Watching world class sport live and having to write or commentate on it is the dream job for thousands and it is not hard to see why. Those journos lucky enough to have reported on the Olympics or those that will be at Premier League grounds this weekend have got a pretty sweet ticket.
However, each and every one of them would have worked their socks off to get there. Just like the athletes and players they are reporting on, they have had to emerge through an amazingly competitive environment to get to the top of the tree and talent can only go so far – hard work is what differentiates the best from the rest. Sportsbeat employ two or three journalists a year and all of them combine natural talent and a work ethic to match.
This is a sobering thought but one that needs to be embraced if one is to enter this industry. There are more people looking to become sports journalists than there are jobs available so to make it to the top you must stand out from the crowd. Luckily, there are a number of ways to do this.
The first, and most important, is to make sure you have the correct qualification. The best one to look for is the National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) – it is the most renowned and respected of the accredited bodies and this provides a solid foundation for a career in any form of journalism.
There are plenty of accredited centres but go on to the NCTJ website for their results table to see who the best providers of this qualification are as some are better than others. News Associates are consistently at the top of the league tables and provide an extremely practical qualification which prepares you perfectly for a career in the industry. They have centres in London and Manchester and alongside their sister company Sportsbeat offer a range of courses, many with a strong focus on sport.
There are more people looking to become sports journalists than there are jobs available so to make it to the top you must stand out from the crowd.
This qualification will mean your job application will jump to the head of the queue as editors will know immediately that you have the required skills set.
The second way to stand out from the crowd is to get as much work experience as possible in varied publications. This might mean working at a local paper for a week or two, a magazine and even a radio station or TV channel. You may want to get involved with student media as well.
This shows you have a passion for the industry and also allows you to get an insight into what strand of the media you are most interested in. When you have worked out which area you would like to focus on, pursue it vigorously. Tenacity and perseverance are key buzz words when trying to get onto the journalism ladder.
Arguably the most important thing while on work placements, other than making a round of teas of course, is to never say no to anything. If someone offers you a chance to go to a game, or to interview an athlete either face-to-face or over the phone, grab it with both hands as you better believe that someone else will say yes if you don’t. You may not be that confident but practice makes perfect and a good attitude goes a long way in journalism.
How journalism is changing
The media landscape has changed greatly over the past decade, mostly due to the constant technological developments taking place. The growth of the internet and specific websites and apps such as Twitter means journalists have more to think about than just the copy for the next day’s paper.
Being able to Tweet a story, write it for the web, upload it and also update it so it has a fresh angle for the next day’s paper when people are looking for new information is now part and parcel of everyday life for a journo.
The growth of the internet and specific websites and apps such as Twitter means journalists have more to think about than just the copy for the next day’s paper.
The fast pace of these changes mean someone looking at a career in the media needs to stand out from the crowd and roll with the times. In the past that might have meant polishing your writing technique and building up your contacts book but now it means getting as many followers as you can on Twitter, learning to use content management systems and perhaps learning how to video and edit content.
Having said this, many of the basic skills of journalism remain largely the same. You should still pick up shorthand, build up a portfolio and learn how to keep your editor out of jail but in such a competitive job market, having as many strings to your bow as possible is critical to get a good foothold in the industry.
It is important to not lose sight of what a journalist’s job is – to keep the public informed of what is happening. There are just new ways of doing this and being able to combine old school skills such as interviewing, shorthand and media law with new school tricks such as CMS, video and Twitter will make you extremely employable indeed.