8 SIMPLE RULES FOR BODYBUILDING JOURNALISM.
In the words of Thomas Paine: ‘What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value.’
So having been published in this sport professionally since 2005, I wanted to offer my insights into how aspiring bodybuilding journalists should conduct themselves when engaging in this sport’s media when creating content for any given platform. Applying Paine’s assertion to bodybuilding journalism, equates to a greater level of quality when composing written works for this sport. And although some may consider this sport as comparatively niche, such presumptions should never compel anyone to eschew the principles below – nor forgo any level of quality.
As human interest stories (eg. Athlete Profiles) have been my specialty many of the concepts below, are geared towards this facet of bodybuilding journalism. However these can also be universally applied, in part to any written piece.
Furthermore, although these are MY foundational principles, being governed by these have afforded me great opportunities and enabled me to retain positive links within the sport of bodybuilding for well over 10 years.
Do your research
Whether you are profiling an athlete, covering a large scale event or writing an opinion piece it is imperative to undertake the requisite research on a specific subject. As human interest stories have been my signature for over 10 years, I consider research as mandatory when undertaking an athlete profile. I commenced my hardcopy writing career in an era that predated all social media, so when I wasn’t doing an open source search online I would even contact ‘those in the know’ to get a better picture of the athlete in question. However, these days there is no excuse for weak preliminary research since the information is so readily available.
If you want to write and deliver an engaging piece, ensure that all of your questions are influenced by the preliminary research you have undertaken. A standardized template list of questions may be good for a short Q&A, but writing something with a more compelling narrative requires researched questions specific to the subject of focus.
When I interviewed the WWE-wrestler-turned-Hollywood actor, Batista back in 2007 for Australian IRONMAN, I spent weeks researching all aspects of his life up until that point. Consequently, during the interview I had quickly earned his respect as well as that of his rather difficult, WWE representative. Indeed, a more comprehensive written work will eventuate from a concentrated and complete level of research. Remember, when you interview a bodybuilder, you are in a process somewhat akin to the Intelligence Cycle used for processing and analyzing information. In my opinion, your dedication to research should in many ways mirror the prep a champion bodybuilder undertakes leading up his/her comp.
The interviewee will appreciate your research effort and such a practice will evolve the session into a more organic conversation, rather result in a than a robotic and sterile Q&A. A clear indicator of an ideal interview is when the session just flows, and soon you are both exchanging ideas, concepts and even sharing in some humour.
Funnily enough, my own interview style has been heavily influenced by Australian media journalist Richard Wilkins who could effortlessly engage any celebrity with ease.
Never ignore Due Diligence
As a corporate professional and lawyer-in-training, I value the importance of fact checking and ensuring that the information I am gathering and curating is correct, especially if this has occurred from an athlete interview.
It was no coincidence that a trend that I established for myself (when I commenced in Australian IRONMAN magazine in 2005) was actually emailing a completed draft to the subject prior to official submission to the publication. With confidentiality and discretion in mind, it is invaluable to allow the athlete to review what you have done and ensure any of their amendments are implemented immediately. Over the years, athletes have expressed their appreciation for my due diligence methodology which was influenced by four words that forever resonate for me: Measure twice, cut once (aka. Always get it right!)
There are times of course where the athlete may express an unpopular opinion, and in that instance you should include your Editor into the correspondence and content negotiation. If the content is too risky, best have it removed and focus on key educational insights, not destructive hearsay.
It is also as much a professional courtesy as it is overall due diligence, to ensure that what you have constructed meets the athlete approval before it is published for public consumption. Remember, the content should market them in the most positive of ways.
Humans are not infallible, so there will be times when you make mistakes either from poor resources or simply rushed research. Though a rarity it can happen to the most experienced of journalists, even when I interviewed the WWE’s Carmella in 2019 I had made a gaffe in one of my questions based on an incorrect news article. In a conversational manner, this can quickly be remedied by a sincere apology before briskly moving onto your next question. In the moment, never let it sully your resolve, and show you have the integrity to admit to your mistake – just don’t dwell on it, in that moment.
In addition, checking spelling and grammar is a must and no complex feat given the ease of technology these days. If you are writing for a media platform, then you have the benefit of ‘Peer Review’ that being Editorial oversight. If not, ensure you do your best to objectively proof read what you have written.
Understand and apply positive Stakeholder engagement
Even if it is your publication, always ensure that you are fully aware of your responsibilities as a media outlet. Being commissioned to write for a media platform (whether it be in hardcopy or electronic) should be treated as an honour and privilege; therefore act accordingly. Consequently it is important to respect your publisher as well as being mindful of the topic at hand.
This can easily be achieved by establishing parameters with your Editor prior to any work being undertaken; be willing to listen, ask questions and importantly apply what your Editor has advised. Within the sport of bodybuilding, I have found that there are no hard and fast requirements, other than a word limit – but even that is quite flexible predicated on spatial considerations. Again, your level of interpretation should be as denoted in point 2, subject to due diligence.
Herein within stakeholder engagement, punctuality is important. A good journalist will adhere to guidelines, but an exceptional journalist (even in this sport) will exceed expectations. For me, this would be primarily contingent on my ability to submit completed works, ahead of the required deadline. It is important to at least be mindful of the pressures faced by an Editor, so alleviating any additional stress will go a long way in securing their respect for you as well as highlighting your reliability. Furthermore, if necessary, raise any issues with them ahead of time; if you forsee a delay in composing a piece, make this known to them as early as possible so contingency can be readily explored.
In addition, knowing and respecting your audience is also an integral part of stakeholder engagement, and this is not limited to your readers alone. If you are writing for a media platform, ensure that you write respectfully as you are representing a brand; if you are covering an event or profiling a champion ensure your content positively promotes them (and their sponsors, if applicable) and importantly, always be mindful that your words should reflect your expertise.
Use common sense, be ethical and avoid controversy
In one instance last year I was requested to profile an athlete, who was (and still is) much maligned and despised by the broader Australian bodybuilding fraternity. Immediately knowing this would compromise and possibly even destroy my reputation I politely, yet most emphatically refused. In this instance, even increased financial incentive would not have altered my decision and to date this proposal, still confounds as much as bewilders me.
As an effective bodybuilding journalist, you do need to have a legitimate interest in the topic. Personally, having written extensively and being published since 2005 I’m perpetually mindful of the topics that may carry a clear ‘reputational risk’, both to the media publication and to myself. Controversy may raise some eye brows and generate attention but it is not worth your reputation, nor is it worthy of your effort. Generally, most reputable media brands in this sport will avoid any controversial topics or people. They realise that this may gain traction amongst a few but it is the sort of traction that is, ultimately problematic for many.
Writing is an art form and such dedication and pride in composing a quality prose should be a primary consideration – your best work will occur when you are in a positive and relaxed frame of mind.
Focus on the Top Tier
Some of you may disagree with this, but certainly for the majority of my journalistic career in the sport of bodybuilding I have adhered to my perpetual assertion:
‘Everyone has a story but ONLY CHAMPIONS are worth writing about’
There is practical application for this, and you can almost equate this to the investment, that studios dedicate to marketing the release of big blockbuster movies. Such an investment in a proven entity will generally yield a better outcome, financially for the studio and investors.
I apply the very same premise, when I am profiling bodybuilders – in recent years, I maintain a clear and unwavering focus upon interviewing IFBB Pros; here in Australia that is the Pro League. From a practical stand point, these are champions that the bodybuilding audience are eager to read about and as a journalist, these are insights that are the most invaluable. Furthermore, if I am dedicating my time and expertise to a subject, my focus will be on those that have the garnered the accolades through such industriousness – therefore only they deserve the publicity and attention.
Similarly, the larger scale events are comparably more efficiently run and better to cover. In the last 10 years years, I have focused completely upon IFBB Pro League events for the simple reason that they are more expertly conducted as much as having the best line ups to cover.
In my brutally honest opinion, there is no real benefit in interviewing an athlete that has come 4th place in a local event when there are a multitude of international Pro athletes that have greater knowledge to share. Surprisingly, even to this day I am still contacted by the lesser known, low tier athletes who are shamelessly seeking publicity. In such instances, it is best to ignore such entitled attitudes.
Focus on the best, ignore the rest.
One important lesson that was imparted to me in my very first year of writing in this sport, came via two notable names in Australian bodybuilding, David Rylah and Phil Kabakoff. David is a former bodybuilding champion and media personality, whilst Phil Kabakoff is a notable bodybuilding luminary and businessman. When I covered my first IFBB Pro show back in 2006, both men calmed my then-rookie nerves by telling me: Be yourself.
Establishing one’s own method of construction is paramount to producing excellent written works, and if it is essentially you then it becomes possibly adored but impossible to replicate. Having been published extensively for major brands, I can proudly assert unequivocally, that my distinct style is recognizable within the sport of bodybuilding. This is simply because I write in my own style.
As a journalist you need to ask yourself what motivated to write in the first place, and once you have determined this ideal, fuse this with your personality and put it on paper, so to speak.
Do not Plagiarize
This is self-evident and clearly a common sense directive but worth emphasizing for the purposes of this instructional guidance. Bodybuilding journalism is still journalism and by engaging in content creation within this sport you must ensure that your work is uniquely your own.
Hence you must be mindful that the work your produce and submit (or self-publish) is original. In no circumstances should you copy from other authors, unless you are quoting some information. Then you will need to provide the correct citation, thereby crediting the original author. If you fail to do this, you are committing the utmost cardinal sin, as a journalist.
One recent shocking example concerned former IGN reporter Filip Muicin, who single handedly compromised his career when he was found to have copied, verbatim, works from other sources. There is simply no good reason to steal the intellectual property from others, unless you are foolishly self-destructive and are actively seeking a reprehensible reputation.
Even in bodybuilding journalism, plagiarism is the proverbial ‘Scarlet Letter’ that will forever be the albatross around your neck if you choose to outright copy someone else’s work.
It’s not only ethically wrong, but also shows a complete lack of journalistic skill, creativity and human decency. Quite simply, do not do it!
Always be Professional
Who better than to quote here, than IFBB Pro League Bodybuilding Pro, Joshua Lenartowicz. This behemoth is not only admired due to his world class Pro physique but also very much respected due to his manner. When I interviewed him back in 2013, he said to me:
“It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.”
It seems so obvious but it is something that people seem to eschew so easily, when the salient fact remains that manners cost nothing, but indeed go a long way. Even in this sport, a bad or entitled attitude will afford no real or substantive opportunity nor will it be conducive to a lengthy journalistic career. To me, it is almost akin to a form of self-sabotage.
It’s quite simple really, that when conducting an interview, approach the interviewee with civility and be respectful of their time. There isn’t much more to say on this principle, as I do believe Josh’s axiom best elucidates that concept of professionalism just as he genuinely, encapsulates all that is good in this sport.
In conclusion, many of these are simply common sense considerations and therefore this piece may be overly lengthy and too descriptive for some. However, one should at least acknowledge each of these ideals when embarking on their own pursuits within bodybuilding journalism.
These have helped me, and I hope these also help you.
Vance Ang Bio: Vance Ang has been writing professionally bodybuilding and fitness since 2005, having written extensively for hardcopy publications such as Australian IRONMAN and FLEX; but also for e-publications such as RAW Muscle and online platforms Iron Muscle. He is a Melbourne based consultant with a background in policy and strategy, and is also currently undertaking his post graduate study in Law. In addition to bodybuilding, he is also interested in conservative politics and Savate (French Kickboxing)