Like most industries, news media has evolved throughout the generations but its overall mission remains the same; deliver information to the general public or a targeted audience. Under the news media umbrella is sports media, which began as a conduit from teams to their fans. Factual information like game recaps and box scores kept fans engaged even when they couldn’t attend a game. The sports media industry has clearly evolved since its inception. Instead of journalists strictly passing information from teams to fans, much more context is added around the box score. And good journalists get coaches and players to describe the emotions of a great play and ask difficult questions about on-and-off the field missteps. Sports radio chatter and opinion columns bring an extra layer of analysis to the games we watch and stir fan debate. With the field itself changing comes an evolution of those that cover it. Many in the sports writing and sports broadcasting fields are no longer underpaid ink-stained wretches or unnamed voices behind a radio program. They are brand-building celebrities seen and heard across media outlets.
There was a time when sports journalism was all about getting the story. Breaking news on the Black Sox Scandal or reporting on a key player missing an upcoming playoff series was enough to make a successful career. In the times of Twitter, blogs, 24-hour sports networks and an active sports talk radio dial, it’s no longer enough to keep writers and broadcasters relevant. The job of a successful journalist, sports or otherwise, is now two-fold. Only accomplishing one of them may get you in the door but will not provide you the success you truly desire.
Be a great journalist. This qualification was required one hundred years ago and it remains true today. Many use journalism school as a way into the industry and programs like the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University will teach writing techniques, broadcasting fundamentals and look great on a resume. In recent years informal journalists have become more prevalent in the media job market. People using their blogs, podcasts and free lance work to hone their talent and build a resume. Becoming an excellent writer, speaker and investigator means developing those skills through workshops, hands on experience and accepting critical feedback on your portfolio.
Build your brand. The most successful sports media members have developed name recognition across the industry. This piece of the puzzle wasn’t always necessary to have a sustainable career but it’s more important now than ever before. Information never flowed as freely as it does today so just being the first to report a story isn’t enough. Historically a team announced the signing of a new player by sending out a press release or holding a press conference. Often times now a player tweets the announcement himself or the team reports it on their own website. When a sports talk radio host creates a show, the name is meant to promote the host, not the station. Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic would not be as well known if their show was called “ESPN’s Morning Brew” instead of “Mike and Mike”. And some bylines now have a picture above the writer’s name. The most successful, well paid journalists learn that their name, in big bold type, must be attached to all the work they do. And being great in one communication channel is no longer enough. In Chicago the Sun-Times and Tribune writers use off-hours to break into other media outlets. Some double up as radio talk shows hosts or become a reoccurring guest on TV and radio programs. Others not only write for the local paper but create content for national magazines or online publications. Not only does the extra work provide a salary bump but it makes them more recognizable to others in the industry. Sportswriters and broadcasters must think like entertainers. Develop your own website so people can find the various places your content is available. Create a Facebook page and Twitter account, actively use them and promote the heck out of them. And be charitable. Not only does it help those in need but media outlets covers charity events and it makes your further stand out from the crowd.
Becoming part of the sports media elite isn’t an easy task and requires years of hard work. But sports journalism is a fun, challenging industry and that makes it worth the effort. People like Peter Gammons, Bob Costas and Bob Ryan didn’t make it into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) Hall of Fame by just promoting themselves everywhere they went. First and foremost they did great work. Superior writing, reporting and storytelling beyond the box score propelled their careers. But self-promotion, serious career aspirations and brand building put them in the top tier of sports media; a place many of us want to be.