Job Profile: Sports Writer

The Playing Field Has changed in Sports Journalism

Oakland Athletics v Texas Rangers
Rick Yeatts/Stringer/Getty Images Sport

Sports writers keep fans in touch with their favorite sports and teams. With television providing immediate coverage, in-depth reporting is expected from today's sports writer. They not only write about what happens in the game, but the reasons teams succeed or fail.

Besides game coverage, sports writers cover team news, like player transactions and coaching changes. They write feature stories on players and coaches, and provide insight on trends involving the team or sport they cover.

Opportunities

With the Internet providing more sports media outlets than ever before, today's sports writers have numerous opportunities. Twenty years ago, sports writers typically worked for newspapers, or perhaps magazines, but the field has changed vastly.

Today, sports writers still work for traditional outlets but they also may be employed by sports news websites, team websites, or even work on their own blog. Here is an interview with a writer from Fansided with additional details.)  Many sports writers also add expertise to radio, television, and streaming video coverage. The opportunities are as varied as the sports covered, but the key to all of these communication forms is concisely giving information in an entertaining and creative fashion.

Typical Day

Many sports writers have a specific “beat,” meaning they cover a specific team or sport throughout a season, or even throughout a year.

Because many games are at night, sports writers rarely work a 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. day. More typical is working early in the day at home to pitch story ideas with editors, call or email sources for possible stories, and write stories.

The sports writer heads out to watch a team's game. Before the game, the writer talks with sources about the team, reads through team notes for possible ideas, and keeps an eye out for breaking news.

Sports writers typically use laptop computers. To make deadlines, they often begin writing while the game is still being played.

After the game is over, sports writers send their stories to their media outlet for editing. Besides the main story, they also typically send in shorter stories, or notes, about the game.

The Good

Sports writers typically enjoy what they are doing. Although they remain neutral at the games they cover—objectivity is a must—they get to see top games, teams, and athletes. Sports writers spend much of their time out of the office and may travel extensively.

While sports writers do not compete on the field, they do enjoy competing to get stories first and providing readers with the best information. ESPN's Adam Schefter is an example of that. The variety of outlets provides many ways for the writer to tell his or her story.

Writers have access to teams and players that few others ever enjoy. Covering top athletes can be fascinating. Sports writers witness top competition, always with a prime seat.

Many sports writers also move on to column writing, in which they add their own views on sporting events. Often times, these column writers become well known in a community.  Sports writers - regardless of where they write - need to attract an audience. Passionate fans will loyally read stories and often provide feedback.

The Bad

Today's sports writers have to deal with an ever-changing market. Many newspapers are cutting staff and some are closing. To advance, sports writers typically have to move from one city to the next, climbing the ladder in bigger media markets.  Travel can become a grind for some sports writers. For instance, major league baseball teams play 81 games on the road each season.

Not only do sports writers not make much money, they often are covering athletes at the other end of the spectrum. If a sports writer covers a top professional team, he or she typically will be writing about millionaire players, coaches, general managers, and team owners. Most sports writers will never make seven-figure salaries. The gap can create problems.

Typical sports writers will work weekends and holidays. The biggest games often are contested on these days.

And while the increase in bloggers has created opportunities for aspiring sports writers to showcase their work, print newspapers, once the backbone of sports journalism, have shrunk considerably in the last decade.  News stories of laid off journalists are commonplace.

Getting Started

Today's sports writers are college graduates, typically with journalism degrees. Besides their journalism classes, sports writers typically write for their college newspaper. Colleges also have sports information departments that typically rely on student interns. This can provide good experience.

Starting before college, by covering sports for a high school paper for instance, is also a good idea.

Many sports writers were never the star athlete, or they may have never played sports. But all sports writers love sports and competition. Playing a sport or closely following a sport provides important experience.

Job Ideas

The Associated Press Sports Editors maintain a job board on their site.

After college, sports writers typically start at a paper in a small town and work their way up to bigger publications. They also may find employment at one of the many sports websites like ESPN.com or sportsline.com.

League sites like NFL.com and MLB.com also employ sports writers, as do many professional teams.This story highlights how one young writer got her start covering an MLB team.

Finally, sports journalism can lead to other opportunities.  This two part article describes how a former sports writer leveraged his expertise to join a tech start up.

 

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Updated by Rich Campbell

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