Sports journalist and presenter Vaishali Bhardwaj describes what it takes to break into the industry…
I did a Microbiology degree at Imperial College London but, after three years of training, realised that it wasn’t for me – I wanted to pursue a different career path. I’d always loved watching and playing sports, so sports journalism seemed like a logical move.
I didn’t have any relevant experience at this point, so the first thing I did was apply for internships and work placements so that I could get a better understanding of what to expect.
Anyone who has been in a similar position will know that applying to internships is hard enough when you DO have the relevant degree – so it was certainly a tough process for me. I carried out a lot of research and I scanned websites daily for appropriate roles.
Eventually I was fortunate enough to secure internships with BBC Sport, The Guardian and The Times’ sports desk. For all three, I had to go through several stages of interviews before being offered anything.
It was tough – but I think the main thing that helped me succeed was being able to show editors just how passionate I was about sport. I talked to them in-depth about the sports I love, and because I also kept a blog at the time, I was able to demonstrate an interest in journalism.
Needless to say, these placements were worth it. They taught me to write balanced, concise and accurate sports stories. I also made some excellent contacts, and perhaps most importantly, I learned to adapt to the often unsociable hours that journalists work. In other words, I had obtained enough exposure to sports journalism to know that I wanted to pursue a career in the field.
The internships also provided me with a direct means of finding more work. Having that experience on my CV, alongside the knowledge I had gained, meant I was able to land work experience at FourFourTwo magazine. This then led to a regular writing slot on their website – which soon became a more permanent role covering Spanish football with another site.
I also got invited to a local radio station in London, where I began presenting and producing a Premier League football show. This, in turn, helped me land appearances on several international podcasts and get more work at national radio stations such as talkSPORT.
There had been a knock-on effect: the more I did well in my roles, the more other companies wanted to me to write, present or produce for them.
While my career sounds as if it has been a relatively simple journey so far when I sum it up in a few short paragraphs, this certainly hasn’t been the case. Don’t be fooled – breaking into sports journalism requires hard work, bags of optimism, determination and a willingness to work for free – at least in the early stages.
Pursuing this career path also means you need to be very open to looking at new ways of enhancing your skill set all the time. For example, I realised early on that I needed to gain all of the traditional abilities that journalists need – everything from a solid understanding of media law to a mastery of shorthand. I therefore enrolled onto a long-distance NCTJ Diploma in Journalism course while I worked.
This undoubtedly equipped me with the tools to succeed in the trade, but I have also worked tirelessly to teach myself even more – such as editing audio and video content, or even learning new languages – to ensure that I have as many skills as possible to succeed in a highly competitive industry.
You really do need to be willing to put in a lot of hard graft if you want to make it. For me, working and completing a post-graduate course at the same time has single-handedly been the most challenging part of my career so far – but it’s all been worth it because I love my job. If you are truly passionate about sports journalism, then every effort you make to succeed will pay off in the end.
Seeing an idea for an article or a video feature come to life from the research stage through to publishing is immensely fulfilling. Even better are the memories of the times when my career has given me the opportunity to interview some of my favourite sports personalities.
I still remember being one of a few journalists chosen to ride along the London streets on an open-top bus with athletes Tyson Gay, David Oliver and Andy Turner ahead of their Aviva Grand Prix press conference in 2010. It was certainly a unique way to conduct an interview, and a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I also got to travel to France to speak with former Lille defender Aurélien Chedjou for FourFourTwo recently. After finishing my interview with the centre-back, he headed into the kit room and re-emerged with a Lille shirt, which he signed and gave to me. For someone who is passionate about sport, it is memories like these which make the effort worthwhile.