Thursday, January 7, 2010

'Field Guide' offer tips from 90 sports pros

You can order the 'Field Guide To Covering Sports' from either CQPress or at Amazon.com. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, and fantasy sports. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. Plus, the book includes several 'virtual' writing assignments for use in classes. In addition, go to SportsFieldGuide.com for more updated tips, suggestions and commentary on sports journalism.
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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

We've moved

Please, start visiting my other website at sportsfieldguide.com. I am phasing this blog out. The other site includes all of the material in this blog, plus extra resources. For example, I just added links to every Division I college sports conference website. The other site also includes alphabetized links to every state high school sports association in the country. A Journalism Jobs section links to the latest sports and news jobs. I hope you enjoy the site. I also have some archived material at onsports.wordpress.com.

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Yet another reason to learn online skills

Newspapers across the country are moving rapidly to online production, as you probably already know. Some newspapers, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have imploded the traditional news structure, eliminating news and sports departments in favor of departments like 'news and information' and 'enterprise,' according to Sporting News EIC Jeff D'Alessio. The AJC is not the only newspaper re-organizing its news rooms. (Still think the Internet is a fad?) Newspapers are actively seeking reporters with new media skills.

Every college newspaper (and yearbook) should develop a sports blog that addresses individual sports or sports in general on campus. Reporters should post info daily regardless of the print publication schedule. Post all breaking news online. These sports blogs should include photos, breaking news, practice notes, and, sometimes, a short feature or profile. And make sure you include internal links within each item, something that enables readers to dig deeper into issues and news. This additional research will also make you a more informed reporter.

If your news publication does not create a sports blog, develop your own as some college students, like an enterprising reporter at Davidson did for basketball. First, you must learn basic journalism skills, but apply them online as well. Frankly, this is no longer an option.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

A primer for writing football preview stories

Preview stories can take many forms and be presented in all media forms. They can be published online, in print, in a videocast, in a separate special section – or they can integrate several of these forms. Regardless the form, readers love' em. These previews can address trends or they can focus on a feature angle. Or previews can be offered in capsule form. There is no single way to write a preview story, although many include the same key components. Check out the stories below for inspiration as you develop preview stories for your own college teams in the coming weeks.

■ Here is a link to the Orlando Sentinel's always creative approach to football coverage. (Sorry, but I am biased here, rooting for my old newspaper. But this is truly a creative approach.)
■ The Rocky Mountain News packages a series of capsules that focus on key players and which include the previous season's playoff results. The San Francisco Chronicle takes a more bare bones approach to previewing some prep football conferences, briefly offering strengths, weaknesses and notes.
■ Bloggers like The Mountain Top and the Big West Conference Connection have started previewing the Big East and Big West football conference teams, respectively. An Eastern Carolina University football blog previews the Pirates and their schedule. Some bloggers, though, spend more time on their opinions rather than on reporting trends, stats and news. Commentary can certainly be riveting, but save these pieces, or blog posts, until after the facts are cited.
■The Chicago Tribune, which runs a terrific prep sports website, previews the Big Ten conference football season. These writers find a feature angle and then address the same six questions at the end of each preview that includes questions such as "Northwestern will contend for the Big Ten title if ..." and "In a word, the schedule can be described as ..."
■ Rivals.com previews conferences, rather than teams, by focusing on key story lines, top players by position, and the top coaches. They also offer a preseason all-conference team. In addition, Rivals.com also writes previews that focus on the top 10 freshmen, top assistant coaches, and the top junior college players who have transferred to universities.
■ Some newspapers, like the Statesboro Herald in football-crazy Georgia, layer their coverage with videocast previews.
■ The Arizona Republic offers its previews in smaller capsules.
■ Here are some football previews on the Atlantic Coast Conference.
■ Here is a prep football preview in Tennessee's Daily News Journal. My hometown newspaper, the Charleston Times-Courier, has started to preview local football teams in east central Illinois. (Go Trojans!)
■ Yahoo previews the NFL by touring training camps.
■ Here is College Football Poll's expansive preview of all major conferences and individual award candidates.

Read as many previews as possible in order to find inspiration, transforming these ideas in your own sections. Plagiarism, of course, is an unpardonable sin of journalism. But you can borrow others' ideas in order to recreate them as your own. See an approach you like? Use it in your own packaging and reporting. Like poets and novelists, journalists need to read others' work.

Feel free to provide links to other football preview stories below in the comments section. Good luck.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Dress for respect at practices (and no cheering in the press box)



As you head out to practices for interviews the first few weeks of class, please (please!) make sure you dress professionally. Yes, you may be a college student. And, yes, you may be running to practice right after class. But you can still dress professionally for your sports gig. Don't wear t-shirts that promote drinking or say 'I'm with stupid' and don't wear ripped, cruddy hats. (And never wear them backward.) Take some pride in your profession. Shorts are fine for practices, but try to wear a collared shirt. Coaches and sports information directors will take you more seriously for your efforts. I recently polled 79 sports information directors who said college journalists rarely act or dress professionally . Nearly 55 percent of SIDs said students never, or rarely, dress professionally for interviews or at games. Only 7.6 percent of students usually, or always dressed, appropriately, they claimed. Yet, countless college sportswriters complain they are not treated like the professional reporters. Act professionally if you expect to be treated with respect.

One more thing: No cheering in the press box. Yes, you may be assigned to cover your university, but you may not cheer, clap or high-five others. You are supposed to be an objective observer. If you want to cheer, go buy a ticket and sit in the stands.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Check out syllabus for sports reporting

Anybody who has read this blog knows my respect and admiration for Steve Klein, a talented and inventive sports journalist and professor. Professors looking to develop a sports reporting class ought to check out the website for his classes at George Mason. I will post mine by the weekend as well, but here's the link to Steve's website for his sports reporting class.
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Create good sports reporting habits early

Sports journalists are returning to campus ahead of the rest of the student body in order to publish that first week's newspaper. Many college athletes have also returned to campus, preparing for lengthy seasons of soccer, cross country, football, and volleyball, among other sports. (And some teachers, like myself, are also gearing up for an exciting academic year.) That first issue can be a challenge. Here are some tips for preparing that first issue.

First, do something as simple as heading out to a practice. Introduce yourself to coaches, trainers, and managers and watch the players work out. Many times, the managers and trainers are your best sources. They are there for every pass, corner kick, and ankle sprain. You can get a lot of background from these folks, information that can lead to news stories and features. But also watch the practices. Don't write; just observe. Get accustomed to these practice sessions. Afterward, you can jot down a few thoughts and observations. Make sure the players see you at these practices so they know you are working as hard as they are, credibility that can lead to better working relationships and conversations. Attending practices is one of the most important things a sportswriter can do. Make this a habit. Not that you should blow off that afternoon calculus class. (Only kidding. I know sportswriters like myself can spell calculus much, much better than they can quantify derivatives and integrals.)

Make sure you also write a season preview story. This can be done the second week, but try to publish it before your conference schedule begins. You'll need to get some background information first, determining, for example, the top players who return to each team. You'll also want to determine which teams have the toughest schedules in and out of the conference. Check these websites frequently, if not daily. This is another habit that will yield great news and feature stories. You will also write much more informed game stories as well. One more thing – check if your conference schedules a weekly press conference by phone. If so, ask to be included so you can learn more about your sport and so you can ask questions for notebooks, features and game previews.

One more suggestion for preview stories – interview opposing coaches and players as much as you cite your own players in order to get a fuller, more balanced look at your team's chances this season. This also yields a much more impressive clip.

We'll talk about this some more later, but start blogging on your team's practices even if only to offer a short note or a few observations. This can be especially helpful at newspapers that do not publish daily (but dailies should do this as well.) And file these dispatches right after practice. Eventually, you should start posting game stories as soon as they are completed. A more developed version can be published in the print editions or updated after you interview players and coaches.

Finally, make sure you introduce yourself to your school's sports information directors, athletic directors and coaches – even if only to pop in their offices for a few minutes. Reporting is about developing relationships.

Also, check this blog for more information on reporting through the school year. Now that school is back in session, I will be posting at least two to three times a week. You can also contact me at jgisondi@gmail.com if you have questions or suggestions.

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