The Sports Journalist’s Toolbox

So you think you can be a sports journalist?

It’s not as easy as you may think. Gone are the days when beat writers would finish the story for tomorrow’s paper and go home. Reporting is a full-time job in the age of social media. You must also be willing to adapt. You could be asked to shoot video for a game story one day and record a podcast the next, so you must be ready for anything. The technological landscape has changed the ways journalists interact with each other, their sources and their readers in immense ways, and that’s only going to evolve even more in the future. There are basic tenants of journalism, though, that remain the same. I honed these skills in JO514 – one of which is beat reporting.

Within the first few weeks of my freshman year I joined the Daily Free Press, BU’s newspaper, and was placed on the men’s soccer beat. Aside from watching some World Cup soccer, I knew next to nothing about the sport, and certainly nothing about the team. I still remember my postgame interview with head coach Neil Roberts. I stood awkwardly as other writers asked questions before offering up my own: “How’d tonight’s win feel?” A bland response followed. It was at this moment, shaken on Nickerson Field without dynamic quotes or a compelling story, that I realized the importance of interviewing, developing sources and becoming an authority on your subject.

For JO514, I continued to follow the men’s soccer team, but this time through a different lens. I came at my reporting in a different way this semester. Instead of writing a bland recap of BU’s regular season finale against Colgate, I shot, wrote and edited a video package. Instead of interviewing the leading goal-scorer about why he’s performing at a higher level this season, I sought out inspiring stories, such as those of assistant coach Francis Okaroh and freshman goalkeeper William Bönnelyche. Instead of asking the freshman how adjustment to college life has been, I produced an audio package with Icelandic freshman Toti Knutsson. Not only were these stories a joy to write, but they helped me grow as a journalist in ways that the average game story wouldn’t allow me to.

I’ve written plenty of men’s soccer stories during my four years at BU, but I’m most proud of the ones I did in 514. With experience comes knowledge, and thanks to lots of practice, Frank Shorr’s guidance, and the advice of some outstanding journalists, I feel that I’m coming away from this class with a much better understanding of what it takes to be a successful sports journalist.

And with that knowledge, I’ve created this how-to guide with the 10 essentials of sports journalism in 2017.

Number one: strong writing ability.

In order to thrive in this business, a good grasp of grammar is essential. You must be able to bang out game stories minutes after the final buzzer – after you Tweet out the final score of course. The internet has changed the way journalists interact with their audience, but the fundamentals are the same.

Number two: cultivate your sources.

Whether you’re covering high school football or the Patriots, you must be there. Reporters can’t expect to drop in and get good access. It’s imperative that you develop your sources over time. Mike Reiss, who’s been covering the Pats for nearly 20 years, says it’s all about building relationships. He takes time out of a Saturday afternoon with his son to go to a charity event for a player, but that speaks volumes. The player remembers Reiss, and he knows that he cares about him beyond his contributions on the football field. Relationship-building here, like it is anywhere else, is transactional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be genuine.

Number three: shoot quality video packages.

These days, you’re expected to do it all. Reporters write, shoot and edit their own videos. Reiss even sets up a tripod, attaches his phone, connects to an app, and does SportsCenter live shots from his home. Shooting video is not an easy skill to acquire, but it’s a vitally important one in the journalism landscape today.

Number four: good on-camera presence

Even if you don’t want to go into television news, sports journalists are called upon all the time to go live and talk about their latest story. My shadow journalist, Trenni Kusnierek of NBC Sports Boston, is one of the most talented anchors in town. Watch her and others like her. But the best advice about presenting yourself well on camera is to get experience doing it.

Jane Rose and I have been involved with BUTV10’s Offsides since freshman year. We now co-produce the show.

Number five: podcasting

Podcasts are the future. There’s no way around it. Get together with your friends and start a podcast. The length doesn’t matter, but you must do two things: 1) check audio levels throughout and 2) tell a compelling story.

Number six: pagination

Before this class, I didn’t know the first thing about pagination. But it’s an invaluable skill in newsrooms across the country. Ask John Vitti, the Boston Globe sports layout editor. He says that every page is a blank slate. The Globe needs to figure out some way to fill the sports section every day. And Vitti is the mastermind behind it all. If you know how to make a blank page look pretty, you’ll stand out. TIP: Adobe InDesign is your friend.

Number seven: Understanding of coding

You don’t need to know how to create a website from scratch, but as NESN’s Theresa Spencer told us, a basic familiarity with coding will make your skillset stand out among other applicants. HTML – where one wrong character throws off the entire webpage – can be a scary world, but it’s good practice to aim for perfection.

Number eight: WordPress, market your brand

WordPress sites should be required for any aspiring journalist. They’re great tools to showcase your work – and they’re free and easy. (Take this one for example.) Brand-building is crucial, and a smart, user-friendly website works wonders to do help develop your personal brand. Greg Bedard, owner, editor and creater of the Boston Sports Journal, is a prime example of this. He lost his job at Sports Illustrated, and rebranded himself. He used a strong online presence to drive to traffic to his site, which now has over six thousand subscribers.

Number nine: effectively use social media

WEEI’s Alex Reimer gave great advice when he said that you want 50 percent of people to like you and 50 percent to hate you – as long as 100 percent know who you are. Social media has provided a platform for journalists to connect with readers, and other journalists, in ways that never before seemed possible. Use that to your advantage – share your work. Reimer also said that it’s important to diversify yourself and look for any and all opportunities. Young journalists can’t be picky. And there are plenty of opportunities to be had if you use social media the right way.

Trenni Kusnierek has amassed over 40,000 followers on Twitter.

Number ten: network, network, network

This is the most crucial piece of advice for a young sports journalist. Whenever you meet someone, get their card. Email them. Connect. You never know whether that person could help you land your next job. As Reiss said, “Spent 90 percent of your time on your work and 10 percent on your exit ramp.”

Follow these simple tips, and you too could have a bright future in sports journalism… Hey, it beats working for a living.


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