Sportswriters are employed by newspapers, magazines, and Web sites throughout the world. They may cover professional teams based in large cities or high school teams located in tiny towns. Sportswriters also work as freelance writers. According to the Department of Labor, there were 44,1000 reporters and journalists, including sportswriters, employed in the United States in May 2019.
Many sportswriters begin their careers by working as stringers covering the games or matches that no else wants to or can cover. Stringers don't earn much money, but the experience may lead to covering bigger and better games and teams. Some sportswriters make a living out of covering sports for very small towns; others only work at those jobs until they have gained the experience to move on.
Most journalists start their careers by working in small markets—little towns and cities with local papers. After a year or two they move on to larger papers in bigger towns and cities. Sportswriters for newspapers follow the same routine, and many pursue areas other than sports because there are few job openings in sports. The lucky few who hang on to a small sports beat can often parlay that beat into a better position by sticking with the job and demonstrating a devotion to the sport, even cultivating a following of loyal fans. This could lead to a full-time column.
Entry-level sportswriters take advantage of opportunities to learn more about athletes and sports in general. Becoming an expert on a little-known but rapidly growing sport may be one way to do this. For example, learning about mountain biking, and getting a job with a magazine on mountain biking.
Competition for full-time jobs with magazines as a sportswriter is just as keen as it is for major newspapers. Sportswriters will write articles and pitch them to major magazines, hoping that when an opening comes, they will have first crack at it. Still, most sportswriters move into the world of sports magazines after they've proven themselves in newspaper sportswriting. It is possible, however, to get a job with a sports magazine straight from college or graduate school, but usually starting as an intern or assistant working up from there.
The constraints of budget, staffing, and time—which make a sportswriters' job difficult—are also often what can help a sportswriter rise through the ranks. For example, the writer asked to cover all the sports in a small area may have to hustle to cover the beat alone, but that writer also won't have any competition when covering the big events. They gain valuable experience and bylines writing for a small paper, whereas in a larger market, the same sportswriter would have to wait much longer to be assigned an event that might result in a coveted byline.
Sportswriters advance by gaining the top assignments and covering the major sports in feature articles, as opposed to the bare bones summaries of events. They also advance by moving to larger papers, by getting columns, and finally, by getting a syndicated column—that is, a column carried by many papers around the country or even around the world.
Sportswriters for magazines advance by moving up the publishing ladder, from editorial assistant to associate editor to writer. Often, an editorial assistant might be assigned to research a story for a sports brief—a quirky or short look at an element of the game. For example, Sports Illustrated might have a page devoted to new advances in sports equipment for the amateur athlete. The editorial assistant might be given the idea and asked to research it or specific items. A writer might eventually write it up, using the editorial assistant's notes. Advancement is in being listed as the author of the piece.
In the publishing worlds of both newspapers and magazines, sportswriters can advance by becoming editors of a newspaper's sports page or of a sports magazine. There are also sports publicists and sports information directors who work for the publicity and promotions arms of colleges, universities, and professional sports teams. These individuals release statements, write and disseminate to the press articles on the organizations' teams and athletes, and arrange press opportunities for coaches and athletes.
Tips for Entry
Write often and create a portfolio of work to show potential employers. Attend sports events and read sports-related publications to learn as much possible about the industry.
Apply for entry-level jobs at newspapers and magazines in order to gain experience in the field.
Talk to sportswriters about their careers. Ask them for advice on entering the field.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) offers a mentoring program for freelance writers who are members of the organization. Visit the Web site for details: https://asja.org.
Visit the following Web sites for job openings:
- https://www.the-efa.org/resources (membership required for job postings)