Last Updated on October 25, 2023 by david harnold
In the new era of work, the concept of work-life balance is more prominent than ever. Individuals are looking for careers that align with their interests and allow for enough time to spend with family and participate in hobbies. Pursuing an enjoyable career is one way professionals can experience more satisfaction and less stress. For those who love sports, a sports journalism career can be an ideal way to engage with a field they love while making a living.
As a sports journalist, you will watch and report on sports events, research and follow leads, and write stories that capture player’s technical skills and cover current events. There are days you report stories about the pain and disappointment of a game loss, success and tribulations during finals, and occasionally play-by-play and game summaries. No two days are the same when you are a sports journalist.
While this might seem daunting for an aspiring sports reporter, this also makes it one of the most exciting sub-fields in journalism. The mystery and uncertainty of each day brings a liveliness that many sports enthusiasts enjoy. If you can learn to move through this ever-evolving environment, you will gain confidence and allow your writing talents to shine in this fast-paced job.
Keep scrolling as this article tackles what a day in the life of a sports journalist looks like. Knowing this will help you prepare for the hustle and bustle of being a sports journalist so you can present an accurate and well-balanced explanation of the stories you cover.
Check emails and social media for potential stories
Social media is the most popular platform for news and entertainment today. It is so popular that sports journalists cannot do much without it, especially when reporting on the global stage. Sports news travels fast when it’s published seconds after an event happens. With thousands of social media status updates sent every second, sports journalists cannot afford to miss out on the conversation.
Usually, the first thing sports journalists do in the morning is scroll through their emails for press releases and scan social media for potential stories. Social media is becoming a clear pathway to break news and stories as they happen. For example, National Basketball Association (NBA) reporter Adrian Wojnarowski has become famous on social for his “Woj Bombs.”
It’s not just Wojnarowski; many national sports reporters start by breaking stories on Twitter, seeing how they perform, and decide to write an article or make a television package based on the most popular Tweets. This method of social media crowd-sourcing and research can help make sure your article or TV spot gets the traction it needs to boost your career.
Every sports journalist’s challenge is verifying the information and finding a unique angle for their stories. Finding a niche angle ensures sports journalists get enough traction to engage readers, attract advertisers, and compete with their colleagues. Finding that golden story angle is an art form that takes trial and error. An excellent start is to look at as much information as possible and consider what’s most relevant to audiences right now.
Map out your ideas structurally and see their relationships. Once done, you can look for ideas adjacent to your core concepts. For example, Wojnarowski reports Vince Carter coming out of retirement and returning to the Toronto Raptors. Only writing about the contract details won’t be news, as your audience already knows about it. Instead, you might write how Carter returning is a full-circle moment considering he started his career up north. This allows you to communicate your core message in a new and fresh manner while making your blog interesting to readers.
Arrive at the stadium and conduct pre-game interviews
If a game is scheduled on a day, sports journalists often head to the venue at least one to two hours before the event to conduct pre-game interviews with athletes and coaches. A pre-game interview will offer you insight on what you can use later on for your stories. For instance, Chris Lewandowski is playing the match while nursing an injury and hitting a game-winning three-pointer at the buzzer.
You can later talk about how Lewandowski fought through physical obstacles to will his team to victory. Depending on how you report the story, this feat of strength can build inspiration to sports fans everywhere. Once you arrive in the stadium, you must proceed to the press box and set up your equipment in your designated work area. This is where arriving a few hours before the game is also beneficial since press boxes are often compact and can only fit a few people, mainly when covering events such as the FIFA World Cup, the FIBA World Cup, or the FIVB Volleyball Nations League.
Once you’ve finished setting up your equipment, grab press clippings and check the team media guide, notes, and statistics packets for the home and visiting squads. They are assembled by every team’s media relations staff members. This information will guide you on what questions to ask once you head down to the locker rooms or clubhouses to talk to players and coaches as they arrive, get dressed, and prepare for the game. Mastery of interviewing techniques is essential because much of the daily work of sports journalists requires asking athletes and coaches for information.
If you analyze sports stories, you will see they are based on information from multiple sources and accounts. These include physical sources such as records, statistics, and references, the direct observation of the sports reporter, interviews with human sources, and online sources. Check today’s sports stories and you will be hard-pressed to find something that does not interview sources. This is because it gives your sports story credibility and proves to your audience that you are reporting something from the athletes’ and coaches’ mouths rather than your opinions.
That said, building rapport with coaches and athletes is critical in getting more out of the interview. It is not uncommon for sports icons to be reluctant to answer questions the reporter is fielding, especially if there is tension. Building connections with your sources can set you apart as a sports journalist because these people can help you break tremendous stories down the road. This is especially important in cutthroat sports journalism, where you are last if you are not first.
Start taking notes about the game
Once the game begins, you must start taking notes and keep statistics as the innings, sets, halves, and quarters go by. While you can always ask for player and game statistics right at the end, taking notes allows you to identify critical moments in the game. For example, a soccer team was down 0-1 at the interval. However, a substitution during half-time and a change of game plan propelled them to overcome the deficit and win the match 2-1. Noting these changes will help your readers and audience understand the moment that turned the game around.
This might seem like a minute detail, but it significantly impacts your story’s angle. Although you can always check play-by-play action online, it is not similar to experiencing and taking notes of the moment. This is because being in the moment lets you adequately explain the critical instants in the game and evoke the proper emotions when writing or reporting it.
While taking notes, sports journalists must also learn to separate their emotions from the event to remain objective. The reality is most, if not all, sports journalists are sports fans. When you are a sports fan and a sports journalist, it can be easy to be partial and biased. This can be a recipe for disaster since personal opinions can affect reporting accuracy. In these cases, sports journalists must avoid using personal pronouns or making assumptions about the game’s outcome.
Moreover, enthusiasm and distaste for a particular team or athlete cannot cloud the sports journalist’s ability to report the facts surrounding what is being covered. While sports journalists can express their opinions freely, it must be accomplished within the context of their roles in the media and not the game itself. Maintaining objectivity empowers sports journalists to deliver evidence-based stories and reduce those based on speculation.
You must also review and compare your notes with the play-by-play action online. This ensures that your questions are relevant and accurate since you will use notes as a guide when interviewing coaches and athletes after the game. A rule of thumb when taking notes is to be thorough but not stenographic. While being detailed can be beneficial, there is a good chance you will not use everything that occurs within the event.
Go to the media room for the post-game interview
Every story needs reactions from individuals who participated in a sporting event. The truth is post-game interviews can make or break your story. Once the game is done, the next step is to head to the media room for the post-game interview. When conducting post-game interviews, remember that the process is a two-way street.
For sports journalists, it is an opportunity to ask questions and search for answers from individuals who competed in the game. Conversely, it allows athletes to express themselves at crucial game moments. Journalists need sports icons to complete a story, while athletes seek media members to relay their opinions to sports fans.
Unlike pre-game interviews, you must conduct post-match interviews with additional cautions, especially when dealing with the losing squad or athlete. The content and tone of these interviews can differ depending on the athlete’s performance, the line of questioning, and their personality. That said, sports journalists must formulate questions that urge athletes to deliver answers with substance, not clichés such as “I went out there and did what I had to do” or “It was a team effort.”
While those answers can help you write a story, it sometimes does not do justice to the sporting event that occurred. You want athletes and coaches to express themselves freely during interviews. This lets you uncover information you can use to write or report a separate story that could interest the fans. Some athletes and coaches use post-game interviews to air their thoughts on the game and express their frustrations or announce something valuable.
This is also a way for you to stand out among your peers since most sports journalists often focus on reporting a game story rather than finding information to do a separate coverage. You can use this information when not covering an event to keep fans on edge, even if no game is scheduled. Providing ongoing coverage about a particular issue in the game also helps sports journalists uncover more relevant information that otherwise would be nonexistent.
Write and report the story
After gathering the necessary information, the final step is to write or report the story. When writing a sports article, sticking to plain language is always advisable. While it can be tempting to use sports jargon, you must consider how much you use them. As much as possible, keep your writing or reporting language simple to get the message quickly to your readers or viewers.
Consider what your reader needs and how much detail they want. Are they busy, or will they be checking out your report? How much knowledge do they have about the subject matter or sport? Once you know your audience, use it to structure your article. Use short sections and short sentences to make your writing easy to digest.
Sometimes it helps to set a goal of trimming 25 or 50 words or staying under a specific word count when writing a sentence. Once you are done writing or reporting, try reading your piece out loud. Depending on the story, some editing is likely required if you stumble over a sentence or find yourself out of breath at the end of a paragraph. While deadlines differ between media organizations, sports journalists are expected to submit their stories and report roughly 15 to 20 minutes after the game ends.
This gives editors sufficient time to polish the report for night time news coverage or newspaper publication. Since most sports events happen in the evening, aspiring sports scribes must properly train to deliver their reports gracefully under pressure. One way of increasing your capacity is to pursue an advanced degree program such as an MA Sports Journalism Degree from leading academic institutions such as St Bonaventure University Online. Choosing this online program will equip you with the best practices in sports journalism and provide opportunities to practice and enhance your skills.
While working towards your degree, you will tackle courses that provide you with hands-on experience that can take your sports journalism career to the next level. You will learn how the different journalism laws and ethical implications affect sports journalism and how to avoid costly mistakes in when reporting on a story. You’ll find a variety of courses, like news writing, photography, game commentary, production, and interview techniques.
Why become a sports journalist?
Most Americans are unhappy at work. A recent CNBC report reveals roughly 60% of Americans are emotionally detached from their jobs. If you want to become a sports journalist, there is a good chance you love sports. Making the switch to sports journalism can put the spark back into your workday.
Ensuring job security in today’s working environment is no longer an option. Fortunately, job security won’t be an issue if you are a sports journalist. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are roughly 5,400 openings for these roles available annually.
Moreover, sports journalists receive handsome compensation depending on their skills, abilities, academic background, and work experience. According to Payscale, US sports journalists earn $31,000 to $121,000 annually and an average salary of $49,870.
Earn opportunities to travel
There are a few professions that let you travel the world while working. Sports journalism is one of them. Sports journalists can earn several traveling opportunities, letting them see the world and get paid simultaneously.
Depending on your assigned coverage, you may head from different cities or around the country. You can also travel outside the country if you are assigned to cover international sports events. While most days are spent traveling, some will be in front of your computer, searching for information and writing engaging articles.
Work towards becoming a sports journalist today
Doing something you love increases your likelihood of feeling more motivated and achieving a sense of purpose and meaning in your work. It also makes you want to take courses to harness your abilities and improve your overall skill set.
Being happy at work and loving what you do enhances your overall job performance and satisfaction. If you’re considering a change in career focus, you can start working towards a rewarding and thrilling career in sports journalism today. If you are passionate about sports, research, and writing, this career path will allow you to do what you love while earning a living.