Let me start by saying I am not a professional writer of any kind, let alone a professional sports journalist, so I am truly unqualified to be giving any advice on this matter whatsoever. So tons of grains of salt and all that.
That said, I have worked with and observed enough talented young writers make the transition from “just a blogger” to paid, working-professional writer to have at least gotten a peripheral sense of the dynamics of how the process tends to work, at least in some cases.
If you’re reading this, then you probably know I was quite active writing for Roundball Mining Company several years back, and then “retired” for a couple years, only to recently resurface at BSN Denver’s Nuggets pages (you can read my latest piece over there here, if you’re into that sort of thing). But that’s about it. So my personal sports writing experience is fairly limited, and in practical terms, beyond personal joy and satisfaction of creating stuff I like about the team I like, the best thing it has brought for me is sharpening my writing chops prior to entering grad school – and that honestly did really help, even though topically it was entirely unrelated. But I digress.
I really only have two points to make here (you can find more thorough, and certainly better advice elsewhere anyhow), so I’ll be brief, and without further ado…
Two bits of advice for aspiring sports writers
- 1. Vacuums fill quickly, so be relentless and avoid taking too much time off
When I first started Nuggets writing, Roundball Mining Company and the Denver Stiffs (then still FireGeorgeKarl.com) were (as far as I am aware) pretty much the only blog games in town, and still somewhat relegated status-wise to the cute kids at the children’s table in comparison to the well-established, towering behemoth, longstanding newspaper credibility of the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News. And podcasts didn’t even really exist yet. In the intervening time, we have seen the unfortunate folding of the Rocky Mountain News, Denver’s biggest victim in the larger decline of the news print industry, reveal a silver lining in creating journalistic space for motivated, entrepreneurial writers to carve out their own niche in the sportswriting world. Around the same time, the swinging open of this door was largely accelerated by Hardwood Paroxysm and ESPN’s TrueHoop blog network, both of which helped to raise the profile and legitimacy of “mere” sports blogging to professional-caliber (if not always actually professional) sports journalism.
So as an aspiring writer, the good news for you is that you, like anyone and everyone, can try your hand at it, and maybe have a legit shot at making something of it. But that’s also the bad news, as there are thousands of other aspiring writers with exactly the same hopes and goals as you. And this is where the importance of being relentless comes in. Again, if you’re reading this, you’re probably familiar with the many ebbs and flows in Nuggets coverage over the last ten years, with the occasional fall (most notably Rocky Mountain News) and rise (most famously Denver Stiffs) of various news organizations, organization-affiliated blogs, individually-created blogs and youtube channels (hello), and the like. The key point here is that the one consistent overarching reality throughout this whole process is that whenever one entity starts to wane, there are immediately two or three more ready to jump in and fill the vacuum that creates. So staying in the game, staying relevant, building a continual body of work and a reputation as a hard-working, diligent writer, is of the utmost importance.
I fell off the map by my own design, but then I wasn’t trying to go pro with my writing. If I had been, I’d have lost many opportunities during my writing hiatus for possibly moving on to more prominent organizations, making my way into podcasting or other more modern forms of journalism, and building relationships and connections with people which might have led me in unexpected directions. So if you’re serious about this, take the sage advice always given by Mama Hahn on her Green Hat Boat Tour, and “Don’t be lazy!”
- 2. Work locally
This one can be neatly summed up by one simple truth: When I first started writing about the Nuggets, “lowly” bloggers didn’t get press passes at the Pepsi Center, but now the range of individuals and organizations being granted access has diversified. The fractionalization of the news industry mentioned above has resulted in professional sports organizations opening their doors to journalistic coverage from sources they would not previously have had to consider. This means that access itself is more accessible – but only if you’re there.
As a dude living in Japan and writing about the Nuggets, this never would have been possible for me. And therefore, if I had been truly serious about becoming a professional writer, it would have been much more of a viable path to paid work had I, for example, started rigorously doing English-language coverage of the Yokohama Bay Stars baseball team, their farm team Shonan Sea Rex, the local Kanto Gakuin University rugby team, or something along those lines, despite not being a fan of either rugby or baseball. Because reporters do interviews. Reporters report from on the ground. Which isn’t to say that you can’t do analysis from afar, and that may be a path to work for some, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to get your foot in the door if you’re actually at the door.
So say you’re a huge Nuggets fans who wants to write about the Nuggets, but you just happen to live in Cheyenne, Wyoming or Omaha, Nebraska. Well by all means, you should write about the Nuggets to your heart’s content. But you should also start covering the local high school and college sports programs where you can actually go to the games, meet the players and coaches and interview them, maybe raise your profile enough as a diligent local sports reporter to ultimately land a job somewhere. But unless you have some special kind of experience or genius, you’re probably not going to get paid for writing about the Nuggets, at least not until further on down the line when you’re better established. Statisticians with exceptional number-crunching abilities can (and do) get hired from afar due to their mad analytics skills. But if you’re looking to get into more traditional sports writing and coverage, it’s probably better to write about what you can gain access to, even if that’s not your favorite team or sport.
And that’s all I have to say about that.