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How to make a story go viral and garner 1.75 lakh views!

Pro Wrestling analyst and SJMC alumnus Sidharth Sachdeva reveals the secret behind writing a popular combat sports story



Pro wrestling analyst Sidharth Sachdeva (left); Former AEW world champion Jon Moxley (right)

When he was growing up in the industrial town of Mandi Gobindgarh in Punjab’s Fatehgarh Sahib district, Sidharth Sachdeva loved playing table tennis and watching his favourite WWF superstars grapple with each other on television. Little did the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University alumnus know that he would become a sports journalist covering their daredevil moves and write stories that would go viral on the Internet. One of the wrestling icons young Sid doted upon was American professional wrestler Steve Borden aka Sting. As fate would have it, among his first stories as an analyst with popular sports and e-sports news website Sportskeeda was about Sting on the comeback trail. In an interview, Sidharth talks about his foray into writing, the role of his parents and teachers in his success and how click-bait titles are a sure-shot weapon to deploy when trying to make a story go viral. Edited excerpts.

Did think you’ll go into this profession when you were younger ?

Growing up I never thought of becoming a writer. I was a state-level table tennis player who thought of representing India . But as I grew up, I realised sports wasn’t my cup of tea because there was too much competition. I used to be an average student and I opted for Humanities in class 11. Political Science was something that intrigued me and I started taking interest in politics. From thereon, I thought maybe journalism could be an option for me going forward. Even when, even when I took admission at SJMC, I wasn’t sure about what I would do. I have a blog where I used to write a few articles. I was not an avid book reader either. But a few things happened and I went with the flow. I’m now working with Sportskeeda wrestling. It based on WWF. This is stuff we used to watch as a child and teenager. I have good knowledge of wrestling. And I know the inverted pyramid format of writing that we were taught in journalism college. So it happened by chance and a few things fell into place.

The two most popular Indians in pro wrestling are The Great Khali (left) and Jinder Mahal. WWE has weekly shows in which they build up a storyline before a match. No one necessarily gets directly into a fight. But one wrestler may criticise his rival to build up the hype before the actual contest.

Please share some memories of the years you were at SJMC .

The faculty at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Apeejay Stya University was always very supportive during these four years. We got exposure to a wide variety of subjects in our curriculum including news writing, political writing and investigative journalism. At one point, I even thought of pursuing investigative journalism. For sure, the teachers and my mentors pushed me to my limits to realise my potential.  

Did you pick up any life lessons in college, which are helping you now?

My mentors Mili Agarwal Ma’am and Swapnil Kumar Sir used to guide me on what I should do or shouldn’t. When I took admission I started from scratch and used to be an introvert with a phobia of speaking on the stage. Over time, my mentors helped me come out of my shell. From being an introvert, owing to the pedagogy at SJMC, my communication skills also improved. In a class of 20 to 25 students, we were told to make a presentation in front of the class. The first time I presented in front of the class, I panicked, but thereon I improved gradually and steadily.

Why did you chose combat sports over popular sports such as football and cricket?

Earlier this year I was working with a TV channel in Noida for three months. But it was hectic. It was my second internship after The Hindu. The news scenario was uncertain, and maybe due to my background as a table tennis player, along with decent knowledge of cricket, I thought of giving sports journalism a shot. Even before joining Sportskeeda, I was a fan of their app. I used to follow wrestling results and news on it. So, I found their id on the Internet and applied to their cricket division. I’ve never got a reply from them till date. I then wrote to the combat sports division and got a reply saying there was a position for somebody to handle their social media account. I said was more interested in content writing and if there were any slots available. So they conducted a few tests. I remembered all the formats. I passed all the tests and from a fan evolved into being their employee.

Please give us a primer on combat sports and your role as a sports analyst.

Combat sports come in formats such as WWE and UFC. WWE is the most popular professional wrestling league worldwide. From India there have been a few popular players such as The Great Khali and Jinder Mahal in these formats. WWE has weekly shows in which they build up a storyline before a match. Suppose Jinder Mahal is taking on The Great Khali next month. What they’ll do is build a storyline for that. No one necessarily gets directly into a fight. But one wrestler may criticise his rival over his past or something like that. So they get into a heated argument. That’s how a storyline is built on television in the countdown to the match. Heat is generated and it all builds up the hype for fans before the actual match. We cover all the news results at Sportskeeda. It is the most viewed wrestling website in the world. All wrestlers attend podcasts and interviews. What we do is listen to the podcasts. If they say anything newsworthy, we’ll cover it for sure. There are three companies into combat sports. There’s WWE, then there is All Elite Wrestling (AEW) that was launched in 2019 and UFC. WWE has its own sizeable fandom given that it was launched almost two decades ago. You can get millions of views.

Growing up, who were your WWE heroes?

In my childhood, my favourite superstar was Sting and today at the age of 62, he is an inspiration for everyone since he is still wrestling.

From watching him as a child in Punjab to covering Sting’s comeback today must be a good feeling?

Actually Sting retired from WWE in 2015 but when AEW made its debut in 2019, they quickly hired Sting. When I signed up with Sportskeeda, I happened to cover the first match of his comeback. So it was a great feeling. I made sure to write all the positive and inspirational stuff about him.

Tell us about the story which went viral and garnered more than a hundred thousand views.

There are actually plenty of stories like these now . The thing is, we add clickbait to our titles: I mean most of the news websites do that. If there are two people, we’ll hide one name if someone is criticising another wrestler. People click on controversial headlines, particularly if a wrestler is criticising somebody. The article that got 1,75,000 views was about veteran AEW wrestler Jon Moxley. The headline went: ‘He can’t even have a match with job guys: Wrestling legend slams Jon Moxley for his recent bout.’

Now that you are enjoying sports writing, do you still want to go into investigative journalism?

As of now my goal is to gain experience in writing itself. I know I can write on sports but I am not sure about the political stuff or any other topic. My first objective is to gain as much experience as possible. I will go with the flow and side by side, I feel I can excel in the sports field only. Maybe I will shift to cricket since I believe I have good knowledge of the gentleman’s game.

What would be your advice for somebody who wants to make a sports story go viral?

It depends. I mean, just keep writing . Reading books is important as well. The one thing I’ll say is that knowledge is the key to everything. So if you have knowledge of something, you will definitely achieve success, no matter what field you are pursuing. It also depends on the fan base. I have a friend who’s working in a content writing website.  They may not have a dedicated base of users. In India, cricket, pro wrestling and maybe football are the three topics that matter the most and the youth look for these topics. Then, we can add a clickbait in the title. You don’t have to reveal everything in the title. No one would click on the article if they get everything from the title itself. After all, we just need to get the benefit of a single click.

What advice would you give to others who want to write on combat sports?

I’m still learning and growing. I actually want to be a commentator. I want to call live matches whether in wrestling or cricket. But right now I’m going with the flow and let’s see where it takes me. I know I have a long way to go. I am just 22 years old and I can gain experience in writing first and then I will move forward. I am not thinking too far ahead and just focusing on what I have and what I can achieve through it.

What role did your family play in supporting your journey?

I am the first generation in my family to venture into journalism. As I said, I was an average student and my father is a mathematics and science teacher. You know the perception teachers have that everybody must follow medical or engineering. But my father always supported me because he knew I had the potential to do well in the area of sports. I was gradually excelling in table tennis as well. That’s why he kept neglecting the average scores I was getting. Obviously I took a risk and now that I am earning at this age, all the credit must go to my father and my mother who took care of my studies till class 10. Without them it wouldn’t have been possible.

Aasheesh Sharma is a seasoned journalist with an experience of more than 25 years spread over newspapers, news agencies, magazines and television. He has worked in leadership positions in media groups such as Hindustan Times, India Today, Times of India, NDTV, UNI and IANS. He is a published author and his essay on the longest train journey in India was included in an anthology of writings on the railways, brought out by Rupa Publications. As the Editor of Apeejay Newsroom, he is responsible for coverage of the latest news and developments in the Apeejay institutions. He can be reached at [email protected]. He tweets @Aasheesh74