In its early days, sports journalism attracted the skills of some of Britain’s famous writers. In between Sherlock Holmes novels, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle reported on the first London Olympiad in 1908, and led the campaign for Dorando Pietri, the Italian who was denied a gold medal after collapsing within sight of the marathon finish line, to be given a special award.
You don’t have to be a famous writer to get into sports journalism today. According to Telegraph sports feature writer Andrew Baker, what you do need is sports knowledge, along with determination and enthusiasm.
Baker adds that ‘the ability to write sensibly under extreme pressure if you aspire to cover major events live’also comes in handy. ‘Five hundred words in 20 minutes is not at all unusual at events such as Olympics and football internationals,’he says.
The NCTJ has just approved a dedicated sports journalism course, run by specialist news agency Sportsbeat/News Associates.
But James Toney, managing editor of Sportsbeat, warns: ‘It is foolhardy to think you can train as a sports journalist alone. What you can do is train as a journalist and arm yourself with sports journalism skills.’
He adds that only one in 10 sports journalists gets a job in sports journalism as their first. So start off in straight news journalism and steadily build your portfolio by contributing to the sportsdesk, he advises. Improve your shorthand and be ready to do some work experience (even unpaid), never say no, and be ready to do whatever else you have to do to get to where you want.
An NCTJ-recognised qualification is vital. Toney says: ‘We got more than 75 responses to a vacancy we advertised in The Guardian recently. We throw away those with no training.”
With more people who want to get into sports journalism than there are jobs, extra determination is called for.
According to Anna McKane, director of the BA Journalism programme at City University in London: ‘It is important to get some work experience anywhere, not necessarily in sport. It is always easier to get a good placement when you already have some work experience on your CV.”
Mckane’s advice is: ‘For sports journalism, as with any other specialism, it is essential to know your subject inside out, and to be passionate about it.”
Bemi Idowu is a student journalist