What is the best sports journalism course for me?

From the SJA mailbag
Can you help me? I am based in London, and I want to work in sports journalism. Can you recommend the best course – lasting between six and eight months – that could help me in that ambition?

Keith Elliott, the SJA’s careers and training officer, replies:
Immediately you say that you just want to write about sport (or even worse, want to write only about, say, rugby, hockey or racing) you limit sharply the choices open to you. My advice would always be: learn to be a journalist first, and then veer towards sport, rather than thinking you can waltz in, however enthusiastic you are, into a sports journalism job.

And don’t even think about freelancing, unless you’ve
got rich parents or love rejection.

Newspapers are the best bet if you want to stay in a particular area, but I’d suggest that otherwise, a magazine route is better because you acquire more skills (you learn to write features and sub-edit, for example). And think about it: there are nearly 9,000 magazines but only 1,300 newspapers. Where do you have a better chance of getting a job?

But even magazines are hugely oversubscribed. Everyone wants to be a travel journalist, a sports journalist, a women’s journalist or write about the environment. It’s not impossible to get a first job in those areas, but it’s a darn sight harder because they tend not to take beginners, however enthusiastic.

The lesson here is: get a job in a group that has sports magazines, work on an unrelated title, and edge your way into the one where you’d like to work.

You’ll almost certainly have to take a course of some sort because I’d rather have someone trained and enthusiastic rather than someone untrained and enthusiastic. It will take me too much time and effort to get you up to speed in the latter case.

The best of the courses aimed purely at sports journalism that I’ve seen in London was one run by SportsBeat. It’s a very practical course and the guys running it know the game. It was heavily weighted towards football, but I guess today, football is God.

On the other hand, they can’t guarantee you a job. Nor can anyone.

Only go for NCTJ-approved courses for newspapers and PTC (Periodicals Training Council)-approved courses for magazines. See for the things you need to check about courses. Good luck!