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What 8 young sports journalists want students to know about starting their careers

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So you want to find a job as a sports journalist. What can you be doing to set yourself up for success while at school? What resources can you take advantage of?

Eight sports missionaries in their first few years on the job shared valuable advice and tips for current students. And if you’re looking for a news job, much of this advice applies outside sports, too.

Bailey Johnson: High school sports reporter, The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch
University of Michigan, 2020

My favorite piece of advice to give student consumers is simple: meet your deadlines, file clean copy and be pleasant to work with. Being reliable and easy to work with will take you so much further than you can imagine. Also, never say no to an assignment — within reason, of course! Being well-rounded is a huge asset in today’s landscape, and stepping back from your normal beat to cover something different is an unbeatable way to get refreshed and come back with new ideas.

Wilson Alexander: LSU beat writer, The Advocate | The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
University of Georgia, 2018

Do the work. Like anything else in life, we become better writers and reporters by doing the job over and over again. So, join the student newspaper, freelance for another publication and apply to internships. If you’re doing the work, you’ll set yourself up for success. And when you’re not working, read good stories! That helps, too.

Ben Pope: Chicago Blackhawks beat reporter, Chicago Sun-Times
Northwestern University, 2019

Talk to everyone you can. I’m an introvert who was originally drawn to this industry by a love of sports and a talent for writing, but the interpersonal side of reporting has always been my weakness. Interviewing players is a skill even an introvert can eventually master, but I’ve learned sports journalism at the professional level requires so many more interactions than that. Developing good relationships with coaches, front-office employees, broadcasters and other media members, team staffers and even stadium/arena workers is not only crucial to being as informed as possible for your reporting, but also to feel legitimate and comfortable, and to be able to enjoy and operate smoothly while on the day-to-day grind.

Christina Long: Arkansas Razorbacks beat writer, Southwest (Arkansas) Times Record/USA Today Network
University of Missouri, 2021

You should absolutely connect with your student paper about covering sports for them if you aren’t already. And once you’re covering a team, go to everything you reasonably can. At risk of sounding like a strength coach, so much of getting better at this work is about reps. Remember not only to cover the team, but listen to and read the reporters around you. What do they talk about or note during the game? What are they asking post-game, and how are they asking it? What do you like (or dislike) about their coverage? As you build confidence in covering games, look for enterprise stories that go beyond what you’ve seen on the field or the court.

And never be afraid to ask for help. Whether that’s asking for directions to the press box or asking a friend or mentor to read a feature before you file, people will surprise you with their willingness to guide you and you’ll learn a ton. If you aren’t already a student member of the Association for Women in Sports Media (worthwhile for men, too) or Associated Press Sports Editors, look into a student membership and/or student chapters on your campus. Those two organizations have gotten me nearly every professional opportunity I’ve had. My current editor knew me from my entries into the APSE student contest, and now I work for him. The National Association of Black Journalists, National Association of Hispanic Journalists and Asian American Journalists Association are not sports-specific, but they are just some of the invaluable identity-based organizations out there that help at all levels.

Kaelen Jones: Staff writer, The Ringer
Arizona State University, 2018

The most important things I’ve learned in my four years since college are: 1.) You have to give your full effort. 2.) You have to always do things that are in your best interest. 3.) You have to know what you want to accomplish, and walk confidently in knowing that. (To clarify, this does not mean be a jerk to people; you’d be shocked at how humble some of the world’s best customers are).

The easiest thing to do from that list is No. 1. Finding exactly what drives you and makes you happy is very important to identify, and plays directly into how much effort you can and are willing to give.

That helps with the second thing. I’ve learned first-hand that media companies are concerned more with their bottom line than they are your development or well-being. Always look out for yourself and be proactive whenever you join a publication. In this field, it’s important to develop your skill level (watch/read talented people and study what they do well).

It’s also important to put yourself in positions where your talent can gain exposure, because that leads to opportunities and relationships. Reach out to people you admire. If prominent names are visiting campus, seek them and ask questions. If there are programs or internships that would elevate your resume or—more importantly—get you in the building around decision-makers, apply to them.

Giana Han: Philadelphia Flyers beat reporter, The Philadelphia Inquirer
Penn State University, 2019

When I first started looking for full-time jobs, there were seven openings across the country. There were some in Idaho, Montana and Alabama — I didn’t even know where Idaho and Montana were on the map. But I applied to all of them, and the only one I interviewed for was the one I got.

It was extremely hard to move so far from home, and Alabama was a culture shock. Many people said they wouldn’t have done it. But stepping out of my comfort zone made me a better person and a better journalist, and it was the No. 1 reason I got my current job. Along the way, I’ve learned that if you don’t look at any job or task as below you, that openness and humility will go a long way. My college education only provided the absolute basics, and my internships helped a bit more, but most of my young career has been about asking questions and learning from my mistakes.

Nick Kelly: Alabama football and basketball reporter, The Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News/USA TODAY Network
University of Missouri, 2020

Even if you don’t feel completely ready for an internship, a job, an interview, give it a shot anyway. You’ll be amazed by what you can pull off when you just say yes and figure out the rest along the way. Now, it’s OK to say no if you don’t feel like something is the right opportunity for you. In fact, that can be healthy. But don’t let fear be the reason why you might turn something down. Jump in and try to tell some great stories. Oh, and drink some water, too. You write better when you’re hydrated.

Emily Giambalvo: Sports writer, The Washington Post
University of Georgia, 2018

I covered college football as a student, and I got a college beat job after I graduated so it felt similar in terms of the work. But the pressure I put on myself was much different, and I struggled a lot with feeling insecure (and still do). I don’t think that’s something that goes away easily. This is a corny sports cliche, but I started to feel better when I told myself I had to ‘play my own game.’ I try to remember that I don’t have to cover a beat or do this job in the exact same way as others. I just want to do it in a way that feels comfortable to me and uses my strengths.

I also hate the word “networking” and wish college students didn’t think it was such a big deal. It’s valuable to talk to you admire, but it should only be looked at through that lens. Don’t ‘network’ because you think that person is going to be the reason you get a job one day. I think if you do good work and focus on being a generally good human you’ll have what you need to be successful.

Major American newsrooms have called themselves objective for generations, but their coverage has always been defined by homogenous teams that fail to account for race, gender, class, disability, and sexuality. The Objective is a nonprofit newsroom holding journalism accountable for past and current systemic biases in reporting and newsroom practices. For media critique, journalism events, and Q&As with industry leaders, subscribe to their newsletters.

💌 Last week’s newsletter: Getting out of your comfort zone: Tips for integrating sports into your newsroom

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