Steve Bartram

Job title Features editor

Employer Manchester United Football Club

Practice makes perfect when it comes to a career in football journalism

Working in football media can be the next best thing to playing. Steve Bartram, features editor at Manchester United, explains how he landed his role at the one of the biggest football clubs in the world and how he would advise aspiring journalists on standing out from the crowd.

If you harbour plans for working in sports journalism, you will already be aware that it can be a challenging and demanding vocation. It can also be incredibly rewarding, but you need a combination of hark work and a little bit of luck if you’re to land your dream job. Just ask Manchester United fan Steve Bartram, who has a degree in Cultural Studies and works for the club he supports.

“Chance, fate, fortune… whatever you want to call it, it played a part in getting the role,” he explains.

“After university I went travelling for a year. Just before I was due to fly home, I missed a bus in Brazil and, while killing time, emailed a friend who worked at United to ask if there were any vacancies. One had arisen that day on the club website, I was directed towards it and had the interview the day after I landed back in Manchester. That was in July 2003 and I’ve been at the club ever since which, bar part-time stints at off licences and, ahem, a tailor, constitutes my entire working life.”

Bartram explains that his main duties as features editor include the planning, commissioning and writing of features across Manchester United’s various media platforms, while also providing matchday coverage for the club’s website.

An ability to write engaging and compelling content is essential, of course, but Bartram suggests that writers need more skills to stand out.

With the advent of social media giving everybody the platform to become a writer, it would be beneficial to boast other skills, such as video editing, picture editing and social media expertise,” he explains.

“All-rounders are attractive to businesses because it allows them to hire one person rather than two or three. That means more work for you, but, hey, it’s a busy industry and you need a hell of a work ethic. Plus patience, self-belief and thick skin, because you will always come in for criticism, especially in an age of faceless, sniping trolls. Rise above them.”

“With the advent of social media giving everybody the platform to become a writer, it would be beneficial to boast other skills, such as video editing, picture editing and social media expertise”

And it’s certainly worth the graft.

“I’ve also been fortunate enough to interview some of modern football’s greatest players, but the highest personal high has to be writing the farewell feature for Sir Alex Ferguson in the final home matchday programme of his managerial reign. It was emotional to write and was filed sometime after 3am the day the world learned he was retiring, but seeing it in print and having it form even the tiniest part of such a big day in the club’s history still provides an enormous thrill.

I love the absolutely incessant, unyielding demands to be the best. It applies on and off the field at this club, and if standards slip then you’re quickly made aware.”

Of course, before you embark on a career in sports journalism you must consider the pitfalls of the industry, such as long and unsociable hours, limited access to footballers and constant demands to set high standards.

And before you even start applying for any media jobs, Bartram says it’s important that you build a portfolio of work as soon as you can. Experience, he says, is everything.

Write, write, write. Then read. Then write some more,” he suggests. “Just keep doing both and get as much feedback on your work as possible, and over time you’ll improve markedly. In the interim, have faith and know that quality shines through. That remains true despite the dramatically altered landscape of journalism. I’ve watched social media give everybody a platform to become a writer, to the point where it must be disheartening for anyone setting out, but have faith in yourself and know that if you’re writing entertaining, informative copy, then the audience will latch onto you.

“Write, write, write. Then read. Then write some more. Just keep doing both and get as much feedback on your work as possible, and over time you’ll improve markedly.”

“If you’re good enough, you’ll find a way. When I’m scouring for new talent, they have to provide copy that stands out from the crowd, be it by taking an unlikely angle on an oft-told story or just with a nifty turn of phrase. It’s all about quality, which comes with practice.”

Just like football itself, practice makes perfect. What’s stopping you?

You can follow Steve on Twitter