Sports journalism

Sports journalists cover sports events and produce written or broadcast reports on those events.

Traditionally sports journalists are drawn from the ranks of news reporters who expressed an interest in reporting sport. This is still a viable route for sports reporters, with many well known sports journalists working first as a news reporter before getting their big break in sports reporting by standing in for a sports reporter who was unable to attend a big event. But the trend is now for young journalists to specialise earlier and this is reflected in the development of specific sports journalism courses, accredited by the NCTJ, which aim to see their young graduates join a sports desk immediately once they leave the course.

These courses are listed in the accredited courses section of this website. On these courses students sit NCTJ exams in news reporting, public affairs and media law, as much of sports reporting is about more than the action of what happens on the pitch. Sports journalists have to follow such issues as making sure a new ground will be ready for the start of the new season or whether a race track will be in a suitable financial position to host a Formula One Grands Prix. Stories such as this require an understanding of planning laws, media law and company structures and finances.

Students will also study shorthand, as sports journalism is an area of reporting where quotes must be reported quickly and accurately. Many sports reporters have to compile and file a report of the first half of a football match within the 15 minute span of half-time at a football match.

Case study: sports journalism
Sam Parker, deputy sports editor, Lincolnshire Echo shares his top tips on sports journalism.
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After finishing a degree Sam completed his NCTJ training while studying a six-month fast track NCTJ course at Harlow College. Upon finishing his training course at Harlow College, Sam began work as a trainee news reporter at the Diss Express.

While working as a trainee news reporter, Sam made it known to the sports editor he was interested in sports journalism and covered a few non-league games at the weekend. Once he had successfully completed these assignments, the sports editor began requesting that Sam helped out at busy periods. This gave Sam a chance to further develop his sports reporting skills and allowed him a taste of laying out sports pages.

After sitting his NCE (now NQJ), Sam moved to the Lincolnshire Echo, where he is now deputy sports-editor. Sam said: “I must stress the importance of putting yourself forward if you are interested in a career in sports journalism.

“If you are a trainee news reporter, or even just looking for your first break into sports reporting you have to put yourself forward.

“Weekly newspapers always have matches which they need to be covered – for example here at the Lincolnshire Echo, we have a Lincoln City, who play in the Football League Two, Boston United, a former league team now in the Unibond Premier League, we have Gainsborough Trinity, who play in Conference North, then we have Retford United and Lincoln United, all clubs which need to be covered and that can be a stretch for the sports desk team. We are always seeking people to do stories and make contact and send in match reports.

“I also strongly back non-league teams as a great training ground for sports journalists of the future. Covering a non-league team you will learn how to meet people involved in the club, players and management and you will learn about supporters’ associations and how to report the fans’ reaction. It is surprising how many contacts you make at non-league level which have greater influence in the Football League and this will serve you very well when you are reporting big matches later on.

“The NCTJ examinations are good training for a sports reporter. Most importantly I feel the media law training you learn on NCTJ courses are extremely valuable. You really need to know your media-law. I have covered stories in which allegations of racism from fans toward players have surfaced and in a situation like that your really need to know where you stand legally.”

Hints and Tips

  • For that first break into sports reporting ask the sports-editor if there is a game they need covering and could you have a go – there always is 
  • It is important to be on top of media law – sports journalism is riddled with legal situations which could get you into a lot of trouble if not handled correctly
  • Take an interest in all sport, at all levels. You have to know how to cover cricket, football, water polo and hurling if needed. No sport reporter can afford to have too narrow an interest