Stop treating sports journalism like a get-rich-quick scheme.
It’s one of the most competitive fields you can break into, and entering the sports media job market isn’t as straightforward as it is other careers. It takes more than “knowing about sports.” Sportswriting is entertainment as much as it is informative. People need a reason to read you, watch you or listen to you — and simply “knowing a lot about sports” isn’t going to cut it.
Each and every day, I receive multiple emails or messages on Twitter from young (or vintage) writers looking for advice on how to get into the industry. So, here’s my best advice in seven simple steps:
- WRITE, WRITE, WRITE. (And I’m not talking about Twitter.)
The first thing I tell an aspiring writer is to find a platform or create a personal blog to create content about whatever he or she is passionate about. From there, crank out quality articles/columns with regularity. You should write daily or at least five pieces per week. Think how many 3-pointers Stephen Curry takes in a given day; you need to bring this mentality to writing. Even if you think you want to go into radio/podcasts or video, you will need to know how to write. People in that industry tell me all the time how much they wish they had spent time honing their writing skills earlier on.
- TAKE WHATEVER REPORTING GIG YOU CAN LAND.
Stop trying to jump directly into professional sports. You’re not going to become a national sportswriter or TV/radio analyst overnight. It doesn’t work that way; just ask any big-time sports media personality where theystarted. The best thing you can do is learn to report about and interview athletes and coaches at the prep and college level — critical skills that are necessary if and when you start dealing with professional athletes. It also teaches you to write on deadline, be accurate and tell a story. Look for gigs at your campus newspaper or a small community newspaper. Only then will you have a portfolio of work to launch toward bigger and bigger platforms or outlets.
- FIND YOURSELF A GREAT EDITOR.
Like it or not, you are going to need someone to tell you that your story sucks. Because it probably does. At least at first, anyway. One of my journalism professors used to repeat each class: “Everyone needs an editor.” And he was right. Editors make you better — even if they cut down your words and make you want to scream at them for removing what you thought was your best line. Almost always, your story ends up better, and over time, you become a better writer. You will come to need your editor; if they’re good, they will become a mentor for you. And you won’t be alone — every great writer can point to the editor who helped get them where they needed to be.
- READ REALLY GOOD WRITERS.
Don’t model your writing off someone who isn’t a good writer. That would be like learning to play golf by watching Charles Barkley swing the sticks on YouTube. (Hilarious, but no.) Instead, find a brilliant, award-winning journalist and continue to read, read, read his or her stuff. Reading greatness will force you to truly evaluate your own writing.
- WRITE SHORTER.
No one is reading more than 1,000 words on the Orlando Magic’s half-court issues. (OK, maybe like .0004 percent of Magic fans are, but still.) Learn to make a point, provide some analytical or statistical evidence, and get out. That’s what people want these days — and it’s probably what they’ve always wanted. My favorite line: “It’s harder to write short than long.”
- TELL A STORY.
The best writers don’t just shove facts or opinion down their readers’ throats. They find a way to create a narrative and thread facts throughout to enhance their point. As you find great writers to read, you’ll quickly realize how well they create, develop and deliver a flowing narrative.
- NETWORK AND MARKET YOURSELF.
No media outlet decision-maker is simply browsing random sites in order to pick off talent. You need to showcase your stuff as often as you can — and via methods that are likely to be seen. Create a Twitter account and post your articles there. Put your best stuff on Facebook. Create a personal website that acts as a professional portfolio, showcasing your best work. Sliding your work under the virtual doorways of editors and writers will put you in a position to land a gig, or, at the very least, receive invaluable feedback from those in the know.
Again, there is no template for success. This is just my best advice that was passed down to me from generations of news men and women. Hopefully it helps.
Written by By Jimmy Spencer