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Future Sports Journalist

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by coreybodden, Jul 24, 2012.

  1. coreybodden

    coreybodden New Member

    Hello, my name is Corey Bodden and I am an upcoming freshman at Marshall University in W.Va. I will be majoring in sports journalism and sports have always been a part of my life and being a sports journalist has been my dream job for a long time. I will more than likely be writing for the student paper The Parthenon and this will be the starting point for my journey into the sports journalism field. As of now, I am interested in writing game-analysis and maybe breaking out an investigative story here and there. Something I think I would love doing is being a beat writer for a college football team.

    I've read over many posts on this site and see there are some very intelligent current and ex-journalists on here and I am seeking some help/advice.

    I'd love to get some tips/advice from the current and ex-journalists on how to go about my career (based on info I have given) and helpful tips to enhance my writing skills and help my stories become interesting and concise. I do have one specific question I'd love to hear the answer to.

    How did you go about breaking stories and finding new stories to cover that would be interesting to the public?

    For example, you see stories all the time about how star players have maybe battled through poverty and neighborhoods filled with crime and drug use growing up and now are top athletes and are trying to make it to the next level. Topics like that where it takes more than just a little research to find.

    Any tips would be great and thanks for reading and taking the time to help a future sports journalist out!
  2. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    Boy, this is a broad topic.

    The best thing I can tell you is to find out quickly how good you are and how much you like it. Read a lot and work hard on all of your stories and seek as much feedback as possible, here and elsewhere. There's not much room these days for sports journalists who aren't really, really good and who don't really, really love it. And even then, this industry can crush your dreams and spirits.
  3. JackReacher

    JackReacher Well-Known Member

    No way! You could totally live in, say, Charleston, and be a beat writer in Huntington. Think of all the garage beers!!

    Ok. Unrelated asshole post over.
  4. J-School Blue

    J-School Blue Member

    Major in something other than journalism.

    I'm not even suggesting this as a "fall back," but you want to broaden yourself as much as possible. You'll get jobs off your work in student media (the school paper is a great place to start) and internships. While important connections for the latter can come through j-major programs, if you're working at the campus paper or taking journalism and writing courses as electives, you should still run across opportunities.

    Look into stringing for local weeklies. There doesn't tend to be as much competition for those spots among other students and it's a reasonably easy way to get some clips and experience. I did this during college and I'd generated some decent work when graduation rolled around. They also tend to be really eager for writers willing to cover preps (my early stories consistented of a lot of high school volley ball games).

    As for breaking stories like the one you described, I think the only real way to do that is to build relationships with sources over time. Covering games and meetings and other events wasn't, to me, really about the event itself (except in very rare cases, things like that get rather rote), but of slowly but surely building up credibility with the major players so that, when something unusual broke, I had some trust established. Or had heard about it first from "hanging around."
  5. Stitch

    Stitch Active Member

    You work hard, you listen, you have good intuition, and you produce.

    If you don't know how to take stats, don't ask an editor. Learn now. Learn layout, learn how to code a website, learn how to edit video and produce a podcast, and don't let your ego get you into trouble.
  6. mrbigles01

    mrbigles01 Member

    Seriously consider choosing ANY other major. I am now three years out of college and look at the degree I got (from one of the top schools in the US) to be mostly a waste of time.

    My experience has been that advancement is based on some alchemical process which combines luck and nepotism. It sucks and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I am only still in the business because I can't find anything else that anyone will pay me to do, because a J-degree isn't really worth much more than an English degree.
  7. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Listen. Not to me specifically, but to everyone around you.
    Our business boils down to one immutable fact -- people talk. To you, to each other. Listen to what they have to say. Get to know them. Listen for the stories behind the stories. Someone might not come straight out and talk about their rough childhood, but they might drop hints or talk about growing up in a rough part of town, or say certain things that seem odd or interesting. You don't have to jump in and write about it that second, but keep it in mind. Ask around about it. Ask them about it if they seem at ease talking about it.
    Once people are familiar with you and trust you, they'll open up more and you can sit down for that long interview that turns into a dynamite feature story.

    Along the same lines, learn what is and isn't a story. Not everything you hear and see -- especially when you're working a beat -- needs to be written about. We're essentially paid to be professional gossips, but you don't want the people you cover to think you are. Sometimes you have to sacrifice a small story -- or write one -- to gain the trust and comfort level necessary to get people to talk to you about the bigger one.
    If there's any informal media sessions, like after practice or on a weekend, go and be seen. Talk to people in a one-on-one setting. Doesn't even have to be about what you're writing about, just so long as they see you as more than a guy with a tape recorder and a notebook.

    Finally, most great stories aren't found during the weekly media gatherings. It helps to talk to people outside the scope of the team. I mostly cover preps, which is a lot looser in this regard than a structured college beat, but I get plenty of story tips from parents, PA guys, assistant coaches, coaches in other sports, etc.
    They say something along the lines of, "Hey, you know Joe Blow? He's an interesting fella. Likes to hunt skunks."
    All of a sudden you have a hook for a feature and an opening line for the subject.

    So, bottom line: Listen to people and build relationships. Take care of those two things and you'll go far in this business.
  8. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    Corey ...

    First, I'm going to agree with J-School Blue that you should major in something other than journalism. The jobs are drying up at a faster pace than you realize. But more importantly, a journalism degree can be very limiting. Most people in our business know it doesn't have to be that way. But the problem is if you have difficulty finding a job (which you will), you'll find that people in other lines of work don't put much stock in your degree. For them, it'll be more about what your experience is.

    What web publishing, website creation, website analytics tools do you know how to use? What video tools do you know how to use? What social media tools do you know how to use and what have you done with them? If you can't nail down a sports or news reporting job, you will need good answers to those questions if you're going to get a job doing anything else (public relations, marketing, corporate communications, etc.).

    Yes, get experience with the campus paper (and radio). Yes, if you have your own transportation, contact the local newspapers and see if they need freelancers because that will be great experience. But as J-School Blue said, don't think of other things as a fallback position. Think about collecting other skills, getting a major in something else while you're gaining writing experience.

    And as far as your question about finding good stories, that comes with experience in knowing how to work a beat. You don't just have good background on people fall into your lap. You find it out by spending time reporting. Talk to coaches, team officials, school officials, etc., about kids and as you do, you'll be surprised what people will tell you. when you read a good feature on someone, it's not because the reporter was skulking in dark corners and overhearing private conversations ... he/she got to know people. Sometimes it's as simple as asking if anyone on the team has faced unusual circumstances or has an interesting backstory.
  9. WriteThinking

    WriteThinking Well-Known Member

    This is telling, and what I was going to suggest.

    Worry more about learning and getting really comfortable and at ease with all the technology. Learn as many computer and digital-layout programs as you can, with InDesign, QuarkXpress and Microsoft Office, HTML coding and Adobe Photoshop being essential. Become a go-to person when it comes to both sides of video -- producing/editing it, and being in it. In fact, get a videography internship if you can. Get some broadcast experience. If you have a Twitter account, don't just have it, as a lot of us do -- use it, be active on it, and go out of your way to build it up. Use all social media and know how to use all your personal electronic/digital equipment to its fullest extent.

    For better or for worse, journalism is becoming less and less about writing. The school and local newspapers will be good places to start, but they are just starting points anymore. Take a look at the job ads on this site. Virtually all of them emphasize use of media and technology first, over any actual ability to write well, and written clips are often the last thing mentioned or considered by employers.

    Hone your news instincts. Observe, notice things, and people -- the ones that others may not. See differences, embrace them, think a lot, think big, and although it is somewhat of a clinche, think outside the box. That's a valuable, somewhat intrinsic and not totally teachable skill that not everyone can do well.

    Look for and try to see less-than-obvious angles, or smaller angles within larger stories that could potentially be turned into separate stories themselves if someone took the time to expand upon and explain them.

    Look for things that need explanation, and it doesn't even have to be anything that's necessarily dark or dirty, just something that could be new and informative, that people could, should or would like to be made to understand more clearly. At its root, that is how investigative journalism begins.

    As others have suggested, majoring in something other than journalism is also a good idea. If I had it to do over again, I would go for a business degree, or for political science/international studies, myself. But take something broad-based, and that, yes, might be of use in a future fall-back situation.

    The burn-out rate and the unhappiness and sense of being a hamster-on-a-wheel is bad in journalism these days. For many in it now, it will not be a life-long endeavor or a lengthy career, as it often used to be. This is not just because many people are being forced to leave a contracting business but also because some actually find, after a while, that they want to get out...but then just don't know what else to do, or how to go about it.
  10. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    The more specific you can get, the better. If you write a story about football practice, and the players say practices are hard and hot, don't just dutifully write down "hard and hot" and go on.

    Ask which drills are their least favorite. Then ask how that drill works. Why don't they like it? What is the coach's attitude toward it? How many pounds do they sweat off during practice? How much water do they drink after? Etc. etc.

    Ask for the future, I strongly agree that you should major in something else and perhaps minor in journalism. Also work hard at getting internships each summer.

    A 3.8 GPA with little experience may not get you a job straight out of school, but a degree with clips from a daily and an editor willing to vouch for you might.

    Oh and learn to shoot and edit video.

    Good luck.
  11. maberger

    maberger Member


    Seem like some really good points here. I'd add:

    1. Your questions, when you ask them, should be organic - they should come from what you've heard, and a vast majority of those should begin with 'why ...,' or 'how...'
    2. The points about not majoring in journalism are strong ones, but you should consider that a journalism major will (or at least should) force you to write many different types of pieces. To that end, I'd find the teachers on staff with the strongest outside CVs and take their classes. They may not teach as well as they write, but they will likely make you write pieces which will teach you how to research, think, reason, etc. I was lucky enough 30 years ago to have profs like Bruce Porter and Timothy Ferriss -- both outstanding long-form journalists and from whom I learned a ton.
    3. get out of the office; the office breeds laziness.
    4. get as much experience as you can, which today means embracing all the technologies mentioned above.

    Good luck.
  12. KJIM

    KJIM Well-Known Member

    We've addressed threads frequently and there's been really good advice in the past.

    Perhaps we should compile a stickie for aspiring sports journalists?
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