Why is feature writing in sports journalism important?

Why is feature writing in sports journalism important?

Sports journalism is a dynamic and competitive field that needs writers who are able to communicate the action to readers. Sports journalists report and analyze sporting events and news.

Journalists are required to show attention to detail and have excellent research skills. They must have exceptional interpersonal skills and be adept at using new technology. Their work should be completed to a high standard and adhere to ethical and professional standards.

There are many types of writing within journalism, with sports features making a valued contribution to sports coverage. Feature writing is a type of journalism that involves writing articles on relevant issues, sports personalities and trending topics. Journalists research their subject and write articles to appeal to those interested in sport, including facts, quotes, interviews and photographs.

Journalists can learn more about their trade by gaining a master’s degree in journalism. They can also read features by successful journalists to see how they bring stories to life.

What is a sports feature?

Feature writing is usually longer than a news story and is more informative. Stories are often told in depth, and the subject can be presented from a new angle. A sports feature for a newspaper is usually topical and imparts current information but does not have the immediacy of a live program on television.

Sports features are articles or television/video presentations that cover a specific sport, a sports personality, sporting trivia, or outstanding records and achievements. A sports feature focuses on one of these aspects. For example, a sports feature could be about the US Open tennis tournament or a top sporting personality, typically someone outstanding in their game, such as Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Simone Biles or Michael Jordan. This kind of feature is usually written in the form of a profile.

Features can be about various sports, such as basketball, American football, ice hockey or tennis. Sports-based features deal with different aspects of the particular sport. They could be up-to-date reports on tournaments and matches in progress. They also report on problems and issues in sports. For example, they could cover the difficulties of coaching and selecting players.

Major sporting events, such as the Olympic Games, the Open tennis tournament, the US Masters golf tournament, or the World Series, can be the focus of sports features. The Olympics holds numerous events, and a feature would cover all of the sports involved and provide information on competitions, records and personalities in these sports. Each sporting event has its traditions, rules and culture, and features seek to reflect this. Sports features can focus on sports history with records and details about sports events and people. They can also be presented live on television. These features can capture the excitement and atmosphere of the event and can include actual footage and analysis.

There can be debates and controversies in sports, and journalists can represent them in their articles. For example, sports journalists can address arguments about team strategies. They provide a platform for fans to give their viewpoints and participate in debates. These discussions deepen our understanding of sport and encourage critical thinking about the wider implications of sport.

Relevance of topic

Writers are required to have expertise in the sport they are covering, as newspapers and magazines only publish features that are well researched. The subject’s relevance is important and should deal with recent events and sportspeople competing currently. Subjects are relevant if they cover sporting events in the present, immediate past or immediate future. Newspapers would not usually want features about events that happened long before publication. Sometimes major events occur concurrently, and newspapers expand their coverage to include as many contemporary events as possible. A weekly sports magazine focuses on sporting events and personalities from the past week. Some magazines concentrate on just one sport and may feature articles about the history of that sport.

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Sports profiles

Sports features can be profiles of specific sportspeople, such as interesting coaches or new athletes building an impressive career. The journalist looks for sportspeople to profile who will interest their readers. The journalist may know about the athlete’s sporting career, but they can find out more when they interview them.

When interviewing an athlete or sports representative, the journalist can observe their mannerisms, tone of voice and posture to give the reader an idea of what they are like. Beforehand, the journalist will research the interviewee and have questions ready to ask. Asking open questions during the interview can encourage the interviewee to say more. Profile features include components of hard news stories but also impart the essence of the person being profiled. The contextual information should show the reader why this person is interesting and relevant.

They may also interview people close to the athlete who know them in order to create an informed article with new information for the reader. Sports journalists can talk to these people to find out more about the sportsperson they are profiling. They can talk to the athletes, coaches and other players and use quotes in their articles from these interviews. The journalist’s aim is to find out what it is that makes the athlete’s story distinctive. Talking to family and friends can enable the journalist to give a rounded view of the person.

Sports profiles look deeper into people’s stories and discover aspects such as the difficulties they have experienced and their inspirations. Feature stories often take a different perspective on sports subjects. For example, they might profile an underdog who beat the odds. These stories highlight the tenacity that allows sportspeople to achieve great successes. By showing the personal journeys behind success, sports journalists remind their readers that sport is as much about people as the competition.

Sporting events can often reflect elements and traits of the societies in which they take place. Sports journalists can recognize connections and explore how sports relate to culture and politics. They can do this by celebrating the diversity in the Olympics, for example, or by showing how sports are related to social issues. Sports journalism can inspire people both on and off the field. Profiles of top sportspeople, underdog stories, and accounts of remarkable comebacks can inspire young athletes. They can also inspire readers by showing what can be achieved through dedication and determination.

John McPhee – renowned journalist

John Colapinto, a journalist, has written an article about writers and tennis. He believes that the best writing about tennis makes the reader feel that they are watching or playing the game. He wrote about John McPhee, a renowned American journalist who was widely known for writing sports features and profiles of figures in sport. McPhee was a staff writer at the New Yorker for 58 years and won a George Polk Career Award for lifetime achievement in journalism, one of the highest awards in this field.

McPhee’s articles are examples of high-level feature writing and can be studied today by journalists learning their trade. McPhee wrote a feature about the tennis star Rod Laver, who was playing a match at Wimbledon. Here is an excerpt from the feature:

“Laver is so far ahead that the match has long since become an exhibition. Nonetheless, he plays every point as if it were vital. He digs for gets. He sends up topspin lobs. He sprints and dives for Alexander’s smashes. He punches volleys toward the corners and, when they miss, he winces. He is not playing against Alexander. He is playing against perfection.”

Another example of McPhee’s journalism is a feature about a tennis match between Arthur Ashe and Clark Graebner. McPhee explored the match from a different angle by asking both players to watch a video replay and describe what they had been thinking at each moment. McPhee also embedded other information into the feature, including both players’ backgrounds. One player was black and one white, one Democrat and one Republican, and one poor and one privileged. The feature looked at the deep connection between how someone plays tennis and who they are and American society at the time. Here are the opening sentences of the feature:

“Arthur Ashe, his feet apart, his knees slightly bent, lifts a tennis ball into the air. The toss is high and forward. If the ball were allowed to drop, it would, in Ashe’s words, ‘make a parabola and drop to the grass three feet in front of the baseline.’ He has practiced tossing a ball just so thousands of times. But he is going to hit this one. His feet draw together. His body straightens and tilts forward far beyond the point of balance. He is falling.”


The journalist decides on the topic of their feature and then carries out research. A feature on a tennis match, for example, would have details of match scores, the speed of serves, the number of double faults, and the number of first serves. This information must be authenticated before publication. Statistical analysis can enrich the feature, and the journalist must master the technicalities of the sport they are writing about.

The collection of data is essential when writing a feature. A feature written about a sporting event at the Olympics would need data related to the event. This data could be collected from the International Olympic Committee press bureau or Olympic associations in different countries. Sometimes, sports museums have material that could be used for a feature.

As mentioned, interviews provide important material for sports features. Interviews with key players can enhance a feature when covering a major tournament. Players can talk about their experience and give an insight into their view of the event. Readers are given a more rounded understanding of what has happened and different aspects of the event. Sportspeople, family members and coaches can be interviewed and put their own viewpoint across.


Photographers are vital in providing a visual record of great sporting moments – their work is a crucial element of a sports feature. They can show the tension and excitement of a sporting moment. Daily newspapers have at least one photograph of a major sporting event. Magazine features use photographs to complement the written content. They want to create images that tell a story and resonate with viewers. Also, a captivating photograph can make readers more likely to read the article.

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Writing a feature

The journalist writing a feature wants to inform, entertain, and engage. First, they develop a viable idea and an interesting angle. Journalists must find the right audience for their work before developing the content. They can look at a few possible outlets and then decide which is the most suitable for the audience and editorial style. It is worth checking that the chosen publication has not used a similar feature before and discovering more about its audience and the house style. The journalist can also analyze the article lengths, tone and writing styles employed.

Articles require an interesting angle, and this can generate a headline. It can help to write the headline first, as this will guide the content. The article should be factual, and the journalist’s opinion and general comments are best avoided. Background reading and in-depth research will enhance the piece. For example, if writing about professional coaching, then it would work well to find a high-profile expert.

Materials collected are edited and organized for publication. The focus of the feature must be adhered to. The data collected, photographs and interviews are combined to produce the final feature. Sports features for sporting magazines and newspapers must meet their publication policies. They must also meet the word count requirements.

If writing for a print magazine or newspaper, the article can be considered in terms of a theme with additional components that can be published online. Editing the work can include checking the flow of the writing and proofreading for spelling or punctuation mistakes. This should be done carefully before the work is submitted.

Career progression

The journalism profession has evolved alongside changes in technology, and this has created opportunities for enterprising journalists. Building a strong foundation in sports journalism can help individuals succeed in the field. Focused on the future of media channels, the MA Sports Journalism degree at St Bonaventure University covers topics such as the art of the sports interview, the business of sports media, journalism ethics and sports reporting. The online MA in Sports Journalism could be a great point of entry for someone aspiring to start a career as a sports journalist, and for professionals working in the industry that are looking to get acquainted with new practices.

Working professionals can benefit from studying online as it can fit in with their other responsibilities. It can be beneficial to apply what is learned in the workplace. A master’s degree can give journalists an edge in a competitive job market. There are continually evolving technologies and platforms in journalism. Students can master current programs and be aware of future developments. Graduate programs provide opportunities to meet journalists and make contacts that can be used in the future. Graduates are prepared for various journalism roles, such as staff writer, columnist, podcast host, editor, sports information director and more.

Multi-skilled occupation

Sports journalists use different formats to write compelling articles for their readers. They need diverse skills to put across stories that excite the interest of sports fans. Sports features give accounts of particular sports, sportspeople or events, and profiles are written to give readers a better understanding of a player’s sporting journey.

Sports journalism is a multi-skilled occupation and an interesting and rewarding field in which to work. It is also a competitive field, and gaining a master’s in journalism can open doors to numerous career advancement opportunities.

Ayhan Fletcher

"Subtly charming zombie nerd. Infuriatingly humble thinker. Twitter enthusiast. Hardcore web junkie."

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