Journalist, news anchor and sports correspondent, Samantha Johnson works on the English-speaking sports show Beyond the Game at TRT World in Istanbul. A passionate campaigner for equality and positive change, she was named on last year’s highly regarded 2016 Football Black List of influential figures in football. Here, she gives us an insight into her working day at the Beyond the Game studio.
I’m not a morning person. It’s really hard for me to find the motivation to get up because I love my sleep. Luckily, I live alone so I don’t have to engage with anyone first thing. I’m human after coffee, however I prefer to do my workouts in the morning as it sets my day up nicely, I’m instantly in a better mood and my mental state is clearer.
I come from a sports-mad family where my mum played volleyball for the national team. While I was at school, I was incredibly active. I played a lot of netball and played for local teams at the weekend. I didn’t even like hockey that much at school but I still played! I’d say my participation stopped when I was about 16, when I started college and got a weekend job. I started my fitness regime again around 24 years old, and kept with it since.
I’m from a family that takes pride in the community, and my Nan and Granddad were at the forefront of that in Aston, Birmingham, so I take inspiration from them. You can’t get to a certain level in life and not give back to the next generation, so if it’s giving advice, sharing your experience or helping with a contact then I’m here to do that.
Working in a male-dominated industry has been challenging at times, especially at the beginning of my career. I remember when I had work experience at Sky Sports News and an editor said to me, ‘So who’s your dad then?’ He assumed I’d got my work experience because my dad was a famous sportsperson or someone influential in media. However, neither of my parents have anything to do with sports or the media.
There’s been funny exchanges where a former footballer (a guest on the channel) asked me to get him a cup of tea. I hit back and said, ‘You know where the kettle is… go and make it yourself.’ Cue laughter. To both of us it was funny so I didn’t mind that exchange. Working in a male-orientated industry, I’ve always laid down my marker to let them know that I give as good as I get. But it has been exhausting at times. The assumption that I can’t do my job, because of how I look. But I let my work ethic and end product do the talking.
On the flip side, I’ve also had very good experiences in this industry. My best mentor is a man and luckily he’s still on the other end of the phone if I need advice. In fact, last year after the Coup in Turkey (where I live), he kept checking up on me because he was that worried.
I’ve done a lot of work campaigning for equality and positive change. I think this stems from not wanting anyone who wants to get into this industry – particularly young women – to feel that they won’t be accepted, or that they won’t have a chance to succeed because they’re black or working class or don’t have the ‘right connections’ etc, which is how I felt at the beginning of my career. I just had the sheer bloody mindedness to go for it.
Mornings: Workout then breakfast
7am: Gym session
Luckily my gym, Gym and Tonic, is five minutes away. I like to mix up my weekly sessions with either boxing, reformer pilates or weights with my trainer, Namik. And I train at least three times a week. It sets me up for the day.
I’m quite aggressive, so having a boxing session instantly calms me down. I take my frustrations out on the bag, pads and Namik – bless him. But I have to admit, there is a certain accomplishment about doing weights. I’m only 5’2 and love the fact that I’m strong enough to deadlift 75kg, or do weighted squats with 60kg (it helped that my trainer at the time was an Olympic athlete and got me to my PBs). Basically, don’t underestimate the little people!
I work out to challenge my body and to be the best version of me…. and to eat what I want! I kinda like the pain – if I don’t feel it, then I don’t feel like I’m getting a good workout. I don’t know if that’s a good or bad quality about me. I do have ‘Embrace the Pain’ in Latin tattooed on my wrist!
Earlier this year I learned to snowboard and I feel like I’ve a got a challenge in me too. Like climbing Kilimanjaro or something like that. Just to test myself.
8am – Breakfast and news
Back home and I have a typical breakfast which is a black coffee and an omelette (I think I have to up my game on the breakfast front.) I then catch up on the latest sports news and get ready for work.
I live in Istanbul, in an area called Tesvikiye. Walking around it’s obvious I’m not Turkish, but I’ve felt nothing but love and acceptance from Turkish people. The hospitality here is off the scale.
11am – Arrive at TRT World
To be fair, I normally get in 10.45am. I log in, check emails and look at the rough rundown. And grab another coffee…
Midday – Team meeting and lunch
We normally review the previous show to see what worked and what didn’t and how the guests were. We move onto the day’s show and go through the rundown and discuss the main stories and possible talking points and confirmed guests – mainly journalists or experts, female and male – to talk about the issues of the day.
And yes, we feature sportswomen, especially female Turkish athletes. From what I’ve seen in Turkey, the recognition and respect women get in sport (like volleyball) is impressive. There’s a huge sporting culture here.
For lunch, I order food in and (unfortunately) eat at my desk. I normally go for a quinoa salad with sushi. I’m desperately trying to be ‘that’ woman who does food prep on Sundays so I’m sorted for the week, but I’m so lazy. I’ll get there eventually.
1pm – 5pm – Research and prep
If I’m presenting, I start prepping for the live guests, which means researching the main stories and writing my own questions. The most guests I’ve had on the show to date is six! I’ll also produce a small segment that rounds up the other sports news, which is at the end of the show. I enjoy interviewing fascinating people and hearing their stories. I get a lot of satisfaction from anchoring, but doing a feature really inspires me and reminds me why I love what I do.
Throughout the day I’ll liaise with the Programme Editor to see how the rundown is forming, if there are any changes and we also go through the questions for the live guests.
If I have to, I’ll chase guests for today’s show or for the week.
If I’m not presenting, I’ll produce a segment for the show which includes working on a package, commissioning graphics for the live segment and other technical aspects. If I get to finish early, I’ll start working on possible ideas for deployments.
5pm – Change, hair and make-up
We’ve got it all down to 30 – 40mins, which is a huge improvement! I normally like to get all of this done pretty early, as I like to get back to the desk and go through the whole show.
19.30pm – BEYOND THE GAME goes live on air!
I’d say football is the sport I enjoy covering the most, but our show is different in that we don’t just don’t just focus on the result. We cover wide-ranging sports topics.
What I’m fascinated by at the moment is sport and its relationship with society. For example, there’s a great documentary on Netflix called Les Bleu and it looks at the rise and fall of the French National football team and French society from 1996 onwards. The World Cup winning team were made up of black, white and Arab people which gave an impression of unity and acceptance in the country, but it was still riddled with societal problems that football couldn’t fix. I love watching, working and talking about similar issues. They say sport and politics shouldn’t mix. It almost always does.
8pm – Finish work
The chances are I’ll go to a restaurant to catch up with friends or go straight home and catch up on Netflix… or plan my next trip away.