How to become a sports journalist (Skills and definition)
Updated 23 May 2023
Sports journalists work as specialised news reporters who focus on covering sporting events and other sports-related topics. They follow a similar career to traditional journalists and know how to write compelling stories, edit content to make it more readable and proofread to ensure there are no errors and that all information provided is accurate and impartial. Learning more about how to become a sports journalist can help you determine if the role is suitable for your interests and goals.
In this article, we explore what a sports journalist does, review how to become a sports journalist and highlight the core skills for the role.
What does a sports journalist do?
A sports journalist writes and reports on various news and feature stories that focus on different sports and sporting events. They might specialise in a specific sport, such as football or rugby, or work as a generalist who covers all sporting events. Some of the main responsibilities of sports journalists include:
attending various sporting events to provide coverage in real-time or as recorded reporting
cultivating a network of industry and sports contacts to use as sources for stories
performing fact-checking and verification of stories and sources to ensure accuracy
creating content across different media formats, including written stories, radio, online and television
working within deadlines to ensure stories are ready for print or release
presenting unbiased views through their stories to provide a comprehensive view of the event
focusing on objectivity and removing as much bias from reporting as possible
working within a team of editors, photographers, videographers and sub-editors to create professionally crafted content across various media
How to become a sports journalist
If you want to learn how to become a sports journalist, you can follow these steps:
1. Consider a specialisation or area of sports journalism
Finding the right type of sports journalism for you is useful as it lets you focus on a specific area, such as working on live broadcasts or focusing on writing feature articles. Choosing what type of journalism interests you most may help you decide on a degree programme. There are a few different areas to consider, such as:
Broadcast: This involves working in television broadcasting, where you cover live events and provide sports coverage and analysis. You might be on the scene at a live sporting event or in the studio covering it.
Magazine: This type of sports journalism focuses on writing short or long-form pieces of journalism about sports in magazines. This might include features that cover interesting topics or topical news stories about current events in the sporting industry.
Newspaper: This focuses on fast-paced news that spans local, national and international sports. It involves interviewing various industry contacts, sports personalities and industry experts to cover current events in sports via newspapers.
Digital: Digital sports journalism looks to cover sports stories for online platforms, such as websites and social media channels. You might create audio, video or written content that provides news about current events, developments and interesting stories in sports.
2. Undertake an accredited journalism degree
Most sports journalists hold a relevant undergraduate degree that includes National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) accreditation. These courses give you hands-on experience and academic learning opportunities to develop your skills in sports journalism. You learn how to use shorthand, how to cover stories ethically and the laws around journalism. Entry requirements are A-Level grades or equivalent in English and a few other subjects of your choice as a minimum.
3. Obtain work experience
Either during your course or in your own time, it's important to find work experience opportunities to develop industry contacts and better understand the sports journalism industry. You might receive shadowing opportunities through your university course, but if you don't, you might also find opportunities by reaching out to prominent news agencies or broadcasters. Most of these opportunities are voluntary, unpaid positions, but they are helpful as you can learn what it takes to work in sports journalism and gain an idea about what the right specialism is for you.
Alternatively, you can look into freelance journalism to start covering stories in your own free time. This is increasingly popular thanks to online platforms that provide freelancing opportunities. You're paid for the work and learn how to cover stories and create professional content in your chosen area of sports journalism. It's also an excellent way to develop a working portfolio of work to impress employers.
4. Find an entry-level job in sports journalism
Once you're ready to enter the industry, look into entry-level roles such as a junior reporter. This provides you with a good point of entry into the industry and lets you hone your journalistic skills. You cover stories assigned to you by an editor, work on your own stories and learn how to edit and sub-edit content for release. It's also a good opportunity to develop your industry contacts for you to advance your career.
5. Work towards a niche or specialism
Once you've established yourself in an entry-level sports journalist role, try to find a niche or specialism to work towards. This might focus on a specific sport, such as football or rugby, or on a particular area of journalism, such as live broadcasting or digital sports journalism. There are lots of different roles to choose from, including:
Sub-editors are responsible for the overall layout and design of a news story and ensuring it makes sense. They work closely with the reporters to help ensure the content is accurate and any edits made don't impact the story itself. These professionals use software to layout and design stories for newspapers, magazines and online platforms. They also provide editing for the content itself, making sure the work is readable and doesn't have any spelling mistakes.
Sports journalist photographers attend live sporting events and take photographs of key moments . They often work with magazines and newspapers to cover live events, such as sports matches, tournaments or awards ceremonies. It requires a keen attention to detail, excellent photography skills and a journalistic background to find the stories from the events. They also edit the photographs using specialist digital editing software to help ensure the images are high quality, balanced and focused.
Press office work
Press officers work with sports clubs, brands and companies to help ensure the brand image and media messaging casts the club or brand in a positive light. They create press releases to announce big news items, such as new signings. They also work with other journalists to release stories to various media outlets to control narratives and make sure the brand receives the right attention. Press officers understand the sport they work in, have the right industry contacts to release news and have a solid understanding of optics and how stories impact branding. It requires strong communication skills and marketing abilities.
Sports radio presenters cover live events, discuss current events and provide in-depth analysis of sports teams and personalities. They create a community of listeners who listen to their points of view and reporting. It's still a thriving industry to work in, but it requires excellent communication skills and the ability to perform well under pressure, as most of the reporting and commentary is live.
Related: How to become a football commentator
Regional sports journalists work in newsrooms to cover regional sports stories and current events. They work within the community to find new and developing news before reporting on them for a newspaper. It's a traditional form of sports journalism that relies on good communication skills, and analytical and reporting skills to find the story and report on it effectively. These types of sports journalists often develop strong relationships with local clubs and teams, so rapport-building is also important for the role.
Website editors are responsible for the online content for a media organisation, ensuring the online platform is easy to read and filled with relevant content. They work with a team of journalists to create and post compelling news stories about sporting events, providing coverage across different mediums, including broadcast and written news. They also manage aspects like user engagement and web traffic to help ensure they are bringing in a lot of visitors.
What are the core skills of a sports journalist?
Sports journalists use a blend of technical skills to operate recording equipment and edit stories, and soft skills to connect with individuals and develop stories. It's a varied role that requires excellent interpersonal skills and the flexibility to use new and emerging technologies. Some of the core skills sports journalists benefit from include:
strong communication skills and excellent use of the English language to report on events and create stories
solid technical skills, like camera operation, graphic design and video editing
knowledge of different sports and sports personalities
interpersonal and relationship-building skills to nurture contacts and get good stories
excellent research skills to find interesting stories and points of view
attention to detail for fact-checking and source verification
Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
Explore more articles
- How to become a dental hygienist (With FAQs)
- Travel agents qualifications (And how to become one)
- How to become a cyber security specialist (With tips)
- What does a sales administrator do? Plus skills and salary
- Guide on how to become a Chief Operating Officer (COO)
- What career is right for me? A guide to finding a job path
- 10 cool companies to work for (benefits and characteristics)
- 11 GCSE jobs to consider (With salaries and duties)
- What does a quality engineer do? With definition and skills
- What to do with a health psychology degree (with job list)
- What is a business psychologist? (Plus course programmes)
- How to become a tipper driver step by step (With skills)