Career Coach: Sports Journalist
I caught up with sports journalist Bob Ballard for a bit of career advice.
What led you to pursue a career in sports journalism?
It wasn’t my original plan. I had my heart set on being a music presenter – a DJ – as my main interest was music, with sport coming a close second.
I was lucky to be able to combine both in presenting the program Out and About on BBC Radio Kent – which I started in 1983. We covered football, rugby, and cricket with me anchoring it from the studio.
Did you undertake any training or qualifications, or is it something that you can learn on the job?
Very much the latter, though I had had some sports journalism grounding at Hospital Radio Hillingdon covering football and cricket during my time there.
Was the reality of working in sports journalism like what you had expected?
I wasn’t sure what to expect, to be honest, and there is a vast difference between covering football and some of the sports I’ve specialised in – such as swimming, diving, ice hockey, and basketball.
I did discover, pretty early on, that there can be a vast difference between the spoken word and written journalism. It used to be quite tribal between the two sections, less so now.
What are some of the skills or attributes that you need in order to build a career in sports journalism?
The ability to ask good questions. I’ve always found the old ‘who, what, when, why, where’ questions elicit the best answers. Also, keep questions concise – the law of diminishing returns comes into play when the longer your question is, the shorter the answer often is. Do make sure you’ve done your homework. Nothing worse than getting embarrassed in front of your peers.
If someone was thinking about pursuing a career in sports journalism, what advice or guidance would you give them?
The business has changed a lot over the years, but the key is to know what you want to do. I get asked, all the time, about getting into sports journalism, but when I ask which area you want to pursue, often people haven’t given it much thought. There are so many aspects now you should know if it’s print, radio, TV, or podcast that you’re mainly interested in. That’s not to say it precludes you from getting involved in the others, but it’s good to target one.
What are some of your goals and aspirations for the months ahead?
Hoping, in this uncertain world of freelancing, that work is plentiful enough to make it worthwhile. I have some big swimming and diving events in the first half of the year – so, making sure that I do those jobs to the best of my abilities is key.