Becoming a Sports Writer: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a sports writing career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary information to see if becoming a sports writer is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career as a Sports Writer

Being a sports writer--a type of print reporter who focuses on sports--can be both fun and highly challenging. Check out the pros and cons of becoming a sports writer.

Pros of a Sports Writing Career
Very little time is spent in an office*
Variety of duties (attending events, investigating leads, interviewing athletes)**
Allows for creativity (you develop all the content and figure out how to get the necessary information)*
Chance to interview many famous people (professional athletes, coaches)*

Cons of a Sports Writing Career
Declining job opportunities (expected 9% decrease from 2014-2024)*
Pay is relatively low (median salary of roughly $36,000 in 2014)*
Unpredictable work hours*
High pressure to meet deadlines*
Bachelor's degree may be necessary*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O*NET Online.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

As a sports writer, you'll generally work for a newspaper or other media publication. An editor usually assigns you a topic or sporting event to write about, for which you'll then need to gather information by attending the event (if applicable), conducting interviews and compiling research. For most articles, you'll collect a fairly large and diverse amount of information that will need to be condensed into an easily readable piece where the important details are at the forefront. You may also be asked to provide your own opinions or insights about a topic, so you'll need to keep up with all of the developments in the sports you're assigned to write about.

Sporting events may happen during the afternoon or evening, and in some cases, continue on past midnight. Since reports of the game need to ready to go as soon as possible, you may be up fairly late finishing a report or an article so it can be published for the morning edition. Your schedule will likely revolve around the events you're assigned to, so be prepared for some late nights if you pursue this career.

Career Prospects and Salary Information

The job outlook for sports writers (along with all journalists) has decreased significantly with the rise of the Internet. Newspaper readership has seen a sharp decline in recent years, and advertising, which is the primary source of income for newspapers, has thus taken a dip as well. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job opportunities for reporters and correspondents were expected to decline by 9% from 2014-2024.

Your level of pay may also fluctuate based upon the location and market size you cover, as well as the amount of interest in amateur, collegiate and professional sports in your region. According to the BLS in 2014, reporters and correspondents earned a median of approximately $36,000. The BLS also found that the top 10% of reporters and correspondents earned more than $81,940 in 2014, while the bottom 10% earned less than $21,090.

What Are the Requirements?

Though some small, local news publications may only request writing samples, prominent sports writing positions typically require at least a bachelor's degree in journalism. You'll need to possess knowledge of journalistic ethics in addition to having an understanding of how to conduct interviews and research a topic thoroughly. Employers also generally wish to see that you have experience in a reporting setting, which you can often gain through a college publication or a local newspaper. Maintaining a portfolio of your work is crucial, as you'll often be called upon to produce examples of your writing. In pursuit of a sports writing position, you may also consider taking on other reporting jobs until you can gain a job devoted specifically to sports.

Job Postings from Real Employers

As the prominence of digital publications increases, employers will seek out writers who not only have solid writing skills, but also have expertise with computers and other forms of media. The following are some job posts from real employers found in May 2012:

  • A news service in Ohio is seeking a part-time sports reporter with a college degree in journalism and a general knowledge of computer applications. Applicant must be able to work independently and have a valid driver's license.
  • A newspaper in Montana is looking for a full-time sports reporter who would also fill in as a page designer. Candidates need to have a college degree, training in journalism and 3-5 years of experience.
  • A newspaper in Texas advertised for a sports writer with past experience at a daily newspaper or sufficient college training. This position would require the successful candidate to write columns, stories and breaking news pieces.
  • A news service in New York is looking for a sports writer with knowledge of video and social media to prepare stories about local and community sporting events. Candidates with knowledge about horse racing would be preferred.

How to Stand Out in the Field

When it comes to sports reporting, you should be as knowledgeable as possible with a wide range of sports, ensuring that you are fully aware of rules, players and statistics. The ability to cover a wide range of athletic events and provide relevant commentary is pivotal to your success. You should also seek to develop thriving relationships with experts and important contacts who can potentially provide tips, leads or other valuable information to pieces you may write.

Although a general journalism degree is usually sufficient, you may be able to stand out from other applicants if you have a specialization in sports journalism. Some schools allow you to focus your studies on sports writing through electives or specialized programs. Some of the courses that may help you out include digital sports journalism, sports scandals and inequalities in sports.

Develop Related Skills

Many prominent sports writers are not just writers; they're also sports broadcasters on radio or television. Your ability to cross platforms will be immensely valuable to your credibility. While writing may be your primary focus, you should always be ready to present your stories and reports through any media. Expanding your communication skills by being able to speak clearly as well can give your job search a boost.

Alternative Career Paths

Sports Editor

If, instead of (or in addition to) writing content, you'd be interested in assigning and editing topics to be covered, you could consider becoming a sports editor. You'd have a much greater level of responsibility as an editor, since you'd be working to ensure your publication's content is accurate and follows the writing policies. The BLS predicted a 1% job growth for the 2010-2020 decade. However, you'd have higher earning potential as an editor, as the BLS found that editors earned a median yearly income of about $51,000 in 2011.

Sports Photographer

If you decide you're stronger at visual storytelling than the written word, you might want to consider becoming a sports photojournalist. You'd take pictures at sporting events and then enhance the pictures if needed. Although the pay might be slightly lower with a median income of roughly $29,000 for photographers in 2011, the BLS reported that you do not usually need formal education beyond high school. The projected growth is also higher; the BLS predicted that photographers would see a 13% increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020.

Sports Announcer

Alternatively, if you feel you'd prefer to announce for sports events rather than write about them, you could become a sports announcer. The amount of education you need depends on the type of announcing you'd be doing; some positions may only require a high school diploma and others may require a bachelor's degree. The BLS found that job growth for announcers was expected to be 7% from 2010-2020. According to the BLS, announcers earned a median salary of approximately $27,000 in 2011.

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