Here at Wannabe Hacks, we are committed to giving you the scoop on different types of journalism. This time, we are delving into the world of sports. Samantha Johnson, has worked for the likes of Sky Sports TV, Chelsea TV and Al-Jazeera. She is currently a host for The Sun Football. I had a chat with her about her career and what it takes to be a sports presenter.
Did you always know you wanted to be a sports presenter?
I always knew I wanted to be a broadcaster and I knew I wanted to be in sports. I just didn’t know how to do that because it’s very difficult industry to get into. If you know someone then it’s great but if you don’t, then you have to work that bit harder. I found that having a degree in journalism was terrific, but what helped me was building up the hours of unpaid work experience just to get a foot in the door. At some point you will have to do unpaid work experience. That’s what I did when I was at uni. Whilst working at Touch magazine, I got the chance to arrange and conduct an interview with Jermain Defoe. His agent liked my questioning and advised me to get in contact with an editor at Sky Sports. It took me a year or two years to actually do this because I was very nervous. I just thought, “I’m not good enough to be part of Sky Sports. How are they going to take on someone like me?” It really took me a lot of confidence just to hand in my CV, but I finally did then kept on calling the editor to ask if he had read it. I did this until he eventually said come in and have two weeks work experience. At the end of those two weeks I was offered a job as a researcher. I then got promoted to sub-editor.
What’s your average day like at Sun Football?
When it comes to the main show, we work very closely with the paper, so we go with what their back page stories are. We talk to the sports desk to see what their big headlines are going to be. A producer writes the stories then I have a look at the script and amend it to how I would say it or edit it down to what’s relevant and what isn’t. I then record the script. My day would start at around 6pm and I leave about 11pm. If there is a live game on then, I won’t finish until at least midnight.
Do you need a vast knowledge of sports to get into sports journalism?
There are some people that might not have the best knowledge of sports, but they do the research. I think that’s pivotal as a journalist full stop. If you don’t know something or if you are not that confident you do your research, but yes it helps if you know your stuff or at least passionate about what you’re talking about
What would your advice be to anyone wanting to impress while on work experience?
It’s easy for me just to say work hard but it’s also about showing initiative. Watch your attitude as well. I once did work experience at another magazine. I only got that because someone before me stormed out of the job. It turned out that there had been a student who threw a strop because he had to make coffee for the editors. The editors then ended up sending an email to all the other editors in that publishing house warning them not to take this person on for work! Your attitude affects your work and could affect your future. I know a lot of people who have worked very hard but their attitude hasn’t been right and they haven’t got that promotion. At times you may feel frustrated but you’ve got to hold it back and think about your actions.
How did you eventually make the jump from being behind the screen to being in front of it?
It’s taken me twelve years to get to the point where I am at now. What I found that helped me a lot was learning about the whole industry. For me, this meant learning how to write scripts, learning how to edit, doing the graft, getting in at 3am for a shift then leaving at midday with my head feeling absolutely frazzled! It’s a case of starting from the bottom and then working your way up. The good thing about Sky Sports was that at the time, you had a little booth that you could go in and practise reading off the auto-cue. I did that a lot of nights after my shift was done. To start off with, I was absolutely rubbish! My boss would say, “Samantha, I don’t know if it’s because you are from Birmingham but you have a terrible habit of making three words into one.” This made me realise that I had a lot of work to do. I started to take elocution lessons and they weren’t cheap! The nice thing was that Sky actually stepped in after I started my lessons and paid for my elocution lessons themselves. If they see that you are willing to put in the work, then they are willing to help you. I had also told them from the offset that this was what I wanted to end up doing.
How important do you think showreels are for aspiring broadcasters?
I would say if you want to be a presenter of any kind, then yes, a show reel is very important. Get out there and start interviewing people. Do a piece to camera or a review, just make sure you have a variety of material. It should be something that shows off your personality too, you want to grab the attention of your potential employers, so don’t make it too long!
You can hear more from Sam in our podcast this week as well as advice from Sky’s Adam Boulton and all the usual news and chatter about all things Wannabe Hacks.