Nearly 150 young journalists and media hopefuls heard last night from a panel of top sports journalists on how they broke through into one of the most competitive jobs markets.

Network, stand out and don’t take no for an answer – that was the key advice last night from a panel drawn from the best in broadcast, digital and sports journalism.

It was standing room only at Stationers’ Hall enjoyed the London Press Club debate Getting into sports journalism: a level playing field for all?, which was supported by Media Diversified and the Society of Editors.

The event’s chair Amar Singh, London Evening Standard digital sports editor was joined by BBC Sport reporter Jessica Creighton, writer and broadcaster Gabriele Marcotti, Sun sports writer and Women in Football board member Vikki Orvice and Sky Sports News reporter Dharmesh Sheth.

London Press Club chairman Doug Wills – who is a Stationer –  said: “It was excellent to fill the hall with such a breadth of rising talent – I felt proud and hugely optimistic. If we can harness this enthusiasm for sports journalism it guarantees a great future for our business.”

The capacity crowd included pupils from Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy and journalism students from around the country, in addition to Press Club members and journalists from a variety of fields.

Singh started by explaining that the thinking behind the event was trying to work out why the press box typically fails to reflect the diversity of the sports they are covering. Creighton, who started on the BBC Journalism Trainee Scheme, said that nepotism and the ‘old boys’ network’ was still a problem. “The BBC is leading the way, but when I walk into a newsroom I often don’t see anyone who looks like me, which can be daunting.” Her suggestion to counteract the “unconscious bias” was “network, network, network”.

Orvice revealed that a sports editor at the Daily Mail had told her that a woman couldn’t write about football full-time “but then The Sun took me on”. But while quick to credit her employer she conceded that she is still the only female writer in the sports department, alongside two PAs and a sub: “it’s the same conversation, 20 years on.” She added that journalism in general was getting worse in terms of diversity in the sense of economic backgrounds, compared to when she was starting out. “You need to stand out – people who go the extra mile will make it.”

Sheth told the audience that it was easier to stand out when he was starting his career in the 1990s, when he managed to secure interviews with 50 footballers after writing letters to them. “Don’t just send a CV and a cover letter, do something different,” he told the crowd.

Persistence was the number one factor for Marcotti, whose freelance career has seen him work for ESPN and The Times among many others.” “If you are a good journalist, you will have harassed someone!” Dealing well with rejection was also key – and luck can play a major part. For him, the influx of players from overseas post-Bosman meant there were lots of players who felt more comfortable talking with him than British journalists.

Singh concluded by calling on media outlets to be more outward looking, predicting that it will be the business case that will finally see organisations start to better reflect modern Britain.

[Photos by Ansbert Dodoo]