“What we do transcends sport”: BBC’s Claire Ryan on the importance of telling human stories in sports journalism

Richard Frediani, Sally Nugent and Claire Ryan at Journalism and Media Week

BBC Breakfast’s award-winning producer Claire Ryan today told an audience of journalism students that sports journalism is about more than just statistics, it’s about human stories.

Claire emphasised the importance of building human relationships during a panel with her BBC Breakfast colleagues at Leeds Trinity University.

The BBC Breakfast panel, including editor Richard Frediani and presenter Sally Nugent, told students at Journalism and Media Week that real people’s stories are at the heart of what they do.

Claire Ryan said: “We cover human interest stories with a sports edge that affect families up and down the country.”

Claire was the producer behind the Marcus Rashford free school meals story – one of the projects she is most proud of. But she was keen to emphasise that the story wasn’t about her.

“It’s about the people we’ve helped. It’s about the families who got fed because of the u-turn.”

Following BBC Breakfast’s work with Marcus Rashford, Boris Johnson’s government made a u-turn on their policy to end free school meals for vulnerable children during the summer holidays.

Many of the stories BBC Breakfast works on cover sportspeople and both Claire Ryan and Sally Nugent have a keen interest and background in sports journalism.

The pair believe that their ability to build relationships is what sets them apart from the rest of the male-dominated industry.

Claire Ryan on being a woman in sports journalism

Claire Ryan, alongside the BBC Breakfast team, also covered Leeds Rhinos’ Rob Burrow’s diagnosis with Motor Neurone Disease (MND).

‘Rob Burrow: My Year with MND’ won BBC Breakfast the Best Single Documentary at the Royal Television Society’s Yorkshire Awards, but Claire stressed how universal the sportsman’s story is.

“It’s not about rugby – it’s about friendship, it’s about community… what we do transcends sport.”

Sally Nugent, Richard Frediani and Claire Ryan at the National Television Awards

Sally Nugent added: “[The Rob Burrow interview] was a real moment in my career, what they were saying stopped me in my tracks.

“It was brutally honest.”

Rob Burrow was diagnosed with MND in 2019 and now uses his platform to raise awareness about the incurable disease for others, in part through his work with the BBC Breakfast team.

Whilst the BBC must remain impartial, Richard Frediani said he believes that all journalists have a responsibility to help people and impact people’s lives.

Claire and Sally echoed this – both describing Rob Burrow as their friend as well as their interviewee.

“We treat them like family,” Claire told the audience. “The stories we do, you have to care – if you don’t care and you put up a wall, you won’t get the most out of the story.”

BBC Breakfast reaches over 10 million viewers each week – for the team, the ground-breaking stories they cover have a major impact on ordinary families across the country.

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