First steps to a blessing full of curses

Sports journalism is now a subject studied widely to degree level at universities around the country. Here, Matthew Brown reviews a new book from SJA member Rob Steen that aims to offer a first step towards a career working in the press boxes or on the touchlines around the country

Rob Steen’s new volume on sports journalism comes with a warning. “Reading this book and completing the exercises will not guarantee you a full-time job,” the author writes in his Preface.

He could have added, of course, that a lifetime in the business doesn’t guarantee you a job either, not even the next commission. As Steen says, you have to have “the self-motivation of a ravenous lion, the hide of an insensitive rhino and the reticence of an angry bull” to become a sports journalist.

Nevertheless, it seems, more and more young people want to become such a beast. Why else would such a book be necessary or, at least, possible?

Aimed at journalism students such as those Steen lectures at Brighton University, Sports Journalism: A Multimedia Primer falls somewhere between a text book and an overview of the state of sports journalism in our changing media world. It’s a bit of both but, frustratingly, not quite either.

It’s too partial (in both senses) to be the former, and yet the inclusion of exercises at the end of each chapter suggests it is meant to be worked through in a fairly academic way. Although the bulk of the book covers, in turn, the skills and requirements of journalism – knowledge, reporting, news, interviewing, feature writing, columns and broadcasting – it is certainly not a straight
forward “how to” book; more a “this is how it is” book, and, at times, “this is what I think”.

The title itself raises a few questions. Why “sports journalism” rather than just journalism? Aren’t the skills and attributes universal, or is something unique happening in sport that makes dedicated sports journalism courses necessary? Or is it all just down to the “market”, as colleges and universities compete for income from an ever-growing student pool?

Why “multimedia”? For all Steen’s discussions of the effects of new technology and the emergence of internet journalism and multi-tasking, there isn’t much here in the way of advice or knowledge that wouldn’t have been taught to a trainee print journalist 15 years ago.

And what’s a “primer” anyway (other than a layer of paint you put on untreated wood before the gloss)? The dictionary says it’s
a “small introductory book” and, fittingly, Steen takes the first three chapters to introduce his subject, covering the appeal of the
job (more a vocation, he implies), its history and development, and current issues from the rapidly-changing digital age – the growth in newspaper coverage; the influence of money, PR and TV; corruption and drugs; changing relationships between reporters and clubs; and so on.

At times, especially in these early chapters, the tone is just a bit too insider-jokey, and Steen’s occasionally tortured metaphors can obscure the valid information and insight he gives. There’s also rather more of Steen’s personal opinion and experience than you might expect in a straight introductory text.

That said, with a little help from the comments and examples of some of the best sports writers (and yes, they tend to be writers, rather than photographers) in the business, this book goes a long way to showing why sports journalism is an increasingly important part of the media and an increasingly popular profession, even though, as the author puts it, “Writing about what you love for a living can be a curse full of blessings.”

He adds: “More often than not, it can be a blessing full of curses.”

Full-time students can enter our competition to win one of three copies of Rob Steen’s book by clicking here

Sports Journalism: A Multimedia Primer, by Rob Steen (Routledge) (£21.99) is available for purchase via Amazon by clicking here

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