With their graduation fast approaching this summer, hundreds of final-year sports journalism students throughout the UK will be hoping to break into the media industry.
Tashan Deniran-Alleyne, a young football writer for The Morning Star, The Voice and Squawka, talks to Elephant Sport about how to secure that all-important first job or begin getting freelance work in what is an increasingly competitive field.
Besides a degree or internships, what else is required to break into the sports media industry?
Degrees and internships are good, but it’s making sure you get as much out of them as possible. You don’t want to be someone with a degree, who had plenty of internships but struggle to meet deadlines for articles.
Versatility, standing out from the pack, being able to do multiple things in the industry. Making yourself an important part in any company.
For example, you don’t just want to be limited to one specific role. Expand your skills so that if something else comes available, your employees turn to you instead of looking elsewhere.
How beneficial is it to start off small, for example working whether paid or unpaid at your local radio station or newspaper?
It is extremely beneficial. I see it as the making of a sports journalist. You have to remember that it’s possible to stay in this industry for a very long time, so starting off small isn’t the worst idea.
Some of the best experiences I had was working for the non-league site. Paid or unpaid didn’t make a difference as I was learning about the industry, improving my writing skills, overcoming my nervousness of interviewing managers, players etc.
Starting off small allows you to focus on your long-term goals and there’s room for mistakes, which you can learn from and improve on. Also, I feel that’s where you really find out if it’s the career path you want to embark on.
Would you say aspiring sports journalists need a good working knowledge of lots of sports?
I think it definitely helps. It’s difficult to become a specialist in all given that there’s so many to cover. But if you have at least three different sports that you know very well and enjoy then that’s an advantage.
That also helps to build relationships with other people in the industry as you immediately have something else in common and makes you essentially unforgettable.
Can new journalists survive on the income paid to them, or is it best to have a job on the side even if it isn’t related to your future?
Starting out, it is a good idea to have a job on the side to help out financially, but you don’t want it to interfere with you becoming a journalist.
I always made sure I had enough money for travelling to and from games. It is difficult to say whether new journalists can survive on the income as every job differs, and it also depends on a person’s lifestyle to some degree.
As a rookie journalist, what is the importance of having a mentor?
A mentor can help guide you, answer any questions you have, and they are always there to keep you on the right track. They’ve probably gone through the same experiences as an aspiring journalist, so who better to go to for advice?
How tough is it being a young black sports journalist trying to get a job?
For me personally it hasn’t been too bad overall. It could be because I didn’t pursue certain jobs until I knew I was completely ready and suitable for it.
But for the first part of 2016 I was unemployed, searching and applying for jobs that I felt I was suitable for, only to get a lack of responses and that can be difficult to take as someone trying to get his foot in the door.
Also, when you see that most (not all) newsrooms are predominately white, you can begin to question yourself as to whether this is the correct career path. But it’s an extremely difficult industry to get into regardless of race.
What advice would you give to upcoming sports journalist from a black and ethnic minority background trying to break into the industry?
I think it’s important to not let a lack of diversity in the industry distract you from your goals. Believe in yourself that you can reach the top of your profession and don’t let anything stand in your way.
It may sound cliche but hard work is the key to success. Try to better yourself everyday. In terms of advice, I would say you must fully understand the industry you’re getting into. You may have to do a lot of unpaid work, sacrifice weekends, work late nights but all will be worth it if you’re willing to put the effort in.
Networking is key. You just never know who can help you in the future. I’m lucky enough to have met some very helpful people over the years, for example the UK’s first black sports editor of a national daily newspaper, Kadeem Simmonds at the Morning Star.
Why did you choose this field?
I would say I chose this field because attending live football games and having my work seen by thousands online and in print is pretty cool.
I always wanted to do something football related. Whilst at college one of my teacher’s mentioned the possibility of becoming a football journalist because of my writing skills.
What was your first job as a sports journalist, and how did you land it?
My first job was as a match reporter for a non-league website called Football Exclusives. There was a talk from one of the third year students at my University he spoke about opportunities of attending live football matches.
I made sure to get his contact details, emailed him with examples of my work, we had a brief conversation and I was able to land the role as the site’s reporter for Sutton United.