So you want to be a sports writer?
by Gerry Cox, Former Chairman of the FWA and Chief Executive, Hayters Teamwork Sports Agency.
The life of a football writer is not always as exciting as it may appear. It is not all about flying around the world being paid to watch football and write about it – there are plenty of hours spent hanging around cold, wet training grounds waiting for an interview that may never happen.
If you are determined to get into sportswriting, however, be aware that it is a very competitive world.
National newspapers, local papers, magazines, websites, television and radio stations and press agencies are all hungry for football-related stories. But while there are more media outlets than ever before, never has there been so much competition for jobs in the business.
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on football and most people think they can write a match report, but only the most determined, talented or lucky few get to write about the sport for a living.
Gerry Cox is the Chief Executive of Hayters Teamwork Sports Agency, one of Britain’s leading freelance sportswriting agencies and a stepping stone to the national media. Here he outlines some tips for budding sportswriters:
Football may be a multi-million pound industry, with the top players earning more in a week than most people do in a year, but sportswriting is not usually so well rewarded. A starting salary for a junior reporter on a local paper may be below £18,000, while experienced reporters outside the nationals may not earn more than £30,000.
Only a tiny percentage of sportswriters earn the sort of executive salaries that could be made in other areas of the media, and job security is not always high – a change of editor often means a change of staff, like a new manager often means a shake up of playing staff in a football club.
The biggest rewards are often in terms of the lifestyle, with the luckiest journalists travelling the world reporting on the biggest games and interviewing superstar footballers, with their opinions read by millions.
Most editors or potential employers look for these key attributes in potential sportswriters:
Good knowledge and enthusiasm for the sport.
A decent level of literacy, although degree level English is not required!
The right personality – drive, determination and the ability to get on with people.
Increasingly editors are looking for recruits who are well-versed and highly-engaged in social media, too.
If you do not think you qualify on all these counts, journalism may not be for you. A tick against all the boxes, however, is no guarantee that you will make it as a sportswriter.
Routes into sports writing
Local papers / agencies.
The traditional route, still favoured by many editors, is for reporters to cut their teeth on a local paper or news agency. Starting at a young age, often after GCSE or A levels, junior reporters are expected to learn their trade with a thorough apprenticeship that usually includes day- or block-release to study for National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) qualifications.
University Journalism courses.
These can be degree level (usually three years) or postgraduate (1 year) crammers, at universities that offer journalism courses, often NCTJ-accredited. Ten years or so there were only a handful around the country – now that number has increased.
Independent intensive courses.
The NCTJ and private institutions offer short and intensive courses (16-20 weeks) in journalism. They can be quite expensive.
Sports-related magazines or websites may take on a limited number of junior staff, often starting out with menial tasks, making tea or data input, with the promise of giving some journalism training and learning ‘on the job’. There is no structured career path or recognised qualifications, but for the really determined this can be another route into a successful sportswriting job.
There is no age limit, in theory, and there are plenty of examples of people who switch careers or change jobs to go into sportswriting. But as a basic rule of thumb, the later in life you start, the harder it will be.
We at the Football Writers’ Association are always happy to help budding journalists, and have a mentoring scheme and student writer awards. See here: https://footballwriters.co.uk/students/
If you are interested in a career in sportswriting, you can contact the following organisations:
- Newspaper Publishers Association (national papers)
Tel: 020 7207 2200
- National Council for the Training of Journalists
- National Association of Press Agencies
- The Newspaper Society (representing local papers)
- Periodical Publishers Association (magazines)
- UK Press Gazette (journalism trade magazine with jobs)
- Hold The Front Page (journalism website with jobs)
- dotjournalism (journalism website with jobs)