Tell us about how you started in sports journalism.
As a teenager, I always loved to hang out in sports halls and at squares. Apart from school obligations, I spent most of my time playing basketball, which is still my favourite sport to date. Sports and music have always been important to me and my family, so for me it was a logical step to focus on sports journalism after high school. During my internship at the, now deceased, legendary and very progressive, regional Winschoter Courant, I was offered a permanent job.
After several years at regional newspapers, I moved to Finland as freelancer where I wrote a piece about Kimi Räikkönen (Finnish racing driver for Ferrari Formula 1) for the (also now ceased) magazine RaceReport.
Have you always been more passionate about F1?
From early days I have always been attracted to Formula 1; there is enough to cover and it is rarely boring because it involves politics, conspiracies, power games, entertainment, lifestyle and sports. At the daily national Algemeen Dagblad, I decided to specialise in Formula 1 and by now I have already visited over a 100 Grand Prix.
You started your career as a sports reporter for regional newspapers, and then moved to national media (broadcaster NOS and Algemeen Dagblad). Apart from coverage, what differences have you observed in working for regional and national media?
I find it easier to work for a national newspaper. You are not bound to a regional approach and not forced to search for a regional angle, so you can write about any topic you find exciting. Also, when you work for a national newspaper, it provides an open door for sports professionals, teams and PR-agencies to approach you. Because of the ‘magic of the circulation number’, you are now in the front of the queue, it is that simple.
In these days in where journalists – to my annoyance – are almost forced to be a ‘brand’, this is an undeniable benefit.
You are now joint editor-in-chief for Formule1 and write for Dutch magazines such as JFK, Coach, GTO, AutoWeek and newspaper Metro. Tell us more about the differences between writing for a newspaper to a magazine.
The game has now definitely changed. Personally I find it easier to write for a magazine. In a newspaper article you are restricted to a certain amount of space, forcing you to write in a short and sharp style. This is a true and exciting art in itself.
A magazine allows you to go more in depth and to intertwine your own knowledge about the topic in your piece. I love more complex sentence structures, to include different angles (which is in my opinion essential for a magazine) and try to write ‘pretty’ in order for readers to stay engaged and to surprise them with my features.
What I do miss are the dynamics; to quickly write a piece full of adrenaline and to then see it in the newspaper the very next day…wonderful! To make sure I get my adrenaline fix, I still regularly write for newspapers.
How does a typical week look like and how do you balance your time with your different activities?
I often work from home and follow a strict working schedule. For me, missing a deadline is shameful. I also wish to be able to have time for extra assignments that may present themselves. Besides that, I try to visit our Amsterdam office a couple of days a week to discuss ideas, brainstorm and prepare our next issue of Formule1 together with my colleagues. I also try to manage relationships with my contacts and visit Grand Prix’s.
How would you describe your target audience? Have you noticed an increased interest in F1 since the Dutch Max Verstappen joined F1 racing? (youngest racing driver to compete F1 at the age of 17)
Absolutely! Max Verstappen hasn’t just reinvigorated Formula 1 in The Netherlands, but in the rest of the world as well. Because of him, we now have a big new audience in The Netherlands, who we would like to reach with our magazine, but we also need to make sure to cater for our existing subscribers and not chase them away with an easier approach.
On the other hand, we do need to educate this new generation of Formula-1 followers: it is a delicate balance. We also see this renewed interest in the people that visit our website Formule1.nl. Last month 24 hits in our ‘top 25 most read articles’ were related to Max Verstappen. People want to know everything about him.
How can PRs make their story attractive for you to choose to write about?
I am interested in things and events that are somehow different or have a personal twist. At circuits you only get 10 minutes for an interview with a F1-driver, often with three colleagues at the same time. In an informal setting, without a stopwatch next to you, you will get the best stories and are able to touch on more in-depth topics. In such cases, we are always willing to reward the facilitator or organiser, also in the commercial sector: quid-pro-quo, I’m never difficult about that.
How would you describe your relationship with PRs, and how do you prefer to be contacted?
My relationship is good. PRs know where to find me and the magazine, especially in the automotive branch. In most cases, initial contact is made over the phone and PRs check if we are indeed interested in a certain event.
Do you have a social media strategy?
We are currently working on that, but a good strategy is going to be crucial for the nearby future. Especially with the young(er) generation, who consume news differently. We are very much aware that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other channels are vital for us as a news medium and for our magazine. A lot has already changed for the good.
And finally, what is the most memorable story that you have reported on?
Ten years ago, I wrote a candid piece together with the late Dutch Formula One driver Jos Verstappen, Max’ father. During one of the sessions he was in tears because of the difficult private issues he faced at that time (various allegations and accusations). You can imagine that this left quite an impression on me.
One of my best memories was the invitation I received from Philip Morris International to visit the Grand Prix in Monaco. Together with 50 guests from all over Europe, we stayed overnight on a luxury yacht in the harbour and were spoiled for six days in a row! From my room I could literally walk to the media centre within a minute, but those days are over now.
André Venema was interviewed by Gorkana’s Anna Masuku