‘Enjoy everything that comes your way!’ – SJA Academy Award winner Laura Howard on her amazing year

Back in March, St Mary’s Twickenham sports journalism master’s student Laura Howard was named winner of the SJA Academy Award; part of her prize was a placement at talkSPORT; we caught up with her to find out how she got on…

By the SJA

SJA Academy Award winner Laura Howard won a placement at talkSPORT

Earlier this year, Laura Howard was selected as the winner of the SJA Academy Award at the British Sports Journalism Awards.

Entrants for this prize either have less than one year of experience in sports journalism, or have never worked in the industry full-time.

Laura is on the Sports Journalism master’s programme at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

After concluding her placement at talkSPORT – who sponsored the award – we asked Laura to look back on a busy year…

Hi Laura! Congratulations again on your SJA Academy Award success. What have you been up to at talkSPORT?

Thanks! I got to spend two weeks at News UK – the first at talkSPORT, the second at Virgin Radio.

I got to shadow a few talkSPORT shows, such as Hawksbee and Jacobs, Drive, and White and Jordan, and contribute to research, make teasers for the audio team, and do voxpops for social media.

I did similar tasks for Virgin Radio too. It’s been great to learn about what goes on behind the scenes of production.

It’s also been really good for getting stuck in and building experience in an area that I hadn’t really explored before.

I also spent a day with, writing for their website, getting advice from the editors and seeing how the site works.

Some people will be reading this wanting to follow in your footsteps by winning the SJA Academy Award! What message would you send out to them?

Two years ago, I was just doing my undergraduate degree and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

But I was already writing for my student paper, and I wanted to pursue that, bringing my own spin.

I knew I always enjoyed sports and writing about it, but having read history and politics, I’ve been able to use that and I’ve not been scared to follow my niche.

In terms of the SJA Academy Award, it’s opened so many doors. I’ve now got so much industry experience. It’s been absolutely amazing and the respect you get given, I didn’t expect that!

So I’d recommend just taking opportunities wherever you possibly can and learn to enjoy everything that comes your way. That’s set me up really well.

You’ve done so many different types of journalism, including broadcasting. What have you enjoyed the most over the last 12 months? 

I’ve really enjoyed the commentary I do for Hampton and Richmond Borough FC – that’s been a new experience.

I was expecting to just be on match reports and then I got that opportunity and it was another one of those where I just took it. Broadcasting is definitely something I want to pursue more.

Listen to Laura’s commentary from a last-gasp 2-1 home win for the Beavers over Chippenham in March

In terms of writing, I’ve done lots of features and pieces that don’t necessarily just focus on the sport, but also on the athletes and their stories. Often those stories intersect with social issues so it’s been that side of sports journalism too.

Having a background in politics like I do, it’s great to be able to bring that into my journalism.

For people looking at what you’ve been able to do, where do you see gaps in the industry that people can get into and stand out from the crowd?

What I’ve found is that people want new opinions and they want that difference in the workplace.

It’s not so much diversity in the conventional sense, but more diversity of thought. If you have new ideas or you bring a new approach to something, and you can demonstrate that, then that’s always going to be well received.

Whenever I’ve had opportunities, it’s been about bringing new perspectives. So if you think you can add something along those lines, go for it!

You also spent some time at Sky recently – how did you get on there?

Yeah, I spent a couple of weeks with Sky Sports News, rotating around the various teams. I particularly enjoyed the digital side of it – I spent some time writing for their website on Premier League and WSL coverage.

It was the international break for the women so I did a piece on the Lionesses. And I contributed to the Premier League analysis talking points column, which was fun because I haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of pure analysis before.

Hopefully, I might get some more opportunities off the back of that. I did some production, social media news and planning while I was there too but digital was the main focus.

Much of your journalism so far has come through Sports Gazette, which is the website used by those studying on the St Mary’s course. Tell us about that.

Yeah, that platform has been incredible in terms of allowing us to explore whatever we like. 

I wrote an article about a book by Sharron Davies – everyone was reviewing the William Hill Sports Book of the Year nominees – which got a big reach. I’d researched sex testing in athletics for my undergraduate degree so it felt right to implement that in a piece of journalism.

That was a standout piece for me. Another one would be an interview with Sam Gough, the England Blind Lionesses captain, and hearing her journey through sport to then being the first women’s skipper at the IBSA World Games in blind football which is just an incredible story.

She’s only 20 years old, so to hear that from her and be able to tell that story was really cool.

What do you think the future holds for you? Where do you see yourself maybe in five years time?

Tough question! I’m really struggling with this one at the moment. I think I could see myself going in a number of directions.

I’d like to pursue the commentary, but I do really enjoy the writing side as well.

So both, potentially – I’ll do some freelance work now to see where it takes me and where I can get to in the future with those two things. I think it’s just exciting to explore at the moment. 

Thanks Laura! You can follow her on X at @laura_hwd.

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