How to break into motorsport journalism

The media industry is a notoriously tough place to break into, and motorsport journalism is not an exception to that rule in the slightest. While there are no set formulas to getting your foot firmly in the Formula 1 paddock, we’ve spoken to a budding Spanish journalist to find out how she managed to get her first couple of FIA accredited races.

Sofia Tera has been determined to call the Formula 1 paddock her home for several years now. Since the age of just seven, she can recall watching racing on the television at home. Back then she preferred two wheels to four, but she says that the tables have turned now.

Writing quickly became a hobby of hers as she entered her teenage years, and it all stemmed from there.

“I cover mainly Formula 1, but one of my favourite motorsport series to cover is Formula 2,” Sofia tells Females in Motorsport. “I have always liked Formula 2. The racing is close and there are a lot of hungry young drivers that could become the future of Formula 1. It’s a very interesting and fun series that deserves attention.”

Sofia writes for a Spanish motorsport and motoring website, where she can be called upon to write anything from in-depth features to breaking news stories. During her time at CarandDriver.es, she has learnt to be versatile in her approach, a skill that she considers key when it comes to motorsport journalism.

 

Credit: Roksana Cwik

 

“It’s a very demanding job,” she says. “You have strange working hours since the racing activities take part mainly during weekends and you need to stay alert during the rest of the week waiting for news to create content. Therefore, you have to be versatile. Motorsport media consumes a lot of time every day and you don’t have a clear departure time because a big story could happen at any hour of the day. Also, you need to take care of your contacts and sources. Networking needs a lot of your time too.”

When looking at the key skills a journalist should have, she feels that it all comes down to being a good listener.

“A journalist needs good communication skills because you need to know how to ask the right questions to receive the answers you are looking for, but you also need to be a good listener,” she says. “People usually focus on how you have to talk, but it’s very important to know how to listen. Good knowledge of what you’re reporting about (motorsport in this case) is essential. Curiosity and interest are two very important features of a journalist too. And this might sound very basic, but a journalist needs to have a passion for the job.”

Being an international member of the press, Sofia strongly recommends being able to speak a second language – it has certainly helped her on her road to success.

“Speaking several languages is crucial in our lives, not only in motorsport,” she says. “Media is essentially all about communication, and you need to know languages to build relationships or simply ask questions. A lot of people think that speaking English is enough, but the need for speaking more than two languages is increasing everywhere. Motorsport is no exception with the big number of nationalities involved in racing all around the world. It has helped me to communicate and be more confident in general.”

 

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Sofia in the Formula 1 paddock

 

With the highs that come from landing your dream job, there are – of course – struggles on the way. Many people who work in the industry describe what a tough and challenging road it can be to getting recognised. But, it is important to not give up on your dreams.

“There were some critical moments where I was close to giving up,” Sofia says. “I felt I had nowhere to go and my situation wasn’t improving at all. I really thought all my effort wasn’t worth it. Media is a very difficult job, especially for young journalists because people usually don’t take us seriously. And I said, motorsport consumes a lot of your time. It’s really tough to make a living from racing. One day, I convinced myself that I had to keep on working. I am fortunate enough to write about something I like so much. Even if it’s demanding, I love motorsport. I can’t see myself having another job. It’s my passion and I really want to be in the motorsport world. I feel like that’s where I belong.”

With Sofia’s role, she has now attended three grand prix as press and two pre-season tests. Her favourite thus far has been the Italian event last year, and she describes the weekend as “magic”.

“The fans are great, the track is amazing and the last race had a lot of action and drama,” she says. I had the chance to see the podium from the media center and it was one of the most beautiful experiences. The fans on track, with all their flags and banners, the drivers celebrating, the atmosphere… It’s unique.”

Sofia has great advice for those wanting to break into the industry. She says that having your own blog is a good place to start. There you can find your own style while writing about things that interest you.

“A blog is good because you are the one who decides what to write about,” she says. “Once you have found and improved your style, you can write for websites as a volunteer. This may create bigger exposure for you as a writer. With hard work, people will begin to recognise your writing which can lead to the chance of writing for bigger websites.”

In order to be constantly improving your writing, Sofia says it’s paramount to read the work of other journalists who are already successful in the field.

“You need to read lots of articles and analyse what structures and tones they’re using,” she says. “You can analyse what works and try to add that to your skills. Of course, don’t copy, but create your own twist on things. I still do this, because your writing skills improve with every piece you read and write. You never stop learning, especially in journalism.”

You can follow Sofia on Twitter here.

Jamie Howe: “You have to love it and be prepared for the lifestyle that comes with motorsport”

F1 is hugely popular in Europe and we often hear how the new owners Liberty Media are keen to expand it’s fanbase in North America, however this doesn’t mean they don’t have an interest in motorsport. The USA boasts many championships and series in which drivers from all round the world flock to compete in such as IndyCar and NASCAR. Jamie Howe is one of the America’s most famous motorsport broadcasters and so we spoke to her about US racing culture and her career in the sport.

Many people who now work in the motorsport industry often speak of being brought up watching the sport, but for Jamie, that wasn’t the case. “I didn’t grow up around racing and my family wasn’t into cars when I was young,” Howe told us. It wasn’t until later that she became more familiar with the sport she would go onto work in but did admit “once I was introduced to motorsports, the bug bit me hard!” She had actually grown up intending to work in television, a vital part of her role now, though sports TV was never something she considered, having wanted to work in News. “Being in Atlanta I always thought it would be news-based television as CNN is here and I worked with their student bureau in high school,” she said.

@CapnSteve19
credit: @CapnSteve19

Her first role in motorsport came completely by chance when she was coaching a local swimming team. One of the parents worked in the industry and knowing Howe’s interest in TV offered her an opportunity. “A Dad with kids on the team worked in racing television and knew I was going to school for broadcast television. He hired me as a runner to come and work and see what really happens in TV,” Jamie explained. Starting as a runner, Howe worked extremely hard to impress her bosses and over the years managed to earn promotions and be given more responsibility. “I worked as a runner, then a stage manager, then a field producer, then a feature host, then a tape delayed reporter, then a live-to-tape reporter then eventually a live radio/PA reporter then a live television reporter!” she exclaimed. Jamie is proof that getting your foot in the door is crucial to achieving your dreams, especially if they are big dreams.

The way Howe describes her rise through the ranks may seem easy and straightforward, but it hasn’t always been the case. “The early days were the most challenging,” she described, “I was trying to prove myself as a worker and gain respect, all while trying to better my skills at the same time.” Though this journey has allowed her to experience all areas of the television industry including on-screen, production and content creation. Speaking of some of the roles she most enjoyed, she said: “I love the production side of the field and getting to see a story go from an idea to air, that is very rewarding. But there is nothing quite like live television and finishing a show or race with so much adrenaline,” Jamie told me.

twitterHaving not had an interest in motorsport as a child, throughout her career, Howe has had to learn a lot when it comes to the series she has worked in. To perform her role to the best of her ability she likes to make sure her knowledge is up to a good standard and believes this helps her when interviewing. “I have learned about each series as I have gone. There is so much behind-the-scenes that the viewer never knows but it’s all important to telling the story the right way. It’s an on-going learning process as the rules change and the technology advances,” Jamie explained to us. Learning as she goes helps, but she also has to study and make sure she has all the notes she needs. “I am a good student, I keep my work organized and take notes. I love talking to people and all of that helps me cover different series in the same season. The vernacular (language) is different but being there and being in the moment helps to keep it straight,” she said.

As an interviewer on site at races, many interesting people are competing and attend to watch the live event. Jamie has been able to speak to many interesting people saying: “I’ve truly loved interviewing almost everyone. If I have to narrow it down, I would say two people: Mario Andretti and Patrick Dempsey, both for the same reason: they bring so much notoriety to the sport but their passion is so clearly evident when they talk about racing. They truly love the sport, its people, and what it has done in their own lives. I get to talk to and interview so many interesting people and feel very fortunate for that,” Howe described.

twitter3Having worked her way up from a runner to her centre stage role now, Jamie was keen to share her advice for those hoping to work in the sport. “You have to love it and you have to be prepared for the lifestyle that comes with it,” she advised. “Being on the road is not for everyone and if you don’t think you can handle that or you don’t love it, then move on to another passion you have.” Jamie Howe is one of the US’s leading motorsport reporters despite not having an interest until early in her adult life. She is proof that you can work your way up the career ladder having started from the bottom as a runner. She fell into motorsport but has taken every opportunity and from those a successful career has blossomed. She is an example to everyone that getting your foot in the door can make a world of difference.

(all photo credits, unless specified, @ReporterJamie)