Canadian Artists/Canadian Copywriter
Accuracy and Punctuality
Do You Have What It Takes?
How Do You Start?
Making Contact
The Letter
It Worked. They're Using My Piece.
When You Finally Get In...

Perhaps your love of writing might steer you in the direction of sports writing. Do you think you would make a good sports writer? Obviously, you have to love sports. A sports writer must know every angle of a sport. More than that, however, he must also be aware of every subtle nuance, every minute detail, no matter how insignificant. That's because people who read the sports page are often very knowledgeable themselves and are looking for the inside scoop -- something they didn't know. What we're saying is that the more you know about sports, the better you'll be at this demanding 24 hour a day, 7 day a week occupation.

Another requirement of the sports writer that many "wannabe" sports writers overlook is a penchant for accuracy. The stereotypical sports writer is a jock who happens to have a flair for writing, but that's not true in real life. In today's world, it's important that a sports writer must be a stickler for getting the information right -- which when coupled with what we've just said is an odd combination. We're thinking of the famous Oscar Madison here -- one of the two leading men in the old television show (and play) The Oddcouple. Oscar definitely knew sports, but somehow, he didn't seem to possess the stuff of a good sports writer. Perhaps his roommate -- the more fastidious Felix Unger -- was a more likely candidate. In any event, sports writing, like all forms of journalism, demands accuracy-- someone who knows the score and when the goal was scored and who scored it.

A sports writer must also be capable of working under pressure. Newspapers and/or magazines work to knuckle-whitening deadlines and the sports writer must be capable of turning in clean, accurate, well-written copy punctually day after day

Do you meet all these qualifications? It's important that you do -- because if you don't, you'll be quickly found out and nudged into another profession. Before you apply for a sports writing position, give yourself a test. Attend a local sports game. Write an article about what you see, allotting yourself only a half hour after the final whistle to submit your piece. Limit yourself to 500 words, no more, no less. Give your work to a friend to read. If your friend likes it and all the facts are correct, then you might just be cooking with gas! (but also remember that your friend might just be being nice).

                   Everything we've said up until now is the easy part. Now you've got to find a job. Gird your loins. You'll be out there trying to convince some hard-bitten sports editors that out of all the aspiring writers in the world, you're the one who can best suit their needs -- not only today but for many days to come. There's an old addage in journalism that you're only as good as your last job and if your last job wasn't the best you could do, you might just be hung out to dry with the laundry.

Gather up every piece of writing you've ever written. Put a portfolio together. If you haven't got bonafied clippings, contact the local papers, magazines or radio stations in your area and offer to do volunteer work once a week. It might be an insignificant job such as taking down hockey scores or writing a few assorted bylines. Once you're in, prove that your knowledgeable about your sport. If it's hockey, it's not enough to know who Punch Imlach is, you have to know who Punch Imlach coached, what his typical hockey strategies are and everything in between. Once you put your portfolio together, now you can start to find a real job.

          Picking up a phone and cold calling isn't easy. However, it's a daily fact of life in the sports writing business. If you can't do it, then perhaps sports writing isn't the business for you. See Cold Calling in our copywriting section. Our editor explains it this way: "in my life, I've been on both sides of the phone. At one time, I was the Creative Director for an advertising agency. At another time, I was out pounding the pavement searching for a job. When I was in a position of power, I never forgot those days when I was just another aspiring writer looking for work and I was very polite to the people who called. Usually I told them to send in a resumé, but if I wasn't busy, I asked them to come and see me. It was a good idea. In the mercurial world of advertising, I knew that someday it might be me asking them for a job. If you're really into pain, you can always just show up at the office, although this might not be such a good idea. However, it's been done before and it's worked for some people, so if you do try this tact make sure you have plenty of press clippings and you look presentable!

Perhaps the safest venue is the letter. Of course, while this may be the safest it's also the least effective. In a busy editor's office, letters come and go all day long. Yours might get lost in the shuffle. But, if you do decide to send a letter, make sure you address it to the right person (otherwise it's guaranteed it'll be lost). Plus make sure you write it well. Remember. You're applying for a job as a writer. The letter should basically answer the questions: Who you are, What you want to do, Why you feel you're qualified to do the job and when you would be available. Enclosures may be put in the letter if you wish. If you wish, you can include a curriculum vitae to be considered for a full time position. You might want to include press clippings to show you're experienced. Some people include ideas for future articles -- which, above all other enclosures, would probably be the most valuable. It shows you've got a head on your shoulders. Also, remember to be polite and remember to say that you will contact the editor after a few days.

Congratulations! You've made the honour list! Now how do you get paid? If the newspaper asks you to submit your work on a casual basis, you'll get paid every time they use your article. Alternatively, their request for your work might be slightly more formal. For example, they may ask you to write to a word count, submit your work by a particular deadline and even call you in for a discussion on how to write a piece. That's when you'll get paid by commission. Some publications, usually magazines, will ask you to sign a "rights agreement". Many magazines do this in an attempt to defray their costs by selling your article on a worldwide basis. If this happens, make sure you read the agreement carefully. After all, shouldn't you get a piece of the action?

When you finally get called off the bench to be a sports writer, roll up your sleeves. Be prepared for some real work! You could be performing either one of two functions. You could be covering a live event or you could be doing the "color" stories -- such as a piece on the players themselves or the issues surrounding the sport on the location where the game is being played -- or any other type of background story. You may get work as a local sports reporter, a national journalist, an agency journalist (such as Reuters) or a magazine journalist. Or you might get a job as a sub-editor (which isn't the glamorous job in a newspaper, but one of the most vital). A sub is the person who takes great pain in making sure all the facts are straight and the copy is written to the right word count.
Whatever job you get, remember to do it well -- and remember to do it as though you are a painter who is so proud of his masterpiece that he signs it.