Sports journalism is a diverse field in which reporters cover many different events, from local and amateur fixtures to international games, races, and tournaments. A reporter can relay their news and action in print, on TV, or through an internet channel. As well as telling readers or listeners what they’ve seen, journalists provide in-game commentary and statistics about the teams or players involved. They also conduct post or pre-match interviews with coaches or players to gain insight into their feelings at key moments.
Training for a career in sports reporting
In order to become a sports journalist, it’s important to develop excellent listening and writing skills, as well as competencies in various media formats. For the best possible start, future reporters should select an engaging course that is delivered in an accessible format. At St. Bonaventure University, the online master’s in sports journalism has been designed to fit in around a student’s work and family commitments. During the 18-month course, prospective reporters are taught by experienced professionals and will graduate with the key skills they will need to make a successful start in this profession. Part of any training program involves building contacts and learning more about the profession itself. When the course is completed, the majority of sports journalism students will start work for a local paper or website, reporting on school sports events or amateur contests. As they gain more experience and hone their skills, they are likely to move into a post with a sports broadcast TV network or a national newspaper.
The beginnings of sports writing
For centuries, sports journalists have worked hard to engage and entertain their readers with news on football, boxing, athletics, and more. Indeed, one of the earliest examples dates back to the 8th century BCE when the Greek poet Homer described a wrestling match: “…they entered the ring, and came to grips, clasping each other in their mighty arms.” This tradition of evocative and descriptive sports writing continued in fiction but was not part of public discourse in the United States until the New York Magazine began to write about sports in the late 1700s. By the 1800s, US publications such as the Richmond Enquirer and Charleston Courier were joined by British newspapers, including the Sportsman’s Repository, all of which contained reports about boxing and swimming, and eventually baseball, which was established in 1850.
The modern sporting age
By the 1900s, sports editing and sports journalism were official careers. Prior the this, news journalists would be dispatched to cover an event as part of their general reporting duties. Then sports stories began to take up more and more pages in daily newspapers and became a solid circulation aid. The sports section of a publication had its own department in newspaper offices, thanks in part to the growing popularity of new sports like basketball and bowling. By the 1923 World Series, the enormous popularity of stars like Babe Ruth and his team, the New York Yankees, made this event a major national story — perhaps the biggest in sporting history at that time.
Sporting content played an increasingly important role in newspaper coverage through the 1930s and into the 1940s when the Associated Press created its sports wire in 1945. The new telegraph system for sending information sped up the process of distributing stories and soon led to sports events becoming front-page news. However, the most significant change happened in the 1950s when television sets became a common feature in American homes. Both football and baseball games were major events on the small screen. In terms of popularity, the TV industry’s sports output soon eclipsed the coverage provided by newspapers. In part, this was due to the media itself, as television could offer a close-up view of the action from the comfort of a viewer’s home. Newspapers soon came to be seen as a second-hand version of what was available on TV.
Sports magazines move into the mainstream
By the mid-1950s a different form of sports reporting was emerging, although for many years it lacked public support. Developed by Henry Luce, the man who brought TIME magazine into being, Sports Illustrated was the first of its kind to be exclusively dedicated to the subject. In the early days, many of the featured stories covered topics that had little appeal for a mass audience, such as yachting, skiing, and other sporting events which were considered elitist. This meant the magazine did not make a profit for its publisher in the first ten years of its existence. It was not until an experienced reporter, Andre Laguerre, became involved, that its fortunes began to change.
His concept for Sports Illustrated set the tone for the contemporary magazine. He concentrated the majority of coverage on major sports that interested most Americans. Rather than competing with television, he capitalized on its output, creating in-depth stories on favored sports stars and teams for a fascinated audience. The huge appeal of baseball and football in particular changed the fortunes of Sports Illustrated, making it a trusted source of information for fans across the globe by the 1970s. Even today, as it competes against a range of digital outlets and print media, Sports Illustrated is a respected brand.
Where is sports journalism now?
On television, broadcast sports journalists are on the front line of covering local and big-league events. They report on the unfolding action in real time and provide commentary for both television and radio audiences. On the sidelines of a field, they conduct interviews with players, coaches, and managers to gauge the mood before, during, and after a match has been played. In this area of the job, sports journalists will work alongside a team to get the best possible results for each telecast. These people usually include a director, an editor, and a producer. Some sports broadcast reporters are self-employed while others work for one of the many specialized networks that have been created just to present sports coverage, such as ESPN. Their work is shown on TVs across the US in homes, bars, schools, and stadiums. Each moment is captured close-up, often as it happens, and insight is provided by experienced reporters, taking viewers right to the heart of the action.
Taking sports online
The impact of the internet on sports coverage is reminiscent of the way television changed the field in the 1950s. In fact, the circulation of print newspapers, in general, has rapidly declined since 2000. Today sports fans can simply open their phone from wherever they happen to be for an update on a live game or to read more about their favorite player. This has led to a rise in the number of digital sports journalists who contribute to sports websites and work in the same way as those who wrote for a physical print medium. They research and preview upcoming sports events, attend the fixtures and write up what they’ve seen. This includes an in-depth analysis of the game, along with the details of any contentious decisions and notable occurrences. They will also give readers a rundown of player statistics, the different team standings, and box scores.
In the early days of the internet, reporters were generalists who covered large numbers of sports — in the same way as the earliest newspaper reporters did. However, as the internet expanded the number of niche sites, bloggers and newsletters meant it was easier for writers to specialize and focus on their favorite sports. Sports networks have created vibrant and sophisticated online pages that are constantly updated to keep fans interested. There and in national newspapers, reporters provide coverage of national sporting events as well as local tournaments. The key difference is that online, there is no limit to the amount of content that can be made available. By curating this library of content, sports journalists allow fans to flick back and forth through current and past stories within a few clicks.
The challenges of working in sports journalism
The United States is home to some of the most reporter-friendly teams in the world and most allow journalists into their locker rooms for a debriefing. However, sports reporters have to work exceptionally hard to get their stories. The onus is always on them to search for a topic or an angle, rather than relying on data that is given to them by colleagues, a coach, or an institution. This involves searching for facts to back up their coverage and often traveling for miles to view a specific event live. A game may only last a few hours, but journalists will spend far longer getting to and from the location. Nevertheless, most sports journalists are lifelong fans of the area they cover, from baseball to hockey to motor racing. Therefore, a job that allows them to meet the players and the managers, as well as see live events regularly, is incredibly rewarding.
Why is sports journalism an important part of reportage?
In past years, sports journalism has been considered less important than news journalism. It has been mocked as being the “toy department of news media” and the work of its reporters was not valued. Although the reporting of news and the reporting of sports play very different roles in the eyes of the public, there is definite value in sports coverage. Primarily, it is a time-honored tradition in the United States.
By reporting on sporting events between teams from different parts of the country, journalists gave people a friendly way of being competitive with their neighbors. Moreover, people continue to enjoy reading about an exciting football match or learning more about boxing rules. This is partly because they find it interesting, but most importantly because it’s fun. Sport is a cheap, accessible, and welcoming form of entertainment for all. Moreover, if they feel inspired by reading about a particular sport or watching a team play, fans can get involved themselves by joining an amateur team in their local area.
Sports journalists have specific skills
Like anyone involved in journalism, sports reporters have to seek out and deliver exciting, relevant, and readable news stories. However, to excel in this particular area of the press, they will also need to cultivate more specific skills. As they spend so much time watching events, they should be sharp observers, but sensitivity is also crucial in order to pick up on the changing mood of a crowd, player, or team. Communication is also a key competency, as the connections a journalist makes online or face-to-face can make a huge difference in their work.
Sports journalists cultivate a wide network of sources
A good story will involve getting plenty of background information, learning which topics resonate with fans, and finding innovative angles. To do this, reporters spend lots of time in the field. They need to be excellent networkers with the ability to speak with the fans, the players, and the team owners just as effectively. They ask people about their personal experiences, listen to their fears, and build up a wider picture of the event for fans who cannot attend in person.
Sports journalists strive to present the bigger picture
To offer their readers a rounded and insightful story on each event, sports reporters research the social and historical features of a game and the teams involved. They read more about the past events that might influence the action that’s about the take place, as well as the history of the sport and any other smaller, relevant details.
Recognition for a job well done
Sports coverage is a major area of journalism that has matured greatly in the last century. As well as offering entertainment, it nourishes an audience that holds sport in high regard and considers it to be an important part of their lives. Therefore, sports journalism can finally be considered equal to topics such as health, social, and political news.