Welcome back to Industry Insider by Behind Sport. Our latest guest is Freelancer Writer and Author, Ryan Baldi.
Tell us about yourself, what is your current role and what roles have you done previously?
I’m Ryan Baldi and I’m currently a freelance writer and author. My previous roles include selling sportswear, pencils and skips – but not all at the same time. More recently, I was a senior writer at Football Whispers (which has since been rebranded as Twenty3 Sport), and I’ve been writing full time for about six years now.
What do you do in your current role?
I have a handful of regular freelance clients – the BBC, The Guardian, World Soccer, Optus Sport and a couple of others – for whom I write regularly. Most of my work tends to be fairly long, upwards of 2,000 words. The type of stories I most enjoy writing usually require a lot of research and interviews, so I don’t write a great number of pieces each month, but I’m always working of several things at once. Whenever I have an idea for a piece, I pitch it to a commissioning editor and cross my fingers for a green light. I spend most of my time tracking down people to interview, or else I’m structuring and writing the stories once I’ve got everything in place.
And I’m almost always working on a book. They take a couple of years to get done. I’m in the final stages of my second book at the moment, and I’ll be cracking straight on with the next one.
What does a normal week look like for you?
At the moment, my book is taking up most of my working time, either transcribing the 100 or so interviews I’ve conducted for it or writing the chapters. So my average day is at home, in my office or on my sofa, just typing away. Aside from that, I tend to do a few interviews a week for other pieces I’m working on. This week, for example, I’ll have interviews a Fan TV personality, a former Liverpool academy player, a Bayern Munich player and the US men’s national team’s manager. I really enjoy the variety this brings. Two of the pieces I worked on earlier this month, for example, had me speaking to basketball players and coaches in America, football journalists in Holland and coaches in Sweden.
Just finished writing a book … pic.twitter.com/tLhihCmy4c
— Ryan Baldi (@RyanBaldiFW) February 14, 2021
How did you end up where you are right now? When did you know you wanted to work in sport?
I probably always felt as though I wanted to work in sport in some capacity; it just never felt realistic. I was 28 before I even wrote my first article. I just started blogging about European football as a hobby while I was working sales jobs I didn’t enjoy. When I was let go from one of those jobs, I was able, with the support of my amazing fiancée, to take a bit of time and see if I could pursue a change of career. I intended to take a more traditional route into journalism, studying for an NCTJ qualification and applying for newspaper jobs, but I was quickly able to find enough freelance work to pay the bills, so I stuck with that.
What are you excited about in your industry at the moment?
What most excites me right now is writing more books. It’s a long and arduous process, but it’s addictive.
What is your number one focus when it comes to your work?
I’m not sure whether it’s my number one focus, but finding stories is always a big focus and something with which I wrestle. I like stories about people or places that just happen to involve sport. The sport angle is my door into being able to write stories – I hope to not need that crutch in future and be able to write non-sport-related stories too. So I guess the trick is staying tuned in to where I might find something or someone interesting to write about, across any sport, or thinking of original angles relating to figures who are already well known.
In your area of work, what is something you feel most people don’t talk about or focus on enough?
It seems to be increasingly difficult to break into and make a living from this industry. Opportunities appear to be shrinking, which is a shame. I think a lot of it stems back to the newspaper industry’s initial slow and inadequate response to the advent of the internet. People quickly became accustomed to getting their journalism for free, and so it has been difficult for websites to monetise their output, either through ads or subscription models, ever since. The Athletic might be the canary down the coalmine in that sense. If their subscription model becomes a sustained success and a large enough portion of the public grow used to paying for good writing, perhaps there will be room for other similar sites.
What is the one piece of advice you would give to someone wanting to work in the sports industry?
I got really lucky early on with the opportunities I found. I’ve always been conscious of that. But “Just be lucky” isn’t great advice. The most obvious advice to give is that anyone who wants to write, should write. Writing is craft, not art – the more you do it, the better you will get. So write a lot. But also study the writers you like and think about what it is about their work you most enjoy. Try to incorporate those traits into your own work. Taking elements from a handful of influences will help you find your own groove and style. Start a blog, experiment.
And then it’s a case of putting yourself out there. Twitter is a great tool. Connect with other writers and try to hunt down editors of websites, magazines, newspapers where you’d like to write; badger them for their email address, show them your previous work and pitch your ideas.
Alternatively, you can try to generate an audience for yourself via social media and through services such as Patreon and Substack. If your work is good and popular, you could monetise it without the need to have it published with an established outlet.
Any social links you want to plug?
Thanks for reading our Industry Insider with Ryan Baldi! If you want to read more from the series, you can do so by clicking here.