Getting to know sports editor Marc Lim

This short Q&A series with ST's beat reporters lets readers meet the person behind the byline. These are the experts who will be answering readers' questions in our askST section.  

1. Do you have to love sports to be the sports editor?

As with anything in life, it helps to be passionate about the things you do. So loving sports does go a long way to helping a sports journalist enjoy what he/she does. Yet, having said that, there is a fine line between enjoying what you do and being too absorbed and connected to the sport/team you cover.

One of the important rules of journalism is to be impartial and if you're too closely connected to your subject, it may affect how objective you are when the team is not performing well and you have to ask tough questions. So my advice would be: love sports, but steer clear of being too devoted to a sport or team.

2.  Was sports writing your first choice when you applied to be a journalist? 

Yes, but being a journalist wasn't my first choice. My dream was to be a professional footballer, but I was not good enough, so you know what they say, those who can't, write.

But in all honesty, being a sport journalist is the closest thing to be a professional athlete. You get to travel with the teams, have access to players and coaches that no mere mortal has. You get a chance to get inside the mind of a champion, or a winner and help break down for readers just what makes them tick.

But the thing most I love about being a sports writer is the challenge to still engage the reader even after he has seen that epic match on TV and watch countless of replies of that winning shot/goal on the internet. To borrow the words of an American sports writer: the goal is bring the reader back to that match, make them recall what they loved about it, and through your writing, make them fall in love with it all over again.

3. What is your typical work day like in your role?

I start the day at about 7am, mainly because that's when my one-year-old son wakes up. The first thing I do is to check the wires and Internet for news that broke overnight, be it results of football, tennis matches, or any sporting scandal that blew up - there's been quite a few of that lately.

Together with my colleagues, we make sure these stories are put up on ST's website and Twitter platforms so that readers waking up in the mornings are greeted with the news. We then analyse if there is more value that we can give to the news, like if Lionel Messi reaches a goal-scoring milestone, we might do a web special of other milestones he's reached, and even feature some of his greatest goals.

After that is done, I usually focus on the stories of the day, what we would put out in print the next day and what local stories and features our reporters can chase and deliver. 

That would usually take me up to lunch and slightly after it.

From about 3.30pm to about 5.30pm, I will be involved in a couple of editorial meetings where the various section editors meet with the senior editors to decide the stories of the day - what makes Page 1, what stories to play up, etc. As I also helm the Sunday Times, I am constantly on the look-out for story ideas that could be developed into interesting features for the Sunday paper.

After the meetings, I would help provide the Sports Desk direction into how the day's paper should be shaped, look at some of the stories and provide overall guidance. I leave around dinner time, but am also often logged on from home to see that the day's edition goes smoothly and that our angles are spot on, capturing both the latest and giving readers more than what they already know from stories that broke sometimes almost 24 hours ago.

Then it's goodnight, before the whole cycle starts again. 

4. Which sports are you good in?

Sleeping. Is that a sport?

Well, I'm pretty decent in football, and am okay in swimming. I can play and have played almost every sport, although I'm not so good at anything that requires holding a racquet, bat or club (tennis, table tennis, golf, etc).

5.  What is your take on local sports?

I believe that local sports has come a long way in the last decade or so. It wasn't until 2008 that Singapore got its second Olympic medal since Tan Howe Liang's weightlifting  silver at the 1960 Rome Games. But in the two Olympics since then, Singapore has not only added to that 1960 silver, Singapore's athletes have gone on to win more medals than ever before at the SEA Games, Asian Games and at world championships.

This August at the Rio Games, Singapore's athletes are on track to qualify for an unprecedented number of events on merit. Swimming is set to have its first male in an Olympic final, perhaps even two.

The Asean Para Games in December also did wonders to raise the level of disabled sport.

Coupled with the increase in support from the government in terms of grants and medical and professional expertise by way of the Singapore Sports Institute, there hasn't been a better time to be an athlete in Singapore.

But much more can still be done. Corporates can do much more to help fund the dreams of budding athletes. They can also do more to realise that these athletes are great role models and potential ambassadors for their brands because they are the ones who live and breathe characteristics like resilience, determination, dedication, discipline and commitment to success. 

The larger public can also do more to support local sport. Singapore is blessed to have the Formula One Singapore Grand Prix, tennis WTA Finals and other world class events like the Singapore Rugby Sevens. But while fans cheer on the stars, they shouldn't neglect the rising stars of the local game. Ask any athlete and they will all tell you that nothing spurs them on to a better performance like a roaring, supportive home crowd. That undying support is often a big missing factor in local sport.

Schools is another area where sport needs to be relooked. Often, schools only focus on sport that can bring the school honour. If they can't win, sometimes they don't play. And even if they play, coaches are so obsessed with winning that sometimes, the fundamentals of sport like sportsmanship and the right approaches to playing a team game, are overlooked. 

The key to making that quantum leap in sport, if we are serious about it as a nation, is to make it part of our culture and to make it a viable and important career option. It should be there right from the time we enter schools, to the teenage and army years, and even to the latter years, when as parents, Singaporeans will feel at ease to letting their kids take the sporting route.

6.  Any tips for those breaking into sports journalism?

As mentioned, it starts with passion, with that innate desire to want to understand sport, to understand why people play it, and understand the power it has to move not just athletes to do wonders, but fans to cheer on a team or individual as one, regardless of their religious, racial or political differences. 

It also helps if you're naturally kaypoh (nosy), if you're also curious about what things are the way they are, and that you won't take anything at face value, and you are able to talk to people to get the story behind the story.

Lastly, but more importantly, read. Read others, read your own copy, read to get better, to see how your competitors and the best in the craft cover something. Then using that as inspiration, experiment with your own writing. Never be afraid to try something new, to surprise the reader and not give them the same old thing over and over again.   

7.  Who is your sports idol?

I don't have an idol per se. I have alot of sporting heroes, but I find myself often drawn to the underdog. Clips of Ronaldo and Messi scoring goal after goal or Stephen Curry sinking three-pointer after three-pointer may leave me in awe. But the story of a lesser-known athlete overcoming the odds to win, or even just accomplish a personal best often leaves me emotional.

The one I still tear from watching is the story of Jason McElwain. He is a little-known high school student in the United States who is not even an athlete. He suffers from autism but because he loves basketball so much, his school made him the basketball team's team manager. But on the final day of the season in 2006, McElwain was given a chance to play. He missed his first shot, but what happened thereafter, it could only happen in sport. My words may not do this story justice. Watch it for yourself.

It is stories like Jason's that highlight the unique power of sport and why it inspires people to push on in search of their goals and dreams, no matter how unlikely it may seem. The impossible can sometimes happen in sport and that's the beauty of it.

8. Has the internet changed the way you cover sports?

It has made covering it more challenging because people can now watch replays an infinite numbers of times, and they can choose to read thousands of views and commentaries post-match. Why should they read what you have to say? And what can you bring to the table, especially if I am reading you almost a day after the match.

So the challenge is to offer quality writing and reporting, to be more thorough than the competition, to write and capture the moment more accurately and vividly. It is to also be the first to break the news.

While the Internet has made things more challenging, it can also help a budding sports writer. The Internet helps gives even a rookie reporter a larger platform than he would have had, if he were just reporting for a newspaper with a limited readership.

Articles can be shared on various platforms, endorsed by more established journalists or even the stars themselves. The Internet gives any budding writer potentially the biggest platform in the world to showcase his/her writing - and at the end of the day, what more can journalists ask for if they are being read by the masses.