Top takeaways from our sports journalism panel

We invited a panel of talented guest speakers to talk to aspiring journalists about what it takes to make it in the world of sports journalism.

Now working as sports journalists for a range of publications, all our panellists trained at News Associates.

Lawrence Ostlere is assistant sports editor at The Independent and previously worked at The Guardian for four years.

Rachel Steinberg is women’s sports editor at Sportsbeat and Her Sport, a sports news agency with clients from all corners of the mainstream media. She previously worked in showbiz and news journalism before landing her current role.

Fadumo Olow trained at News Associates last year before joining The Telegraph Women’s Sport as social media editor.

Liam Twomey is Chelsea F.C. writer for The Athletic. Upon completing his NCTJ course he entered into a sub-editing job at Goal for three years before becoming a club correspondent for The Athletic.

So, what makes a good sports journalist?

SPORTS KNOWLEDGE

The panellists discussed how opening your mind to different sports can lead to some of the most exciting and engaging interviews.

Lawrence said: “If you’re able to cover different sports you can take more opportunities. From a recruitment perspective, we look for a balance between knowing a variety of sports and having one or two areas of special expertise.”

On how to increase coverage of minority sports, Rachel said: “Train yourself to spot interesting stories and people, and spread awareness of minority sports by being the best journalist you can be.”             

INTERVIEWING SKILLS

Each panellist emphasised the importance of doing your background research on the person you’re interviewing.

Liam said: “I’m still learning how to put people at ease. Try to project a relaxed demeanour, because if you seem nervous it can put the interviewee’s guard up. Give a bit of your personality and they might give a bit back.”

This is particularly crucial for sports journalists, as getting interesting quotes from media-trained athletes is notoriously difficult.

Fadumo gave a pro tip for getting people to relax while being filmed, she said: “Set the camera rolling before the interview starts so the interviewee get used to it – that’s been a real gamechanger for me.”

WORK EXPERIENCE

Getting practical experience is the best way to learn how to be a great sports journalist, as you learn from those around you and get the chance to build a portfolio of work to show off in job applications.

Liam said: “You have to write regularly and be proactively looking for feedback. If you care about getting better, you’ll improve and make a positive impression.”

The panellists agreed the key to making the most of work experience is throwing everything you’ve got at it in order to make a lasting impression.

Fadumo suggested writing for smaller publications and magazines as you can often get more done than doing a placement at a national paper.

Lawrence gave his advice on pitching your ideas if you want to try freelancing. He said: “Assume an editor is super busy. You need to grab their attention with 2-3 bullet points. Don’t give up and be persistent.”

AN NCTJ QUALIFICATION

All the panellists cited the importance of their NCTJ training, particularly for providing them with the basic reporting skills needed to make it as a journalist.

Lawrence said: “Getting an NCTJ qualification shows you’re serious, committed and have relevant skills.”  

Each panellist shared which skills from their NCTJ course they use the most. Fadumo said: “Filing really quick copy is something I learnt at NA. As a sports journalist you need to be able to have copy ready in 20 minutes.”

The panel agreed the art of structuring a news story is vital for sports journalists, even if you eventually want to go into feature writing and interviews.

Rachel added that her course taught her to think outside the box when conducting an interview, she said: “I learnt to get extra details you wouldn’t normally think of. This is a really handy trick to cut through the noise and come up with something new for each story.”

Liam said since he started working in journalism he’s learnt the importance of establishing and building your contacts.

“You need to be able to talk to people and get them to trust you. You gain this skill by learning from people more experienced than you,” he said.

ENTHUSIASM

If you want to be a successful sports journalist, remember you can love what you do and have fun along the way!

To round up, the panellists shared their favourite things about being a sports journalist:

  • Liam: “Getting to watch the games and witnessing the drama as it happens live.”
  • Rachel: “Meeting and speaking to interesting people, especially people who have changed the game.”
  • Lawrence: “Getting really immersed in an event. It’s such a liberating feeling to be confident on what you’re writing about.”
  • Fadumo: “I enjoy finding those stories that more people should know about and bringing them to a wider audience.”

Do you want to follow in the footsteps of our panel and become a sports journalist? Find out more about our NCTJ multimedia sports journalism diploma here.