A Comprehensive Guide to the Different Sports Journalism Career Paths

Sports journalism is a fun and exciting career for sports enthusiasts interested in writing and communication. However, it is worth noting that a sports journalist’s job goes beyond watching and reporting on athletes and events.

Sports journalism is the art of capturing behavior. You must know who you are writing for and what you are good at. As a sports journalist, you will record what athletes and sports personnel do. This means discovering what moves them, motivates them and makes them human. If that sounds exciting, then keep scrolling, as this article will outline the different sports journalism career paths once you enter the industry.

Why become a sports journalist?

Before going deep into the different career paths of sports journalism, here are several reasons you may want to become a sports journalist.

Make a living doing what you love

If you are thinking about a sports journalism career, there is a good chance you love sports. So, why not turn your passion into a living? Many people want to escape the 9 to 5 grind and make their passion into their livelihood. As a sports journalist, you can certainly do that as you will be exposed to the action and the lives of athletes on and off the court.

Doing something you are passionate about will motivate you and help provide a sense of purpose and meaning to your work. It also keeps you curious, drives you to seek more knowledge and skills, and puts you on the road to success. More importantly, when you love your job, you deliver better-quality work.

Earn more opportunities to travel

Travel opportunities at work will let you see places you may not have seen before and take in new cultures. One of the perks of being a sports journalist is the enormous opportunities to travel, allowing you to see the globe and get paid while doing so.

Depending on your assigned coverage, you may travel from different towns or across the country. You can also enter the global sports scene to see the world further. Although most days are spent traveling, some will be in front of a desktop looking for and writing about human interest topics.

Sports journalism is flexible                      

Flexible work is no longer limited to gig workers and freelancers. As the world has adapted to the changes brought by the pandemic, more employees now want flexible work schedules, and a sports journalism career offers plenty of flexibility. This means you’ll have complete control over where and when to do your job. You can even work at home, ensuring you meet the required deadlines while following the highest journalistic practices and standards. 

Job security

According to recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job growth for sports analysts, reporters and journalists will grow by 6% from 2020 to 2030, with a forecast of 5,400 job openings for these roles annually.

Sports journalists are also well-paid depending on their work experience and academic background. Payscale reveals a US sports journalist can earn an average base salary of around $45,000.

What are the career paths in sports journalism?

Like other types of journalism, sports journalism has multiple career paths, and knowing each one comprehensively will help you carve a following in your chosen niche. Here are some of the different career paths you can pursue in sports journalism.

Print sports journalist

Sports journalism and how sports journalists share news have changed drastically over the last two decades. While television and radio changed the sports media landscape, the internet has opened various media sources, completely reshaping how sports fans receive and share the news.

It is not uncommon for print sports journalism to often be overlooked in today’s digital era. However, print sports journalism won’t go away anytime soon. Regardless of the rise of the internet, recent data shows magazine readership has increased by 4.3% over the last five years, which is a slight increase but an increase nonetheless in today’s smartphone-driven era.

Print sports journalism is divided into magazine and newspaper writing. Depending on the publication, you will write features that cover exciting topics or topical news stories about sports events for a magazine. Conversely, writing for a newspaper is relatively different because it concentrates on fast-paced news that covers local, national and international sports.

In addition to the excitement of interviewing industry contacts and sports personalities, what makes newspaper sports journalism a thrilling career option is the short deadlines that come with the job. This challenge is what draws many to print journalism. On average, you have 15 to 20 minutes to collect and analyze facts and write the article after covering an event.

Online sports journalist

Online sports journalists research, write and deliver content for websites and social media platforms. Like print, this type of sports journalism also requires reporters to be quick on publishing content, or else you’ll lose the engagement of sports fans to your competitors. The content you will create can vary from audio and videos to articles that provide news about current events, industry developments and exciting stories in sports.

However, it is worth noting that how quickly you write a sports article is not enough. As a digital sports journalist, you must also be able to synthesize and verify the information into an engaging narrative that will appeal to your audience. This requires excellent writing skills and thinking critically about what’s happening around you. More often than not, you will work with editors to identify the most exciting stories of the day, week or month.

A digital sports journalist’s responsibilities include organizing and editing written content to enhance clarity, consistency and readability. In other cases, you will also edit photos and videos to make your written content more appealing and engaging to your sports following. You will also learn how to use the company’s specific software and computer programs.

Other than writing, editing and research skills, you must also possess excellent social media skills to excel in this area of sports journalism. This way, you can promote your work and interact with the audience. By engaging your readership, you can learn new perspectives and evaluate how your articles impact the general sports community. While engaging with your audience, you will also learn how social media drives businesses such as online sports journalism and how to make best use of it. 

Broadcast sports journalist

Broadcast sports journalists research, investigate and present radio and television news and current affairs content. They aim to deliver information in a balanced, accurate and exciting way through live reporting, news bulletins, documentaries and news programs. Broadcast sports journalists often occupy various roles in the industry, including correspondent, producer, news anchor, reporter and editor.

While duties and responsibilities differ from role to role and between radio and television, a broadcast journalist will typically be involved in the following:

  • Brainstorming ideas for sports articles and features and following leads from sports organizations, athletes, press conferences and other sources
  • Pitching ideas to commissioners and editors
  • Writing scripts for reports, headlines and bulletins
  • Choosing suitable locations, photos and audio and exercising news judgment on the best angle to approach a story
  • Researching, confirming and combining information to support a story using relevant sources such as statistics, interviews, archives and databases
  • Determining required resources and deploying and handling technical staff for location shoots, including camera crew and sound operators

Depending on the news organization you are employed at, working hours for broadcast sports journalists include regular unsocial hours. This means there are days when you will start early to recap yesterday’s sports events on breakfast radio and television or work late nights for game coverage. As a broadcast sports journalist, you must also feel comfortable with thousands and sometimes millions of people looking at your face or listening to your voice.

In short, you must learn to stay calm under pressure. This is because, often, you will find yourself reporting live from the scene where a sporting event occurred. There can be several distractions around the reporter, and staying focused amid these interruptions is critical to succeeding in the long run.

Freelance sports journalist

Freelance sports journalists are self-employed individuals providing stories to a news organization with which they are not permanently employed. Depending on the agreement with the publication, a freelance sports journalist can be paid by the word, the hour or the output itself.

Although they are not permanently employed by the organization they choose to work with, freelance sports journalists are still required to meet the same standards as fully employed media members. Typically, a freelance sports journalist will pitch stories to a commissioning editor. They agree on a rate from there, and the reporter completes the story.

More often than not, sports reporters begin their careers working freelance to get their first few bylines. Then, they will use these bylines to create a portfolio or website and demonstrate their previous work to potential employers. In doing so, they build their credibility and improve their professional reputation, allowing them to take on more gigs. 

Alternatively, client referral through freelance journalists is another way to attract more clients. Find sports writing groups online and participate in group discussions by asking relevant questions. You can also become a guest writer for popular sports blogs to increase your chances of being noticed by editors and other sports reporters. 

What makes freelance sports journalism attractive to up-and-coming reporters is the flexibility that comes with it. Freelance sports journalists not only have the flexibility to determine their work hours, but they can also choose which news subjects they would like to cover and how. On top of that, they also get paid for selecting their tools and methods and exactly which news organizations they would like to work with and to what extent.

Sports photographer

Also known as sports photojournalists, sports photographers shoot images of athletes and athletic events. They work for websites, magazines, newspapers and broadcast media companies. These professionals are equipped with the knowledge of sports, the artistic ability to capture the moment and the technical skill required to work with camera equipment.

In short, a sports photographer’s role is to relate a sports article through photography. Their aim is not only to take photos but to also hold the images up to the strictest journalistic standards to communicate the moment to their audience. Sports photojournalists usually work on a commission basis, which means their earning potential can vary depending on the sports event and the publication.

Typically, the more prominent the sporting event is, the higher the pay for sports photojournalists. In other words, sports photographers taking photos of an NCAA game will earn less than those hired to shoot the National Basketball Association Finals. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, sports photographers earn an average salary of $36,280 annually.

How to become a sports journalist

By now, you have a comprehensive idea of the different career paths of sports journalists and want to start your journey toward becoming one. This section will offer a step-by-step guide to becoming a sports journalist.

Learn more about the sports journalism industry

The first step is to learn more about your chosen career. Like the weather, fashion and even business, sport is a specialized area of journalism. In other words, you must learn about the specific sports and the practice of covering them for online media, broadcast and print media.

One way of doing this is to create a sports-related blog to show off your skills and get hands-on reporting experience. In your blog, you can write detailed commentary, results and highlights from sporting events you attend. A rule of thumb when writing blog articles is to fill your stories with interviews you have conducted with athletes and coaches to make them more credible.

However, it is worth noting that to be a good sports journalist, merely reporting the news is not enough. It is helpful to learn from other sports journalists who have come before you. Reading the work of professional sports journalists will expose you to different reporting and writing styles and the skills it takes to be successful in the field.

Earn an accredited sports journalism degree

Most sports journalists hold a relevant journalism degree accredited by the National Council for Training Journalists from prestigious academic institutions such as St. Bonaventure University. While working towards their degree, aspiring sports journalists will take courses that provide them with hands-on experience and academic learning opportunities to expand their journalistic skills.

They will learn how to cover stories ethically, the different journalism laws and how to use shorthand. Some courses focus on interview techniques, production, game commentary, photography, news writing and reporting. Depending on your chosen academic institution, you will also take general education courses, such as English composition.

After earning your undergraduate degree, you can choose to work or further your studies and pursue a master’s degree. By earning a master’s degree in sports journalism, you can expand your career options and gain a competitive edge among other job-seekers. Moreover, it also provides you with subject interest expertise, which is critical in a niche market such as the sports journalism industry.

Obtain work experience

Once you are ready to enter the industry, seek entry-level positions such as a junior sports reporter. This gives you an excellent starting point and enables you to polish your journalistic skills. While working in your first sports journalism position, you will be covering stories assigned to you by an editor and learning how to edit and sub-edit content for distribution.

This is also an excellent way to develop your industry contacts and build your portfolio to advance your career. Like any other industry, an impressive network in sports can help you access leads and opportunities within your field. For example, your network can inform you about a possible trade, leading you to be the first sports scribe to speculate about it.

Some places where you can network include games, industry events and award shows. After you’ve established yourself in the industry, you can try and find a niche or specialism to work towards. This might concentrate on a particular sport such as tennis, rugby or football, or a particular field of sports journalism like online, broadcasting or print media.

Kickoff an exciting career in sports journalism today

As you can see, sports journalism is an extensive field with multiple roles to suit everyone. Use the steps mentioned above as you work towards your sports journalism degree today.

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