Freelance Football Writer | Ryan Baldi
Our next guest is freelance football writer and author, Ryan Baldi. Ryan has been featured by the BBC, The Guardian and World Soccer magazine. It was great to discuss his journey and experience to date.
Hi Ryan, thank you for taking the time to speak to us today. Can you tell our readers about yourself, what you currently do and how did you end up where you are right now?
I am a freelance writer and author. I work predominantly for BBC Sport, World Soccer magazine and The Guardian, but most of my time these days is focused on writing books, as I have two in the works.
I spent the first decade or so of my working life bouncing between jobs I didn’t like. Then I started blogging about European football as a hobby, and — it must be said, with the support of my partner — it fairly quickly turned into something that I could do for a living.
When did you know you wanted to work in football?
For much of my adult life I had no real designs on a career in or adjacent to football. When I began to write, football was my subject as it was something about which I was passionate and knowledgeable, so it was an obvious fit. But even now, it’s the craft of writing — rather than football itself — I’m much more enthralled by; I do some work covering US sports and I plan for future books to be on non-football and even non-sports subjects.
As a freelance writer for the likes of BBC Sport, The Guardian and others, what does a ‘normal’ week look like for you?
Part of the fun of this job is that there isn’t necessarily a typical week. Some weeks I’m hyper-busy, with multiple freelance commissions and book work to do; others I‘m more free, so might spend time pitching article ideas or trying to arrange interviews. Most of my work, for articles and books, involves a lot of interviewing, so a typical day might include three of four phone calls, then maybe some writing, research, planning or admin.
What are the most enjoyable and difficult parts of your role?
I love the reporting process. Once a pitch has been commissioned or I begin working on a book, I find it thrilling to dig into a subject, seeking out people to interview, tracking them down and finally calling or meeting them. Finding the right people to speak with, building relationships and making the extra call is how you make your work stand out. With any reported feature I do — and certainly with my books — I try to uncover something new, to shine a light on a subject from a fresh perspective, and to drop the reader right in the middle of the action by describing scenes in vivid detail. The only way to do that it to speak to people.
And it’s a bit nerdy but I really enjoy outlining a piece or a book/chapter, thinking about structure and narrative, where to place pieces of information, how to transition between scenes or subjects and how to make a piece flow.
As for the difficult parts of what I do, I don’t think there are any. Transcribing interviews is a chore, but, in terms of effort, it’s hardly mining coal.
What’s been your standout moments/highlights so far?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have had two books published, and it’s always really cool to see them in a bookshop or to know that someone has read and enjoyed them. And I’ve read World Soccer magazine since I was about 10. I remember searching for the summer issue in newsagents while on holiday as a kid, and a friend and I used to take turns stealing it from the school library. So writing regularly for World Soccer is ace. Opening it each month and seeing my byline takes me back to being that little scamp, devouring every page of his dogeared stolen copy and falling deeper in love with European football.
Who are your favourite football writers at the moment and what do you think it is that makes them so brilliant?
I enjoy James Nalton’s work. He has unparalleled knowledge of the global game and is always very readable. I always learn something from reading Jasmine Baba’s tactical analysis. Mark Thompson writes some really fun stuff around analytics and outside-of-the-box ideas. Harry De Cosemo does great backgrounders for BBC Sport. And Tom Kershaw at The Independent writes some excellent reported pieces.
What general advice would you give to those individuals looking to pursue a career in football writing? What are the key skills required?
Read a lot and write a lot. If there are writers you enjoy, think about what it is about their work that you like — even ask them about it. Ask for opportunities and don’t be afraid of feedback.
I’m sure you’ve sent countless pitches in your time. In your opinion, what makes a good pitch? Any key advice you can share with freelancers at the start of their journey looking to pitch their stories/ideas to editors?
It should be concise. You should outline your idea, but also why you think the piece needs to be written, why now, why that particular site or publication, why you are the person to do it and what makes this piece different from anything else that might already be out there on the same subject. Then, if you get the commission, be reliable. Hit deadlines and communicate with the editor if you encounter any delays. The greatest ability any freelancer can have is reliability.
Working in sports can be hectic, so what do you do to switch off outside of work?
Well, I’m not sure I would describe it as “switching off”, but I have two young sons, so they keep me very busy outside of work. Aside from that, I watch a lot of basketball — even though the Celtics stress me out more than my boys. And, to be honest, I tend to fill a lot of my free time with work. I started writing for fun and that hasn’t changed.
And finally Ryan, where can people find you on social media to connect?
I’m @RyanBaldiFW on Twitter and @ryanbaldi_writer on Instagram.
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