How Do I Get Into Sports Writing

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Q: I love sports and have always enjoyed reading my local paper’s sports page. Now that I’m focusing on my writing career, I’d like to join the ranks of those who cover sports. How do I break into sports reporting? –Anonymous

A: Sports writing—much like book publishing—is a fairly competitive field. And, while I love to read about my beloved Cincinnati Reds (no matter how badly they stink), I actually don’t know much about the ins and outs of sport reporting. So I contacted Kyle Nagel, enterprise reporter for the Dayton Daily News, to get his take on how to land a sports reporting job, what challenges sport reporters face today, and what exactly “enterprise reporter” means.

BK: Your title on the Dayton Daily News website is listed as “enterprise reporter.” What exactly is an enterprise reporter?
KN: If you ask 10 different journalism people what enterprise reporting is, you’ll likely get 10 different but relative explanations. To me, being an enterprise reporter means that I’m responsible for coming up with my own ideas for stories that will be unique to the sports section. It’s reporting that doesn’t come from press releases or news conferences but from unique ideas and perspectives. It also informs readers or viewers about trends or issues about which they haven’t heard.

BK: How did you break into sports reporting?
KY: I signed up for my high school paper in Centerville, Ohio, when I was a junior, and the paper needed a sports editor. It seemed more appealing than school board meetings, lunch menu issues and latest fashion trends, so I said I would do it. And, like many young boys, I grew up watching and playing sports, so an interest already existed.

BK: How would you suggest others break into sports reporting?
KY: Like most departments and fields, you start at the bottom. Offer to cover the high school game that no one else wants or to write a feature on the soccer player that bores much of the rest of the staff. In general, the sports department is a pretty popular place at news organizations, so there can be plenty of competition. Persistence is key. This includes a willingness to do jobs, cover games or work at times that don’t seem very desirable at first.

BK: What are the keys to being a successful sports reporter?
KY: Sports knowledge, deadline writing and a flexible schedule. I’m not saying someone who doesn’t like sports can’t be a sports reporter, but you must have at least a basic knowledge of the history, development, lingo and issues involved with the sport you’re covering. Second, much of the writing we do is at night on a tight deadline. Some have said that, with sports writing, every night is election night. When you’re covering a game, you must quickly establish what happened, what was important, why it was important and what it means for the team. Third, our schedules can change daily and hourly, and it’s necessary to work nights, weekends and holidays. We go where the games are, and they happen on every day of every week of the year of every year.

BK: As a sports reporter, what’s the most difficult part of your job?
KY: Access. More and more, schools and professional teams are limiting the time we can spend with the athletes, who are the backbone of our job. Without talking to the coaches and athletes, there is no news. We can’t just burn the midnight oil and create news, we must interview, interact and build relationships. It’s more difficult than ever to build those relationships with the sports figures because of the limited time face-to-face time.

BK: What’s your favorite part?
KY: Most sports, of course, don’t happen in the office, so sports reporters often do their jobs from stadiums, arenas, athletics offices or youth fields. Plus, consumers of sports news generally have an intense interest in what you’re reporting, which makes it easy to find passion for the job. Or, if you screw up or have a strong opinion, easy to find 75 e-mails that use some form of the word “moron” the next morning.

BK: Any other advice you’d like to offer others who’d like to break into the
KY: Before you cover sports, you must learn sports—just like politics, art, food or education. You must have a working knowledge of the coaches, athletes, issues, teams and schools in your coverage area on which you can build your own reporting experience. You don’t have to be a trivia whiz ready to win the local Thursday night game at the TGI Friday’s, but you must know the language.

BK: Any final thoughts?
KY: Sports reporting isn’t all that different from any other kind of reporting. Are we just in the sand box? Sometimes, yes. But we’re also working with the same basic principles every reporter uses: Getting the answers people want to know, should want to know or will want to know. We just often do it while eating hot dogs or drinking sodas in cramped press boxes.

Brian A. Klems is the online managing editor of Writer’s Digest magazine.

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