For sports journalism, as with any other specialism, you need to know your subject inside out, be passionate about it, and have the determination and enthusiasm to succeed. But how do you break into sports journalism? Having a qualification behind you is valuable, but it is practical, hands on experience that tells an editor that you are up to the job. One of the biggest challenges faced by a wannabe journalist is how to build a file of published clips if an editor is only interested in hiring someone with experience.
Building up a healthy collection of clips is important so you can show off your capabilities. Quality is more important than quantity, but it is best to have a wide range of samples. Not just different sports, but also different styles of articles, such as features, news and editorials.
Whether you are still in education or trying to land your first job, getting work experience in the field is key. Take any opportunity you are given to build on your experience by getting a reporter job at a weekly or local newspaper, or finding an organization that will offer you an internship or work experience. Make of the opportunity what you can; seek advice, use your initiative and build up your contacts book. It might even lead to full-time paid employment.
Working your way up from the bottom is a good way of gaining valuable experience and getting your foot in the door. By working in a junior or trainee role, you will be gaining practical experience that will help when you are looking to move into a reporting position elsewhere or help you achieve promotion with your current employer.
It may also give you the opportunity to accompany reporters to events and observe how they go about their job, providing you with knowledge of how journalists work and skills that you can later put into practice. You may even be able to put what you have learnt to the test by interviewing colleagues and reporters about their jobs and finding out more about the industry.
The Internet has opened up incredible opportunities for wannabe sports reporters and journalists. Choose a topic, sport, or team that you are a passionate about and start a blog; it is a great way of beginning your reporting career. Citizen journalism sites, such as The Latest.com, are ideal for taking your first steps in publishing your articles. Not only will you build up your portfolio of self-published clips but you might also receive offers of employment from news organizations.
Sports magazines that have online web presence (ESPN and The Sporting News for example) and team network portals, such as Scout.com and Rivals.com are renowned for seeking sports writers and should be considered when establishing yourself as a sports journalist. Although pay may not be overly generous, there are advantages and these jobs are CV builders.
Suite101 and Allsports are also good places on the web to cut your teeth as a writer. Suite 101 allows freelance writers, non-fiction authors and journalism students to publish 10 articles every 3 months. The site is ideal for any writer wanting to get paid for their work, build their portfolio and be promoted. Site 101 also offer free training on writing for the Web and allow you to work 1 on 1 with an editor. AllSports provides free web hosting and lets you choose what sports, league or team you want to cover. They have won awards for their work, making it a well respected addition to your CV
Entering competitions such as the recent Sportingo.com Student Sports Journalism Award 2008 is another way of demonstrating your skill as a sports writer. Competitions like this provide the opportunity to have your work appraised by a team of professional sports editors and have your article published. If you are lucky enough to win an award there are usually added benefits. These might come in the form of a mentorship programme, the chance to report at leading sports events, or advice and guidance on developing as a sports writer. You might also be presented with a portfolio of your work and a reference, sure to open important industry doors.