The idea of sitting in a press box writing a game story for a newspaper or standing on the sidelines of an NFL game waiting to talk to a star player sounds like a glamorous job for many. These two things are just a sample of the duties people working in sports media have on a daily basis. But just like every other job, you need to have a certain set of skills to succeed in this field. You can’t just wake up one day and step in front of the camera or be published in Sports Illustrated; you have to be made for the job.
So what are some of the skills you should have if you want to work in sports media? First of all, an important part of working in sports media is having good writing skills. You should have an idea of how to structure an article and have good grammar skills, and you need to be able to communicate effectively and clearly.
“Working in sports media is not about loving sports,” said Jonathan Bombulie, who covers the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League for The Citizens’ Voice in Wilkes-Barre, PA. “It’s about being able to communicate a message to the public.”
Josh Smith of The Hockey Writers, one of the largest independent sports websites on the Internet, agrees. “Get into the career because you love writing…it’s the love of capturing a story that will get you a career in sports media.”
Time management is another important part. Journalism has a lot of deadlines, and it’s important to be able to stick to a schedule and handle multiple projects, and Bombulie says if someone can’t handle that, it’s going to be a major drawback. Matt Miller, the founder of NFL draft website New Era Scouting and the NFL draft lead writer for Bleacher Report, added that being a self-starter is another important part of managing your time effectively.
“There are days when you don’t want to watch that game again or you don’t want to go the extra step to research a topic, but having that discipline and the drive to excel are so critical.” Miller said.
“Being able to set a schedule and follow it can be very tough, but it’s also one of the great perks of being a writer. You just have to be disciplined enough to actually maintain and adhere to that schedule. Even when something really good comes on TV.”
To add to that, Miller said that someone interested in a sports media career should consider whether or not they have a family, as the time and physical demands of a sports career needs to consider a spouse’s schedule and family plans for the future. These days, technology is moving at a fast pace and both Miller and Bombulie feel that sports media professionals need to not only write well, but be up to date on all the latest technologies as well.
“The biggest thing, I think, is staying on top of technology, which changes rapidly in the media field. The more software and hardware you’re comfortable with and the more tasks you can complete, the better your job prospects will be.” Bombulie said.
Miller said that some of the most important software for writers to know is the photo editing program Photoshop and Final Cut Pro for video editing.
“There are thousands of talented writers out there, but if you can market yourself as a total package, if definitely helps.” Miller said.
So, if you still want in, Bombulie suggests it’s best to start off getting any experience any way you can. It can be with a newspaper, sports website, professional team or a college team, even if that company is not a large brand. In media, he explained, employers will be more impressed with practical work experience than a high grade point average. Once you have a sports media job, the work doesn’t stop. It’s important to keep networking and make connections, as well as being aware of any opportunities down the road, a point made by Michael Rappaport of The Hockey Writers. Bombulie added that knowing others is the best way to get a foot in the door.
“Most of my big opportunities came about because of luck, timing and perseverance.” Smith said.
Mike Gwizdala, also of The Hockey Writers, said a degree in a communications field only gets you so far. He feels writers should think outside the box and try to find a niche to stand out and knows from experience this is not an easy field to break into and stay in. With so much sportswriting on the Internet, Miller said it’s important to have a thick skin and be able to handle criticism not just from editors, but from a wide audience as well.
“The more you write, the more people criticize your work,” Miller said. “Being able to read, hear and see people tearing apart what you worked hours (or days) on isn’t easy, but developing the confidence in yourself and your work to be able to brush those people off is something that you have to develop on the job. Finally, the biggest thing is to keep working hard. Media is not a 9-to-5 job, and even though being around sports can be exciting, it’s still a job with high expectations.
“Only a small fraction of people working in sports media have glamorous jobs that pay well,” Bombulie said. “Most work long, inconvenient hours for mediocre wages. It takes a lot of talent, effort and breaks to move up the ladder.
I’m not saying it’s a field to avoid. It can be exciting and rewarding. But have a Plan B in case the lifestyle isn’t for you.”
Sports media isn’t for everyone, but if you love to write, staying on top of the latest technology and aren’t afraid of the long hours and paying your dues to get in, there is a spot for you in the industry.