SUCCESS STORIES: Elizabeth - getting into sports journalism

9 min read

We recently spoke to 23-year-old Elizabeth Conway, a sports journalist who is paving the way for women in the industry. Elizabeth went to the University of Birmingham, where she studied Spanish and English Language - completing a year abroad in Madrid.

Elizabeth told us that she's always been a sports-lover, playing netball, hockey, and even being a nationally ranked table-tennis player. She knew that she wanted a job incorporating sport in some way, shape, or form, but also her love for writing, content creation, editing, and presenting.

"I thought, why don't I try and be a sports presenter or sports journalist?

When you see so many people on TV whose dads are famous footballers, or they've got contacts within the industry, I thought what chance will I have? It's really hard when you have an ambition but have no idea how to get there.

So I started doing my research, and I emailed Gabby Logan - who’s a bit of an inspiration to me.

I was so young at the time, I had no connections within the industry. You can’t be what you can’t see. 

I saw Gabby Logan, and I thought 'I want to be her'.

So that's who I reached out to, and luckily she actually replied. I don't think I expected a reply from her, but I still to this day, remember her replying to me.

Gabby told me that my goals were brilliant and that the industry needed more women. She said to go for my dreams and that if I planned to go to university - which I wanted to - that I should get involved in student media and get as much work experience as possible.

So that's exactly what I did.

I started building up my experience, writing for my local hockey club, and doing match reports. At university - if you choose to go to university - there are so many different societies that you can get involved in. The student media organisations at The University of Birmingham were amazing, like the student newspaper and their student guild TV; it was just a fantastic opportunity to get involved.

I occasionally look back at those emails from Gabby Logan.

It's nice to see that I've actually achieved what I wanted to when I was 16, which was just to get into the industry."

How important is networking in sports journalism?

"Networking is vital in sports journalism. It's a skill that you need to learn, and one which you need someone to explain to you how to do it. I didn't really have this but I just learned as I went. It's so important, because they say: 'Your network is your net worth'.

The contacts I've made as a consequence of different work experiences; I've kept in touch with them, returned to them and secured future work opportunities.

Having mentors and people that you can reach out to is so helpful, especially if you don't have any contacts in the industry yourself.

Ask questions about everything and anything - even things like contracts and the financial side behind it, and how to get to where you want to get to. There's no one straight, set path, but mentors and contacts certainly open your eyes to the ways that they did it.

Forming a network is especially important for women in the industry.

There are a lot more women coming into the sports journalism industry which is amazing. There are also fantastic communities on LinkedIn and Facebook for women in the industry, which are all championing women's sport and journalism.

Even when I was at the BBC in Birmingham - during my final year freelancing for BBC Sport - I was the only woman on the sports desk. There’s definitely still a lot more to achieve in terms of equality, but it's certainly getting there."

How have you found being female in quite a male-dominated industry?

"Overall, I've been very lucky. The majority of the men that I've worked with have been immensely supportive, and welcomed me with open arms and would say that I was a breath of fresh air - bringing new ideas and perspectives. 

I have had one bad experience with a company who I felt were hugely male-dominated and perhaps didn't embrace a female idea as much and a female perspective. However, that was only one small experience amongst many where I feel like I've been totally looked after and welcomed.

I feel lucky to say that I haven't experienced any kind of misogyny or comments that weren’t appropriate. It’s a very respectful industry in general. I know misogyny in the sports journalism industry does exist, and I'm sure that people with a much bigger profile than mine, perhaps receive negative comments which is totally unacceptable. I'm lucky that I haven't."

What work experience have you gained for your current role?

"I slowly started building up my experience, volunteering for big sporting events that were happening in Birmingham, and eventually managed to get my first little break as a BBC trainee kickoff reporter during my second year of university, which was fantastic. That was my first insight into working for a national newsroom. Then it just snowballed. 

I ended up going to Sky Sports News, Reuters, and Givemesport Women - lots of different companies. Then I flew out to Madrid and spent the year perfecting my Spanish skills - speaking multiple languages is a great bonus for journalists. I finished my degree and had everything set up ready to go for the big graduate schemes at BBC and ITV - but then COVID hit.

It was an absolute nightmare, as I know it has been for so many people, but especially for those working in the sports industry. The sports industry completely hemorrhaged as there was no live sport anymore, and many of the Graduate schemes were just pulled. So I was left in a bit of a predicament where sports journalism was still my ambition and my goal, but I still had to pay the bills. I needed a job. I was thinking...what on earth can I do for the year? 

I decided to train as a teacher, as there was a recruitment crisis in Spanish teachers and I'd had some experience as a teaching assistant in Madrid so I knew I loved teaching.

It’s given my career a great foundation as the sports journalism career can be cutthroat - you might not be in work all the time. Having this teaching qualification has given me security. I’ve finished teaching now as live sport is up and running again; I'm back on track and working as a presenter and a journalist for BBC Sport and The Hundred."

Which sport do you love reporting on the most, and is there a sport in which you'd love to specialise in the future?

"If you want to get into sports journalism, naturally, people tend to have maybe 1-3 sports that they completely love. Hockey and netball are the two that I feel very confident with, because I play the sport and I know them. Table tennis too, but obviously, table tennis doesn't get too much media coverage!

You’ve got to be a master of all trades in sports journalism, especially at the BBC.

You've got to know your football, cricket, and rugby inside out, but you don't need to feel pressure about that if you’re not an expert in them.

In terms of the sports I'd love to report on in the future, I think maybe women's football, which is really hitting the headlines at home with the WSL (Women's Super League).

The Commonwealth Games is coming up in Birmingham in summer 2022, which is huge event for me being in my own city! I'd love to report on the hockey, netball, or even athletics there.

I'm open to what you report on as a presenter. I could be doing one weekend on the cricket, which I love doing, but the next weekend I could be covering a football match."

How does freelancing in sports journalism work?

"It's different, and it was a whole new world for me having not experienced the freelancing world before.

There are two options in the sports journalism industry. You can apply for full-time jobs, but they can be quite hard to get, and most people actually prefer the freelance life. Freelancing means that you can essentially be your own manager, dipping in and out of different companies and opportunities.

For example, during the summer I was freelancing, which meant that one day I could be doing a shift on BBC West Midlands Radio being the Olympic correspondent, and the next day I could be working with Progress Productions - a production company covering The Hundred cricket at Edgbaston.

Freelancing means you’re not tied to anything, which is very normal in the sports journalism industry. However, this can be quite scary for anyone who likes financial security whilst they're young. Luckily I'm still living at home so it is feasible, but it's one of those things that you just have to embrace."

What do you feel is your proudest moment to date?

"To present at the first-ever year of The Hundred, which hopefully is going to be a big part of the cricket calendar, was really special. For it to be held at Edgbaston, my home cricket ground, was an unbelievable experience.

I was presenting in front of packed-out stadiums with thousands of people, interviewing fans, commentating on the action, and meeting some of the players. Luckily, my team also got through to the final!

We went to the Oval and then to Lords (the home of cricket) in London. Experiencing a sell-out Lords, presenting on the big screen with my microphone and camerawoman in front of me was so surreal. I'd look around and realise that so many people were watching, which was an amazing moment.

It was everything I'd dreamed of in terms of presenting a live sporting event, as it was received so well and got so much brilliant coverage."

Did you get nervous presenting in front of so many people?

"I got nervous for the first match. You have an earpiece where you can hear five voices in your ears - the producer, and the floor talking. Speaking while you can hear someone talking was all very new to me.

But as long as you hit your opening link, you're good to go. Every match that I did got much easier and the nerves subsided. They were excited nerves anyway, never bad nerves. The production team who I worked with said it’s good to have nerves - just use them positively."

Where do you see yourself in the future? 

"Of course, I'd love to present on BBC Sport or Sky Sports News as I suppose they're the ultimate newsrooms in this country. Finding a job where I could use my languages would also be amazing. When I lived out in Spain, I did some reporting in Spanish and English, which was fantastic to be able to utilise my degree in that way.

The ultimate dream would be to be presenting for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games. Presenting at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games is a massive dream for me. I’ve set my sights on working there next year.

Working alongside Gabby Logan would also be pretty special. But there are some other fantastic female sports presenters and journalists too.

It's just about embracing every opportunity and just seeing what happens next."

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