designing magazines for football. I guess I was sort of lucky in that respect in that I never gave up on my dream, I left school and went to college to study a business and management qualification, but didn’t really want to go any further in terms of university. I badgered my local newspaper and eventually I was given a role to gain some work experience.
It’s strange because I didn’t really have a passion in motorbike racing initially I was just focussed on becoming a reporter, but my first employer covered the catchment area for Donnington Park and Mallory, so I was sent on the job to cover the racing at these events. I attended a couple of British GP’s and thought it was pretty cool and as luck would have it in 95 there was a job advert in Press Gazette for MCN news reporting on MotoGP and the rest as they say is history.
What was the first race you ever reported on?
The first race I covered was in 1996 at Jerez famous for the track invasion and the infamous tussle between Criville and Doohan. It was a scary moment with Criville taking a tumble and Spanish fans trying to pull Doohan of his bike. I’ve roughly done the same amount of races since then as Valentino Rossi. Although I didn’t receive a cake from everyone like him!
Who was your own idol as you were growing up?
I have to say probably Kevin Schwantz he was a bit nuts wasn’t he and still is! He was never on the best bike or the best tyres, but to win a world championship on a Suzuki on Dunlops at the time was no easy task. Regardless of the incident involving Wayne Gardner you still had to be in it to win it. He never knew when he was beaten and rode beaten up at times. He’s a great guy and has been great with MCN I actually spent some time with him over in America at his home during a Yamaha test I was covering, it was a surreal experience.
What has been the best location you have travelled to as a reporter?
I’d have to say Phillip Island in Australia although it is a tough one. Australia is a great country though and the fans are very passionate. The weather can be unpredictable, but the circuit and surrounding area are fantastic. Although I am not a particular fan of flying especially when it gets bumpy, but for the job and the racing you do it, it’s a job of a lifetime.
What has been your worst moment as a reporter?
There’s been a few but the one that stands out, which was my first race in terms of coverge was Jerez in 1996. Back then on the Sunday evening everyone would have a few drinks and a little party and I was working with Ron McDonald who came out to show me the ropes in the role. We were leaving to go back to Gibraltar on the Monday morning and Ron had one of those moments where you come out of the airport and drive on the wrong side of the road. He didn’t look in the right direction at a junction pulled out and we got wiped out by an HGV, luckily he hit the bonnet rather than the middle, but I was temporarily blinded by shock and ended up with a chipped bone in my elbow.
Obviously we spent time in the hospital and the guy from the hire car company came to see us and said he couldn’t believe we got away with our life’s from the crash. The great thing about it was that I had to cover the next round at Mugello with one arm, which was a challenge in itself.
If you didn’t have a career in journalism, what would you be doing now?
I really don’t know I was focussed on becoming a reporter, which was probably a little silly because I didn’t really have a plan. I remember my parents attending parents evening at school and my English teacher told them I wanted to be a journalist and said I should maybe lower my expectations a little, obviously this motivated me further to succeed. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it too.
What are your thoughts on the current MotoGP season so far?
Well a lot of peopling are saying it’s boring because of Marc and his domination, but you need to see it from a different perspective because what we are seeing is the start of one of the greatest careers we are ever going to see. This dominating season is the stuff you’ll want to tell your grandkids in the future. Of course fans want to see other winners, but I don’t think it’s bad for the sport, he’s going to be the new poster boy and clearly take over from Valentino. Although I don’t think he will get to the same levels of popularity as Valentino, but who knows maybe that may come.
Aside from the dominance of Marquez it’s been fantastic to see Rossi return to form and discover his mo-jo again. I mean no one could have envisaged the disaster this season for Jorge after the opening round at Qatar.
The Brits have not had a great season, but 2015 looks positive with Cal and Scott both on factory Hondas and Bradley retaining his seat at Tech3. For me personally I think Scott has the most natural talent whilst no disrespect to the other Brits they have to work at it a little more.
Any advice for young aspiring journalist?
Yeah don’t ever give up if you get rejection carry on following your dream keep persevering and practicing. I mean I tried to get on a NCTJ course at Sheffield University along with 600 others for only 25 places and that is for the crème de la crème, I never got accepted, so I went to a local newspaper to try and get work experience. The internet is a great place to write blogs or race reports, eventually you will get picked up. Keep believing in yourself and believe in what you’re doing.
I’ve covered everything from people wanting to change a chimmey to building a supermarket or court cases. I mean I got to cover some great stories with some real heartache, at 18 knocking on doors to cover tragic stories prepares you for anything this line of work throws at you. Once you’ve done that the rest is fairly easy to cope with.