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Mar 1 / Zach Dirlam

Hard work, paying dues can pay off for aspiring writers

Zach Dirlam

Hardly anyone likes working for free, but most of us aspiring sportswriters have to take on countless unpaid assignments before we earn a dime. The journey to paid work is long and may seem thankless at times. But eventually, all the time you put in will very likely pay off, literally.

I have been writing for Bleacher Report since 2009, but my first contract offer did not come through until January of this year.

There are some steps you need to follow in order to start earning some money for all of your hard work.

First, you need to read a lot. Reading will expand your knowledge of the teams you are covering, and it allows you to see how articles are structured.

Second, if an editor asks a favor, or sends out volunteer assignments, jump on it. There may not be any second chances if you turn down these kinds of opportunities. Not only will these assignments give you extra chances for people to see your work, but being aggressive helps you stand out in the large crowd of unpaid writers.

Above all else, never lose sight of your goals. If being a sports journalist is your dream, do not let anything stop you from making it a reality.

Read an extra article, choose every word carefully in your own writing and always pay attention to the feedback from your editors. Each of those three things will allow you to make significant strides forward as a writer.

All of this is hard work and nothing comes easy in this business. But getting paid to cover sports is a heck of a lot more fun than any other job I can think of.

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Zach Dirlam is a College Football Featured Columnist and a member of the Winter Sportswriting Intern class. Follow him on Twitter @Zach_Dirlam.

One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask our interns to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned in the B/R Sportswriting Internship that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.


  • Chris Stephens

    Definitely agree with this article. I’ve been writing for the site for a little more than a year. I did the fall internship and finally got my first paid gig doing college football position grades this past year, including volunteering for late games on the west coast, even though I’m on the east coast. Since then, I participated in the gap group internship (which was paid), gotten paid for a few articles for swagger and got my first paid gig for baseball, which is where I’m a featured columnist. Editors are watching to see who is going above and beyond to help the site. The opportunities are there, you just have to be willing to pay your dues.

  • Phil Watson

    Solid advice … provided you are a young person.

    • Joel Prosser

      What does being young have to do with it?

      • Phil Watson

        I have a family to feed, a mortgage to pay and I’m rapidly approaching middle age. It has a lot to do with it–I can’t afford to work for free indefinitely.

    • Jesse Reed

      Young is a relative word. I’m 35, and I worked for free for months, putting out 4-5 articles every day until I was given a chance at a paid gig.

      • Phil Watson

        Volume counts. Good to know.

  • Matt Vandenbrand

    A couple articles above this is a story about proof reading.

    You have odd spacing here;
    “Read an extra article, choose every word carefully in your own writing and always pay attention to the feedback from your editors. Each of those three things will allow you to

    make significant strides forward as a writer.”

    • King_Kaufman


      Thanks. That’s an odd one. We’ve fixed it.

  • Alfonso Coley

    Personally, Yahoo Voices is a much better alternative than Bleacher Report to post quality sports articles, and the pay is much better depending on how active you are in producing quality content.