NCTJ offers a way to become good sports

By James Toney, Sportsbeat
Breaking into sports journalism has never been an exact science – many top Fleet Street sports writers will admit they got their chance from a “lucky break”. Others have worked hard, initially for little or no reward, to build up a sports portfolio, often while holding down a job elsewhere.

When the football season starts, our agency, Sportsbeat, delivers more than 200 match reports every Saturday. Many of those who help provide our coverage are journalists on their paper’s newsdesk, looking to make a break into sport.

Universities and colleges have begun to offer three-year BA (Hons) courses in sports journalism. One London college is planning a one-year post-graduate Masters course in the subject. The key piece of advice for any prospective student is to choose your course carefully. There are many pale imitations out there in a crowded educational marketplace, but accreditation from the National Council for the Training of Journalists remains the industry benchmark.

For the first time in its 56-year history, the NCTJ is introducing a specialist qualification for aspiring sports reporters.

From next month, on courses run at Sportsbeat, trainees will be able to study a qualification in sports journalism that will run alongside the four core modules in the NCTJ’s Pre-Entry Certificate.

The NCTJ approached Sportsbeat earlier this year to help draft a syllabus that would be geared towards the ever-changing demands of the sports editors we supply. Keith Elliott, a highly respected media trainer and the Sports Journalists’ Association’s careers and training officer, also helped to fine tune the syllabus.

We believe that together with the NCTJ, we have produced a highly practical course which covers on-the-whistle reporting, running copy, compiling round-ups and interviewing. With sports stories migrating to “the front of the book”, especially in the light of the 2012 Olympics, there will be a focus also on sports news, business and politics.

The syllabus aims to teach trainees that while naming the entire back four of every Premiership club is beneficial, it’s just as important to know your James Purnell from your Paul Deighton.

NCTJ centres are recommended to teach the module in 60 hours and with two different exams. These are expected to start next January.

Unlike other NCTJ examinations, which draw on fictitious events and places, sports journalism will use real events and personalities. One of the suggestions for the exam is for students to produce running copy from a taped “live” match. At the conclusion of the game, they’ll be given flash quotes to dress into a rewrite. This will be followed by a round-up exercise and a series of questions on sporting issues.

The syllabus has been well-received by national, regional and local newspaper sports editors, after an extensive consultation process.

Among the feedback was this from the Daily Telegraph’s Keith Perry: “This course was obviously put together by people with a great deal of understanding of the reality of working on a national daily sports paper.

“I would like to improve it, but I’m not sure I can.”

At present the qualification is work in progress, but we’re determined to develop and improve it, and the suggestions of SJA members are always welcome.

For further information on accredited centres, offering sports journalism training, contact the NCTJ on 01799 544014 or visit

SJA member James Toney is Managing Editor of Sportsbeat.

Want to discover more about training to be a sports journalist? Try these articles:
What is the best sports journalism course for me?
From humble beginnings
Sports journalism – a matter of degree?

And visit the SJA’s new Training and courses website here

Join the SJA today – click here for details and membership application form