How to start a career as a motorsport journalist
Travelling to races, interviewing drivers, shooting beautiful cars... It's not as far out of reach as you might think.
I started my career as a journalist a long time ago, writing for a small music magazine when I was in my last year of highschool. My interests developed and while I had a few 'normal' jobs along the way, I learnt a lot about what it takes to be a journalist.
In running Racingmentor.com and working within motorsport, I've come across plenty of people who want to pursue careers as journalists and commentators. Some still think it's a pipe dream but others are beginning to realise that it's not quite as difficult as once thought.
Here I am interviewing the Deegan brothers for Cambridge TV
Of course, with any 'dream' career, you need to work hard to get somewhere but I wanted to put together a guide that can get you there faster.
You're in the right place to start writing. DriveTribe provides an amazing platform for new writers to flex their creative muscles and build up their skills. You might post a scathing review of the hire car you took to a race, or you might start reviewing each F1, NASCAR, Indy Car, or BTCC race as they come.
I already had a smidge of a career as a journalist - writing on business and fashion - but to get my foot in the door with motorsport, I decided to start Turneight.co.uk and waffled on about F1 on there and on Twitter.
Start a blog
With a blog you can hone your own voice, build a following and start to get noticed. At the start, you'll be writing for free but you have complete editorial control while you build your portfolio.
A blog can also turn into a nice source of income, so look into offering guest posts and advertising as well as sticking in a few affiliate links where appropriate.
Build your social followings
If you can build a following of people who trust your opinion and are entertained by what you write about, this can serve you well in the future.
Imagine if you've been writing about motorsport on your blog and have built a following of thousands on Twitter, when you pitch to a magazine or go for that dream job, you've got proof that people love your work.
Build your portfolio
A piece written for Business Review Europe
Very few people fall straight into a magazine writing job without first building a portfolio. The easiest way to do this is on your blog, as well as on platforms such as DriveTribe and Medium. These sites allow you to build new audiences and perhaps even tackle subjects that may not otherwise work on your own site.
Start making a list of the websites and magazines you'd love to write for and start imagining what you'd write. You need to voraciously consume the content these outlets already produce because when you pitch or apply for a job, an editor will expect you to know the publication's tone of voice and audience.
Get to races
Kate Hewitt interviewing Sam Bird. Credit: Thierry Courtois
If you want to be a motorsport journalist, you need to get along to races. Even if you’re just going as a fan, it’s important to surround yourself with noisy cars and people who work in the industry. It’s likely you already go to your favourite races regularly but expand your horizons to club motorsport, Autograss and karting as all these present huge opportunities for stories and experience. They're also much more affordable than big ticket races such as F1.
Don’t just hang back taking notes for a write up, either. Get out there and speak to the drivers and teams about how their race weekend is going. This is easier in club motorsport and karting because the paddock is open and you can usually wander into any garage you like.
If you’re going to BTCC, British GT and Formula One races, this might be a little more difficult, but treat those races as something to work up to.
When is it OK to write for free?
Jake Sanson commentating on the BirelArt UK Series at Fulbeck Karting Circuit. Credit: TLP Photography
I often say you shouldn’t write for free and a token amount of money is better than nothing but there are times at the start of every journalist’s career when you might have to write for zero payment.
Firstly, understand that your work has value but there are people out there who will do anything they can to get free content. When you’re faced with this kind of ‘opportunity’, ask yourself: what’s in it for me?
Exposure won’t pay the bills but it might be an impressive byline to add to your portfolio, or you might get access to a Formula One race through that outlet, or the opportunity might afford you an all-expenses-paid trip somewhere fancy, even if you’re not getting a fee for doing the work.
Never think that because you’re just starting out that no one will want to pay you. Write for the sites that will look best on your portfolio and offer you decent exposure across the web and social media.
Don’t just accept an unpaid commission thinking that’s what you should do when you’re starting out. There are reputable sites and magazines out there that will pay new writers, you just have to show them what you can do.
How to pitch a story
Pitching a story is a huge part of picking up paid work as a freelance journalist. Before you pitch, make sure you have a good story. Perhaps it’s a new take on an old story, or maybe it’s an exclusive with an elusive racing driver, or perhaps you’ve been able to experience a behind-the-scenes look at a top team. What makes your story stand out and why would someone want to pay you to write it?
A lot of the time, you also need a hook. If you’ve had an amazing insight into the William’s F1 team, you could tie it in with the 40th anniversary, for example. Your story needs to be timely. There’s no point in talking about touring cars of the eighties unless one has just been sold for huge amounts of money, or it’s coming up to a relevant anniversary.
It’s usually magazines and newspapers that require this kind of timely hook and these are the publications that tend to pay the best. Some websites might not be so fussy about the timeliness of the story but it has to be relevant and you need to be saying something new.
It’s important to find the commissioning editor for the publication you’re pitching to so if you can get a direct email address, you’ll probably have more chance than if you send to a generic address.
Take a look at the masthead at the front of a magazine, this is a list of the people who work on that publication and, usually, their email addresses and telephone numbers too.
Finally, make sure you read the magazine and have a good idea of where your article could sit within it.
Do you need a degree to be a journalist?
Writing questions at Snetterton ahead of interviews
Doing a degree in journalism can help teach you the fundamentals of finding, writing an pitching a story. Most courses also include placements, which can be a fantastic way to get your foot in the door and get some in-house experience. That being said, there’s nothing stopping your from pursuing a journalism career without a relevant degree. I don’t have a degree and I think I’m doing OK.
If you think you can go at it alone, then go for it. A degree is a great way to learn all the necessary skills and make contacts but you can do that without getting massively into debt too. Think about your potential career path and weigh up the pros and cons of going to university for three years.
Turn your dream into a goal and start moving forward to build your portfolio, meet people, interview drivers and pitch to motorsport publications. If you have any questions, I'll answer in the comments.