We live in a sports-crazy country. India is more known as a cricket-crazy nation. However, the last two decades have seen a vast resurgence of other sports like hockey, badminton, football, tennis, chess, and kabaddi in India. During the ongoing coronavirus crisis, sports might sound trivial. But, as rightly explained by Sambit Bal (Editor-in-Chief, ESPNcricinfo), “in times of distress, sport is still out healing balm… Sport is an essential companion in life.”
Of course, the lion share of credit goes to sportspersons for making a sport popular. But, some sporting events and/or sporting memories become iconic, courtesy the sports journalists.
Due to busy schedules nowadays, people often miss out on catching up on live games. Replays and highlights are there. But, it’s the sports news with detailed analysis and reports that people often eagerly look forward to – either on the print media or on the internet.
In fact, it’s a sports journalist who makes the following occasions to remain in people’s memories forever:
PV Sindhu winning the BWF World Championship in 2019
Mary Kom winning the Bronze Medal in 2012 London Olympics
Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s six in the 2011 Cricket World Cup Final
Abhinav Bindra Winning Gold in 2008 Olympics
Dada waving his jersey at the Lord’s Balcony after Natwest Trophy win in 2002
Leander Paes winning the 1996 Olympic Bronze (India’s first individual Olympic medal in 44 years)
Kapil Dev holding the trophy in 1983 World Cup
India winning their first Hockey Olympic gold medal Post-Independence in 1948 London Olympics, and many more.
So, what does it take to make a career in sports journalism? In this post, we have a tête-à-tête with Devarchit Varma, Special Correspondent (Sports) at Hindustan Times.
Careers in Sports Journalism in India
Q&A with Devarchit Varma
Special Correspondent (Sports), Hindustan Times
Q. What made you interested in sports journalism? Was there any specific incident or it just happened?
Devarchit: My father was a journalist, which is where it all began. To see him bring out stories, interviews, and features from the world of arts and culture, interact with the biggest of celebrities, meet some of the most talented people was an early inspiration.
Also, to see stories with his name in the newspaper early in the mornings also remains the first memories about this field—as a career option. He was an arts and culture specialist, but I was completely into sports, and cricket was something I could never put my mind away from—even when there was a phase wherein I was away from the fields, friends (with whom I’d play), and TV.
The drive to become a sports journalist came a little while after setting myself on the path to become a journalist. The initial idea was to be a development reporter, but sports kept calling me. Striving to become a cricket journalist was also sparked by reading some wonderful writing on the sport—I realized cricket is so much more than the on-field action, etc.
Watching a few others on the TV channels, like listening to someone as inimitable as Darain Shahidi on ESPN presenting the Sportscentre show. It was perhaps a very strong driving force during the time when I was making career choices.
Q. You did your Bachelors in Commerce and later pursued a PG Diploma in Media and Journalism from IIJNM (Bangalore). How was the transition? Did you face any challenges in switching from Commerce to Journalism?
Devarchit: Absolutely not.
What people must know that if you are truly passionate and sincere about any new step which they want to take in their lives or even any new direction they want to move in, nothing can stop them if they put in the hard work.
Journalism does not require you do to heavy studies inside colleges/classrooms. To be a journalist, the very first aspect you must have is the fire and passion for the field you want to report in, or write on. Domain knowledge, ability as well as clarity of expression combined with your willingness to learn and grow, will then take you forward.
Q. Could you please share a few things about IIJNM – the admission process, campus culture, faculty members, alumni network, placements, etc.?
Devarchit: It has been a decade since I passed out from IIJNM. The college has undergone some changes in terms of student strength etc… but it remains one of the best places to study journalism, it has one of the most practical courses and training, which makes you ready for the real world. The faculty are industry seniors, and all that you are learning from them is how the real world truly functions. The alumni network is as helpful as anywhere else, and the college enjoys strong placement prospects too.
Q. Among all the verticals within Journalism, the Sports vertical is one of the most competitive. Could you please share a few tips for the students who want to get into the field of Sports Journalism in India?
Devarchit: Nothing is easy, you have to put in your hard yards. You have to be persistent, consistent, innovative as well as rock-solid in your aspirations. Playing a sport is one thing, covering it is another and writing on it is a different ball game altogether.
One may need years and years of writing and learning to hone the skills, even if it is for a regular sport like cricket. Media is a field which somehow gives people an idea about becoming superstars—that you’d be seen on TV, that your name will be there in the newspaper etc…
But the fact is that you will have to work hard every single day of your career in this profession. You can dream of becoming a popular reporter, but you will have to be ready to trudge along, arduous path persistently to get where you want to.
Q. In any professional field, there are a few pros and cons. Could you please share the same in sports journalism with our readers?
Devarchit: It is not easy to make your place; you will have to wait for your opportunity and ensure that you make most of it. Things take their own time to fall in place. You will have to keep yourself updated with all information that is necessary for the beat you cover, and try and put your best foot forward.
You will meet all sorts of people in this industry, with all sorts of working style, culture and routine. It will all be new, at times you may not like it, but do not give up before giving your best for at least one to three years.
Q. According to you, what are the key skills one must have in order to make it big in the sports journalism field?
Devarchit: Domain knowledge, ability and clarity of expression, and your determination to keep doing the same processes on a daily basis but still be delivering at your best.
Q. Apart from writing/editing and other communication skills, do candidates need to develop any specific tech skills – Statistics, Graphic Designing, Analytics, etc.?
Devarchit: Absolutely. A journalist in today’s world cannot be confined to the medium he works in. The world is changing rapidly and the mediums for the flow of information—which is what journalism basically is—are changing too.
A print reporter cannot shy away from facing the camera, and vice versa, a TV guy must be able to put out well-written reports. Statistics, graphics, and analytics, etc are just additional ways of presenting information for easy and better understanding.
Q. How should fresh graduates approach job hunting in the sports journalism field?
Devarchit: You must have some kind of body of work—written copies even if it is on blogs or videos, which they can put out on YouTube.
For those wanting to work on the web, there are so many websites that are providing opportunities to start writing for them. Your presence on social media is extremely important: any employer would like to know all that they can about the person he is going to hire.
Most of the organizations have room for interns on a regular basis—try getting that. Make your contacts and use them at the appropriate time.
Q. In the media/journalism field, the working hours and remuneration are always a bit painful in the initial 2 – 3 years. It also happens in other domains. What are your thoughts?
Devarchit: Let us put it this way: journalism is for those who are passionate, say for community, society, sports, arts, etc. It is for those who are truly passionate about story-telling, discovering the truth, letting the world know about something that exists right there amidst them but they are usually not aware.
It does not necessarily always pay you as high as the other industries may. But then, it is a choice you have to make consciously, stick to your guns and keep putting in the hard work. With experience, you will grow and so will your earnings.
Q. So, apart from the passion, is there anything else that can help the young guns feeling motivated?
Devarchit: If you get the thrill of being on the TV, or seeing your name on top of a report in a newspaper or a website, then you know your direction. A lot of this also depends on how passionate you are for the society and the country—media remains the fourth pillar of our democracy and continues to play a massive role in the modern world.
Q. What is the usual daily schedule in the life of a sports journalist?
Devarchit: Some days are free, but some days you may not get proper sleep, food and rest. Life is like that! There will be events to attend, people to meet, celebrities to interview and a lot of traveling to do. But on days when there is a seasonal break you may be dealing with only desk work—as in producing a newspaper or maintaining a website. Depending on where you work at, what your number of working hours are, you will gradually get used to life in this industry that anyway works 24×7.
Q. Is there any memorable incident/experience that happened while working (say interviewing your favorite cricketer or idol)?
Devarchit: There are so many of them. When I was covering Bollywood, I had to wait for six hours sitting in a room to interview two actresses—these were my first interviews.
Once I ended up using the term ‘star-son’ rather than ‘star-daughter’ to Shraddha Kapoor, and she enjoyed being called that. In cricket, I was told I would get only 10 minutes or so with Rohit Sharma, but we both began talking (rather interviewing) that it went on for more than 25 minutes (I still remember it was more than 3,000 words to write). There are so many experiences…
Q. After working at CricketCountry for more than 6 years, you moved to Hindustan Times. How has been the experience working with HT? Do you miss anything from CC (say online reporting or anything else)?
Devarchit: There are things that I do miss and then there are things that I do not, at all. The sheer thrill of working in online space—you cannot even waste a second—keeps you on your toes and ensures that you only put out the best work.
Doing live cricket match blogs, ball-by-ball commentary and producing news reports at tremendous speed and accuracy are the functions that you do not come across in print.
But from what I have experienced, the print media is all about quality and dependability—you get plenty of time and space to bring out your best work. Readers tend to respect and depend on print more—newspapers have always been at their side.
For me, print is more fun and challenging, also knowing that if you make an error, there is no room or opportunity to rectify it.
Q. How should junior folks (work-ex less than 3 years) go about job search in journalism?
Devarchit: First and foremost, they have to be sure about journalism being their top choice. Once that is finalized, you may approach senior journalists, organizations and look out for opportunities on their respective websites.
Networking is also very important here, you have to make a lot of new friends and acquaintances.
Related Article: Top 5 Rules of Effective Networking
Q. Is networking (and contacts) more important or is it the stories that you have covered/wrote earlier more important?
Devarchit: Both go hand in hand. You will want to move from one place to another, which is where networking can help—but only that far. Whether you get selected or not purely depends, or should depend, on your body of work, your talent, your skills, abilities and your passion or eagerness to learn and grow.
Q. Finally, would you like to share any general career advice for the folks (school & college students) who want to explore the broad field of media & journalism?
Devarchit: It is very, very crucial to know deep in your heart and mind what is it that you want. A job in media comes with its highlights but it has its repercussions too. You may not earn as much as your friend in other professions. You may not have weekends free. You could be working six days a week. You could be working on holidays. You could be working until late at night. You will have work when your friends or family are making holiday plans, or there is an occasion to attend. The life of a journalist is very, very different from the life of your friend working in any other field.
If you truly are thinking about becoming a media person, then you must have clarity of thoughts, expression and a huge wealth of knowledge in terms of the field you cover and the language you express your information in. No one can go the distance without doing the hard work, without patience, perseverance, and discipline. You have to put in a lot of hard work to move up the ladder, which is somewhat true for all fields in today’s world.