Aspiring sports writer and Globe reader @casey_dulson asks: “What advice would you give an up and coming sports journalist?” As an experienced sports columnist, The Globe’s Cathal Kelly knows sports – but more importantly, his writing appeals to those who don’t know everything about A-Rod, or anything about soccer. Following the day of the Ottawa attack, Kelly’s piece about the day of no hockey could serve as a lesson in sports-writing in itself.
Kelly’s advice for you:
Here’s the key ability of sportswriter – waiting.
Waiting in hallways, and press boxes, and offices, and outside arenas, in bad hotel rooms in worse cities, and by your phone. You spend half your life waiting for something to happen. Once it does, you spend the other half waiting for someone to talk to you about it.
It’s the spaces in between where you make your mark. Here’s my (totally flawed) formula for making it as a sportswriter.
Be good – This is a dual function of innate talent and reading. A very few of us are born with it. The rest of us copy it from our betters – and think more Richard Yates than Frank DeFord. You could be a natural genius. But you’re probably not. So read a lot and try to do what they did.
Be nice – Never fail to make a friend. The players can afford to be jerks. Everyone else in the game gets where they are because they are agreeable to be around. Do so. Never run anyone down. Be generous. Buy the first and last round. Talk people up. Ask questions. Do more listening than talking. Sow kindness and you will reap success.
Be different – You ever been to the Museu Picasso in Barcelona? It shows the young master doing the photo-realistic stuff everyone else had done. But he did it aged 11. By 20, he was in Paris doing something completely different. It’s a big world – be different. I can’t tell you what that looks like. Decide for yourself.
Do it alone – Look at what drunkjaysfans.com has managed. Call them, listen to them. Then ruthlessly exploit them. They are the 21st century Canadian-based template of DIY sportswriting excellence.
Be relentless – Once you’ve met the first four criteria, pick a half-dozen jobs you’d like and target them. Make calls. Ask stupid questions. You’d be amazed how open journos are to people who come without any answers. We love questions. We suspect answers. Find out who can hire you and begin – gently – badgering them. Be good. Be really good. Don’t come until you’re good. If you’re good, then come.
Remember what it’s about – It’s about writing. It’s not about sports. Sports is electricity. Writing is the delivery system. No one has ever made money off electricity. Adjust accordingly.
Be deferential – On the first day in the office, you will see me trying to figure out my expenses. Offer to help do my expenses. And when my expenses are refused, offer to pay them for me. It’s a long road. Start out with generosity.