women in sports journalism

Know Your Stuff: Breaking Barriers as a Woman in Sports Journalism

When I worked as a sports stringer for a local newspaper during college, I specifically remember a post-game interview with a high school basketball coach. As I approached the coach on the hardwood, notepad and digital recorder in-hand, he took one look at me and exclaimed, “Wow, the paper sent a pretty girl reporter this time! Usually, they send ugly, old men!”

I gave a half-hearted laugh but didn’t think much of the comment at that moment, as I was eager to ask my questions and get back to the newsroom to file my story before the looming 11 p.m. deadline. But when I did finally stop and reflect on that post-game interview, it hit home: Sports journalism has always been – and probably will always be – a male-dominated profession. However, instead of sulking and feeling intimidated, I embraced the notion of being a woman in sports reporting. If anything, I felt more driven and determined to break into the industry.

Obviously, I’m not working alongside Matthew Berry as a fantasy football analyst, nor did I achieve my teenage dream of replacing Tony Reali as the statistician on “Pardon the Interruption,” but my time as a female sports reporter taught me a valuable career lesson: the importance of “knowing your stuff.”

What do I mean by “knowing your stuff?” I don’t necessarily mean memorizing every baseball acronym or being able to recite the NFL Rulebook. Knowing your stuff means exuding the confidence and passion needed to excel in your craft. When you’re confident and passionate about something (in this case, sports), it is far easier to establish credibility. That confidence and passion will drive your ability to tell captivating sports stories with utmost accuracy, integrity, and enthusiasm – exactly what your readers want. 

With this advice in mind, I’ve put together a few tips for women in sports journalism to break barriers – whether you’re striving to become a local stringer or an ESPN personality.

 

1. Pose smart questions. One of the best tactics I used to build credibility as a female sports reporter (and show that I knew my stuff) involved asking smart, specific interview questions. Interviewing a coach after a game, for instance, requires posing a strong question, often with context, right off the bat. That first question sets the tone for your entire interview – it’s making a good first impression 101.

Instead of asking a vague question like, “How did your team play tonight?”, I’d ask something along the lines of: “You ran the ball for 200 total yards tonight but could not seem to complete those late drives. What happened there in the fourth quarter?”

Ask intelligent follow-up questions, keep it simple, and let the interviewee do most of the talking (that’s where you’ll uncover some of the most gripping story angles).

 

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2. Present yourself professionally. You don’t want to be confused with a cheerleader out on the field, so dressing appropriately is critical to establishing credibility as a female sports reporter. It’s equally important to act appropriately. Covering sports is not always pretty; it’s filled with plenty of smelly locker rooms, sweaty players, and swearing coaches. As one of my college mentors so aptly put it, “Don’t freak out if you see butts,” referring to those potentially awkward post-game locker room interviews.

No matter what your assignment brings, stay calm and cool, and remember you’re there to get the story. Presenting yourself in a professional manner will echo how much you “know your stuff,” raise your reputation as a reporter, and build your ever-important personal brand.

 

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether you looked down at your notes and missed a play, can’t remember the difference between an “ad out” or “ad in,” or heard an unfamiliar piece of basketball jargon, it’s OK to ask for help. It’s always better to get clarity upfront than to publish something that’s incorrect (which will hurt your credibility).

This is one reason you see sports reporters with different beats. Determine which sport (or sports) you’re most interested in and truly enjoy covering. Focus your efforts there, and you’ll soon become the expert others come to for help. In the meantime, there is no shame in asking questions or seeking input from peers and superiors alike. Just do so with confidence and intention.

 

4. Tell a good story. At the end of the day, who you are won’t matter if you tell a good story. That’s the best part of sports writing. It’s exciting – or at least, it’s your job to make it sound exciting. As a sports reporter, you have a duty to bring the game to life. Make the reader feel the seconds ticking off the clock in double overtime or empathize with the anguish of the losing team’s senior captain.

When you tell a good story – not rehash game, play by play – your credibility instantly ticks up a notch or three. Whenever I covered a game, I would select one thing that stood out the most. For example, that could be a unique soundbite from a player from a post-game interview, a team milestone, a devastating injury, or an extraordinary stat line. Build the story around that one theme or trend, and it will look like you really know your stuff.

 

While it’s been years since I sat in a press box or scribbled down stats with frozen hands on the sidelines of high school football game, I hope that this advice brings inspiration to others with dreams of working in sports journalism at any level and with any sport. In my experience, posing the right questions, presenting yourself in a professional manner, asking for help when you need it, and telling a good story will give you the confidence to break barriers and shatter glass backboards (er – ceilings). Know your stuff and the rest – the credibility, the respect, the success – will follow.

by: Kristina Kelly
November 05, 2021

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