Last Updated on June 22, 2021
Sports Media, Journalism, and Broadcasting
How to break into a career in sports journalism
Do you have a passion for sport? A gift for storytelling and a love of the written or spoken word? If so, sports journalism could be an excellent career choice.
Sports journalists bring depth, nuance, and humanity to the sports we enjoy in a variety of ways. They use in-depth statistics to paint the picture of how players change the game in subtle ways.
Sports journalists tell us what to expect from the players we follow. They remind us of the significance of athletic achievements and paint pictures of the arc and narrative of each player, coach, and team. By doing so, they make these “larger than life” people seem more real and accessible to the audience.
The portraits that they paint draw us in and invest us in the outcomes of games and seasons. When we consume the work of skilled sports journalists, their love and enthusiasm is so powerful that it weaves the sports we follow into the very fabric of our lives.
It is undeniable that the journalism industry as a whole has been in serious decline since the Great Recession of 2008. Most Americans remain unaware of exactly how dire the media industry’s financial situation is and employment at local news organizations. Despite that troubling trend, what many don’t realize is that the demand for sports-related content has grown with each decade and the audience is now larger and more engaged than ever.
The explosion of internet media has altered the landscape, and there are now a wider variety of outlets and many new kinds of opportunities for sports journalism graduates with the right skills.
The emergence of social media means that fans, players, and journalists are more connected than ever and there is more of a demand for sports-related content than ever. So if you are willing to invest in education and equip yourself with the right skills – and if you are resilient and determined to make a career out of your passion – now could be a great time to start a career as a sports journalist.
What jobs are available to sports journalists?
Sports journalism encompasses everyone from newspaper reporters covering local high school games to sportscasters covering national and international events to independent bloggers writing think pieces for carefully cultivated audiences. There’s more diversity in the range of sports journalism careers than ever, so whether you want to focus on the stats, deliver the play-by-play, write long form think pieces, or interview players courtside, you’re sure to find a rewarding career in the industry. Here are a few examples of sports journalism jobs:
From local newspapers to cable networks and more, reporters bring us so much more than the statistics and final scores. They dig deep to find compelling storylines through interviews, research on all levels of the organization, from the front office to the players and coaches. They shine light on overlooked aspects of the team to find stories of perseverance, giving back to the community, and how sports and fandom bring people together.
Reporters learn to work well under pressure to deliver high quality work on time and on point. The advantages of being a sports reporter include that you get to fully immerse yourself in sports fandom. Occupational hazards can include a lack of schedule flexibility, rigid deadlines, and lackluster compensation packages at the lowest ranks.
However for those who dream about unparalleled access to the sport and players you love, the perks can far outweigh the challenges. And for those who have worked their way to the top tier of the industry – who have already paid their dues and are able to enjoy more independence – the compensation can be very respectable.
Although there has been a general trend of fewer ‘traditional’ sports reporters employed by newspapers, abundant career opportunities exist. Those who plan carefully, invest in specific education and training, and seek out the right advice and mentorship will find a growing market for their services.
For those who genuinely enjoy the thrill of live sports and watching every game, being a sports reporter might well be a dream job. It can provide you with the ability to channel your ever-burning passion for the game into an outlet that will bring fellow fans together and allow you to do what you love.
Like sports reporters, sportswriters spend their days and nights immersed in sports, and there is a lot of overlap between these roles. However, sportswriters are tasked with taking all the stats, stories, and dynamics within each game and making something of it.
They will analyze each team and each season, and use in-depth research to develop storylines that bring more fans into the team. Whether they are writing for a tv broadcast, a magazine, or website, sportswriters share the incredible backstories behind great athletic performances.
Sportswriters show us that our sports heroes are real people with the same challenges as everyone else. But they are individuals who have often overcome great odds to reach the elite level through talent, determination, and coaching.
These heroes have been buoyed by the support of their friends, families, and teams, and communities. Through their inspiring performances and together with their teammates, local sports teams become an important part of the identity of fans and entire cities.
Sports teams and athletes tend to lead society toward social change, contributing to the evolution of nations. Look no further than the social justice movement of 2020, when athletes very quickly found themselves in an incredibly important and influential position for the country following the death of George Floyd.
In times like these throughout the history of the United States, sportswriters find themselves involved in even larger discussions. Writers suddenly find themselves articulating narratives and helping to paint portraits of the players they know so well as they navigate uncharted waters. This type of perspective helps fans empathize on a deep level with what players are grappling with. It can help make abstract events much more personal when our familiar heroes are being affected. And it can make the work of sportswriters become a part of the evolution of our nation.
Entry level salaries for sportswriters begin around $35,000, but well established professionals who have been in the industry for over a decade can make a significant amount more [source].
Sports Editors take the raw material from writers and reporters, find the most compelling threads of what they are trying to say, and connect the dots in a way that makes the stories come to life as finished products.
They are the gatekeepers of what gets said, printed, and posted. Sports editors have a next-level command of language, an ability to turn chaos into order, and a knack for understanding how the audience will feel and understand what’s being said.
Sports editors almost always start out as writers, so combining an English degree with a degree in journalism or communications makes a lot of sense for aspiring editors. Sports editors have the kind of keen understanding of their teams and fan bases that can only be developed after years in the industry. They know what kind of content that captivates their audience, and they help the writers on staff deliver it.
Sports producers coordinate the work of the entire media team. Among the staff members directed by the producer are anchors, correspondents, commentators, camera people, editors, sound and video technicians, and more. It takes every single one of these roles to deliver live coverage of sports events on the radio, television, or streaming services.
They are also responsible for pre-game shows, post-game shows, documentaries, special reports, and televised events such as draft nights.
Producers have to be big-picture thinkers, skilled team leaders, gifted communicators, and have an understanding of how myriad pieces come together to form an exciting and compelling experience that fans can’t turn away from.
Sports producers are well-served by Master’s degrees in sports communications or sports journalism as a start, followed by extensive experience in a variety of related roles. This is generally a well paid, high pressure job not for the faint of heart.
Expect long days and late nights, frequent scrambles, and lots of problem solving. It certainly helps if you have a deep connection to the sports world and can relate to what intense sports fandom feels like.
If you have the ability to lead others to deliver their best work under tight deadlines, and an understanding of the creative and technical sides of mass media and communications, you may be an ideal sports producer.
Sports anchors provide segments in news broadcasts about local, national, and international sports on tv and radio stations and networks, as well as streaming outlets. On larger, more popular outlets, they may have a team of writers and producers giving them scripted content.
At smaller enterprises – small market local sports anchors, for example – they are likely responsible for writing and editing their own content. Some anchors may prefer and be given leeway to write their own scripts even at larger outlets.
For this reason, they are jacks and jills of all trades. They must be able to write, edit, and speak well while looking and sounding their best. Most sports anchors work at local tv and radio stations where the pay may be low to average, but where there is a shot at advancement to larger platforms.
Sports anchors make sports accessible to people who may not have the time to tune into every game and give us a taste of the excitement by talking us through highlight reels and keeping us informed on trades and events around each league.
Sports Broadcaster (aka. Sports Commentator or Sportscaster)
Many of the classic sports personalities we love have been sports broadcasters, also known as sports commentators. They are the constant voices that accompany each game, and watching sports just wouldn’t be the same without them.
The tag team of play-by-play announcer and color commentator is a highly effective duo that keeps the fans right on top of the action, stays aware of what’s going on and how it compares to past situations. Sportscasters, commentators, and announcers know the game inside and out. More importantly, they have the necessary “gift of gab” to be able to talk almost nonstop through entire games.
The best sports broadcasters have the type of background in a sport that usually results from playing the game competitively to a certain level before spending the better part of a lifetime coaching, scouting, or even just passionately spectating.
An academic background in fields like mass communication, coaching, or sports analytics can be very helpful for aspiring sportscasters. That being said, there are plenty of exceptions to this rule, as some of the more successful commentators never actually played the games they announce at a competitive level. This is one profession where a unique personality, stage presence, and feel – combined with plenty of preparation – and lead to success.
Other Jobs in Sports Journalism
There are many other examples of exciting, fulfilling jobs and careers rooted in sports journalism. These days with such a new and rapidly changing media landscape, there are plenty of opportunities to forge your own path in the industry.
One need only look to visionary creative and entrepreneurs Bill Simmons, creator of sports website, The Ringer, as well as the Bill Simmons Podcast, and the immensely successful ESPN sports documentary series, 30 for 30, for an example of someone who turned a degree in journalism and a love of sports into a successful career that has elevated sport and brought joy to fans everywhere.
By leveraging journalistic skills, embracing technology, and thinking outside of the box, Simmons repeatedly created entirely new forms of media and helped pave the way for the next generation of sports and popular culture journalists
Since getting fired from ESPN in 2015, Simmons has crate and grown The Ringer to an organization of 120 employees and sold the company in 2020 for $200 million. Suffice to say that while some media organizations are struggling, other parts of the industry are making lots of money.
What degrees are useful for building a career in sports journalism?
To have a realistic shot at finding a job as a sports journalist, you will need to invest some time and effort into your education. Most sports journalists begin with a bachelor’s degree in English, journalism, or communications.
From there, you can choose a Master’s program that specializes in sports journalism or sports communications, or you may stick with a broader major such as journalism or mass communications and minor in a sports-related subject. Upon graduation or perhaps before it, many successful sports industry professionals stress the importance of taking any entry-level job or internship related to sports journalism.
No matter how you feel about your day to day work as a lowly intern at a local newspaper or radio station, you are learning the ropes and making the connections you will need to get to the next level. Be prepared to move across the country, work long hours for low pay, and let others have the spotlight while you’re starting out and opportunities will surely come along. If you feel you’re doing everything you can, but can’t get your sports journalism career started, it may be time to invest in a master’s or Ph.D. to increase your skills – and equally important – your professional network.