This feature is presented to you by the University of Nebraska — Lincoln Master of Arts in Business with a Specialization in Intercollegiate Athletics Administration
Pursuing a career as a sports journalist is no easy task, but if approached the right way, it can be wildly rewarding. Cam Inman, NFL Reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, knows this as well as anyone else.
Like many sports writers, he started young. After becoming intrigued with sports writing in 7th grade, when his sister, who is four years older than Inman, became her high school newspaper’s editor-in-chief, Inman set his sights on a career as a writer.
Inman, himself, joined the high school’s newspaper as a sophomore and became an editor when by his senior year.
Just prior to his senior year, Inman had his career choice all but wrapped up.
As if his initial interest in a career in writing wasn’t enough, his choice was set in stone after attending Cal Poly’s California Scholastic Press Association Workshop.
“When I came home from that, I was, you know, pretty convinced that I still wanted to go into sports writing. So I got a job at the Cupertino Courier Weekly.”
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At the Cupertino Courier Weekly, he would take command of the sports writing and photography, in addition to his responsibilities with his high school paper.
When he graduated from Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, he attended California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo.
Upon making it to Cal Poly, as it’s better known, he took up a part-time job with the Telegram Tribune, now the SLO Tribune, while also going to classes and writing for The Mustang Daily, a daily newspaper for the school.
After graduating with his B.S. in journalism, he took a job with the Santa Maria Times, and eventually he made his way back up to the Bay Area in 1995 to cover youth sports and preps and eventually pro/U.S. soccer for the Valley Times.
In 2000, he began covering the 49ers, and since then, Inman has seen change across the industry and with the NFL altogether.
The biggest change he’s noticed, is how broad the coverage has expanded. Nowadays, it’s essentially a different job than it used to be, and the pace of work has sped up dramatically.
“Everything is instantaneous. You have to produce an immense amount of content across a number of avenues from online to print to social media. Your analysis has to be quicker and video has become especially vital to today’s audience.”
One could argue that it is, in fact, easier to share and obtain information, stats and relevant quotes or comments for a story today, but the wide array of platforms a writer has to be present on to keep up with and stay ahead of their audience makes the job all the more challenging.
Along those same lines, the breakdown and consolidation of the so-called assembly line for content has changed dramatically over the years, too. You’re in charge of the headlines and keywords to help with the search engine optimization of the page and site, you have to add tags and the right pictures, and there are a number of other elements writers now have to care for that other staff used to be responsible for.
“Now those people are gone, so we’re basically the writer, the reporter, the copy editor, the photojournalist and all of the above,” Inman said.
Day-to-day, the work is rigorous, and he compared it to being a doctor, always being on call.
“It really is a job that’s sunrise to well after sunset, as a beat writer knowing what’s going on, always on the beat,” he added.
Of course, there are fantastic moments which every sportswriter lives for.
As a columnist for the San Francisco Giants first World Series victory in 2010, for example, he was able to witness the remarkable final pitch from Brian Wilson, and afterwards, even had the opportunity to be a part of the champagne showers with Tim Flannery, then-3rd base coach for the Giants, and the rest of the team, too.
“I go down the tunnel, and at the end of the tunnel before you turn left to go up into the dugout, there’s Tim Flannery there, the 3rd base coach, and he’s holding a big bottle of champagne,” he added. “And I go, ‘Can I be down here?’ and he goes, ‘Well you might get wet.’ So I go, ‘I know, but I’ll get these guys’ expressions as they come down the dugout steps,’ and he’s like, ‘You’re going love it because once they turn the corner, I’m going to blast ’em in the face with champagne, each one.’ And it was just like, it was Flannery and I, and each one would come down with the same look on his face, and he would turn the corner unsuspectingly, and Flannery would blast ’em with champagne, and they all loved it, and then I followed ’em into the clubhouse and did a story, and I was able to get a hold of each guy, what their reactions were, and it made for a really fun, fun way to celebrate the first title through their eyes.”
Being front and center to one of the greatest moments in Bay Area sports history was one of the highlights of his career, especially with it being the first championship in the Bay Area since the 49ers won the Super Bowl in ‘95.
Covering the 49ers today, however, is a new challenge. With all of the turnover and coaching changes it has been difficult in having to meet and develop new sources on the team.
One of the ways Inman has developed relationships on the team is by focusing on players one at a time.
“When it comes to having time with the players it is best to try and break away from the group to have a one on one,” he added. “It is much easier to develop relationships that way and develop trust with the players.”
Breaking away from Inman’s day-to-day roles, he was happy to share a few pointers for future sportswriters and young professionals. As far as advice goes, he was very clear about how committed to the job you have to be. From finding and developing sources, to coming up with questions, interviewing and transcribing, to actually writing and publishing the content, he was very clear that it’s not as easy as it looks or seems.
“The industry’s changed so fast and so many people are getting out of it, at the same time people want to get into it, so, I would say that if you’re going to do it….you have to be committed to it, and you have to have a daily presence where you can’t just maybe write a blog every other week or something like that. I would think nowadays, video is more important than ever, and to kind of do a video blog every day, younger people would be more in-tune to following to see what somebody’s saying.”
If you’re focusing on the perks of the job, there are plenty. Outside of meeting and building relationships with players, coaches, other media members and owners, there are plenty of opportunities for travel and adventure.
There’s always the chance for a funny story too. One of the most memorable for Inman was when him and his team got locked out of their rental car for an hour after the Tuck Rule Game in the New England snowstorm.
In his 20+ years in the business, he’s traveled to every NFL city, and had the chance to cover a number of other events outside of football. He crossed the final NFL city off his list this season when he made it to Buffalo. There, he even had a chance to check out Niagara Falls and see where his mom grew up at her old house.
When it comes to covering different games or sports, he said it’s mainly the same formula, as it’s not “astrophysics.”
Staying on top of the industry and being able to, “Gather facts, stats, quotes, historical impact, future impact, and find a human-interest anecdote,” is what will help make you successful as a a writer according to Inman.
Beyond a journalism degree, Inman mentioned history and philosophy as possible majors that would translate well, but when it comes to sports writing, “It’s stuff that you would learn through a journalism school, how to properly go about sources, or formulating your opinions, and you know, it’s not that sports journalists look down on people that didn’t go to journalism school, it’s just that I think it enhances how well you can do in that career.”
When it comes to meeting and building relationships with players, coaches and the like, his Mount Rushmore is, without a doubt, Steve Young, John Madden, Al Davis and Bill Walsh.
His relationship with Davis had even developed to the point where Davis, when he was announcing the firing of then Head Coach Lane Kiffin, stopped the whole thing to ask Inman in his Brooklyn accent, “Hey Cam, how’s your mother?” There are those special relationships you get to develop as a sportswriter, and his relationships with Al, John, Steve and Bill are ones he will always cherish, and never forget.
There are a number of different ways that a career in sports writing can go. You can chase an opportunity in baseball and end up covering a football team. You could start your college career going after a broadcasting gig at ESPN, only to discover you’d rather stay local. You might even try out a couple of positions and figure out that writing isn’t for you.
Whichever way you look at it, there are a number of ways your career can go and as long as you’re committed to the journey, the sky is the limit.