NextGen. Just to let you know that we at the SJA think about you too. We have our own training expert, KEITH ELLIOTT, who has some advice for you here in the hope that you will be taking the first steps towards sports journalism in the coming days, weeks, months or even years.
The fact that you know who scored for Manchester United in the 1977 FA Cup final will not guarantee you a job as a sports journalist, I’m sorry to tell you. Even the fact that you can name all the players in both teams (Liverpool were the other), plus subs, won’t win the heart of any sports-editor I know – even those who are ardent MU fans.
However, the fact that you can take a series of facts, interview a manager who’s just lost 4-0 at home and construct this into a readable story within 20 minutes might get you an interview (though let’s not go overboard on the job prospects yet).
We all think we can write. Telling someone they can’t string a sentence together is as insulting as saying they have a big nose or a golfer’s dress sense. But very few people post-university are acceptable – let alone good –writers by journalistic standards.
The fact you have achieved first-class honours or had several letters published in your local paper are sadly not enough to land you a plum sports job on the Guardian, Sun or Mail. So how do you break into this seemingly impenetrable Masonic cabal?
Let’s talk for a moment about those at university and those considering it. (Good news: the sports journalism route isn’t barred to those who haven’t got a degree, but I’ll tell you specifically the best direction if that’s your situation in another article. Meanwhile, a lot of this stuff will be relevant to you too.)
If you’re thinking about what degree to take (and goodness, who knows the Right Way To Go at 17 or 18?), it really doesn’t matter as far as the media is concerned. I’d say it’s a good idea to avoid “soft” courses like media studies, art and design, performing arts and photography. Looks like you’re choosing an easy option.
I’m not saying: don’t take English at degree level. But if you’re good at history, computer science, Spanish or biology, make that your choice. It won’t hamper you one jot
This applies just as much, maybe even more so, to those thinking about which A-levels to take. One that you must have on your CV is a decent grade at GCSE English, (We’ll talk about stuff like grammar, spelling and punctuation further down the line, but for a media job, you must have a basic command of the language. Otherwise it’s like chasing a job as a bus conductor with a provisional licence.)
However, you don’t have to take an English degree. Journalism isn’t writing like Chaucer, Shakespeare or James Joyce. In fact, I found that teaching journalism to postgrads with an English degree was often difficult.
All too often, they were writing to win the Pulitzer Prize, worrying over every single word, agonising over a particularly piquant phrase, rather than learning to deliver information quickly and accurately. It usually meant unlearning everything they had accepted as “proper” writing.
I’m not saying: don’t take English at degree level. But if you’re good at history, computer science, Spanish or biology, make that your choice. It won’t hamper you one jot. In fact, I always found it easier to help people with a slightly unusual degree (especially those with sciences or languages) to find a job.
Wait a minute, you’re doubtless saying. Are you really telling me that if I study ethical hacking at Dundee, Viking studies at UCL or cruise management at Plymouth, I’m on the way to covering the next Olympics or the European Cup final? Er, no.
Your first target in the hugely competitive field of sports journalism is unlikely to be your dream job. Step one is to get your foot on the ladder.
A paid job on the Diss Express, International Freighting Weekly or BP’s website (especially BP’s website) will be a stepping stone on your road to… well, not fame and fortune, I’m afraid, because nobody goes into journalism with that intention, but a career in sports journalism. Trust me, it’s worth the battle.
- Jon Colman: Life as a five-time Regional Sportswriter of the Year (Apr 2015)
- We’ve seen the future of football reporting, and it tweets (May 2014) by David Walker and Janine Self, the SJA’s chairman and deputy chair
- Don’t get caught in the tangled web of interns (May 2010) by Henry Milward, on his experiences as a much-misused sports journalism under-graduate
- What course should I do at A level to become a sports journalist? (Mar 2009) by James Toney, managing editor at News Associates, who run a range of professional training courses
- How I became a teenaged internet sports publishing entrepreneur starting with just £100 off my dad’s credit card: James Lorenzo, aged 15, found the best way to get experience as a sports writer was to give himself the opportunity online (Jan 2012).
- A day in the life of a local newspaper reporter (Jan 2011). Not sport, but a good insight into the demands and requirements of someone working in journalism, even after a couple of years’ experience and progress.
Related pages on training can be found here:
- The SJA is the largest member organisation of sports media professionals in the world. Join us: Click here for more details