Want to Work in Sports Media? It is a Changing World
Interview with NBA Writer Jimmy Spencer
The "old" path" to becoming a sports writer was to start as a stringer at a local newspaper, graduate to full time employment writing game stories and then potentially evolve into a columnist. But the morphing media landscape has changed that arc.
Jimmy Spencer's excellent piece entitled How To Become A Sports Writer In Seven Steps captures this new reality. After reading it (and you should, too), I conducted this follow up interview with Mr. Spencer about his career in sports media.
What made you want to become a sports writer?
Spencer: The best day of my youth was stomping my feet in the bleachers of Candlestick Park with my Grandpa as a young Will Clark came to the plate. I was a fan in an instant. That love for baseball became the passion behind studying box stores, reading the San Francisco Chronicle with my Cheerios and making fake sports pages on an early computer.
I always loved the thought of becoming a sports writer, but I never had much confidence in my writing ability. That changed in college when I got into a sports argument at a party with a guy who ended up being the college newspaper's sports editor. He invited me to write a column. I agreed, put some time into it, and a sports writer was born. I loved getting to share my opinion on sports with readers and fell in love instantly.
How did your early experiences writing for your college paper influence your career aspirations?
Spencer: My first beat was covering the Sacramento State women's softball team. I loved reporting live events and learned more and more about the craft. I was soon elevated to an assistant sports editor role, then a columnist and finally Editor-in-Chief. This atmosphere of working in the college newsroom, the camaraderie and instant feedback, made me hunger to make the craft my career. I emailed every professional (some big names like Skip Bayless and Ken Rosenthal) and was shocked what valuable feedback they gave me.
Without writing in college, I never would have transitioned into the professional world. It was by far the most valuable experience I ever had and having published clips helped me find a role as a sports clerk at The Sacramento Bee newspaper. In fact, sports columnist Marcos Breton spoke in my class at Sacramento State and that's when I first learned about the part-time position at The Bee.
Careers in sports are often non-linear. For example, you had a stint as a high school teacher. Did that experience make you a better writer or give you any insights into writing that surprised you?
Spencer: I spent two seasons working in a minor league baseball front office (with two championship rings with the Sacramento River Cats to show for it). I coached high school basketball for five years. I taught high school English and coached more basketball. Throughout it all, I always kept a foot in sports writing. I do the same now by putting all my effort behind the start-up Staance.com while staying in writing with FoxSports.com and doing radio appearances to talk NBA.
All those experiences have made me more well rounded and given me greater perspective as a writer. It's important to know how to market your writing, how to relate to athletes, coaches, etc. and I think outside experience helped me get there.
Be sure to read Part 2 of this interview where Mr. Spencer offers advice for those looking to develop sports media careers and talks about his work at the start-up Staance.com.