Friday, June 15, 2007

Feel free to bury the score

I continue to hear editors and instructors tell students to put the score in the first three paragraphs of a game story, but that’s antiquated thinking, in most cases – especially in games where everybody knows the score. Most fans will know the results before they read your game story. Readers typically do not read stories to get the scores anymore; instead, they read to re-live the game (especially if their team won.)

In print, most newspapers will include a scoreline above the story for home-town games. That’s what the Cleveland Plain Dealer did last night when the Spurs completed a sweep of the Cavaliers (see page above, right). And that’s what most newspapers do for big games, whether that is an NBA championship or a prep baseball district playoff.

If the game is big, the results are frequently known before fans read the story. Fans can follow games online or can scan for scores on their phones. (We’ll see how technology, like the new iPhone continues to change the media landscape for both content and design/presentation.) On some occasions, bigger games can be written more straightforwardly where a key play or angle ties into the score. For example: “Jorge Posada drilled a two-run homer in the ninth to lift the New York Yankees past the New York Mets on Friday night, the team’s 10th victory in a row.” This is not a lead you would read in New York, where fans will know the score. But this might be the lead used in a baseball roundup published in Lincoln, Neb., or Salem, Ore.

There is still a place for straight, concise leads. You might write a straight lead for some high school games where fans might not know the score, although I would encourage you to develop more creative leads linked to solid reporting and analysis. But you probably want to elevate the score in most prep game stories where the results are not so widely known. Still, in many cases the straight lead where the score is offered is passé. Take last night’s NBA Finals, where even the Associated Press writer waited until the third graph to offer the score in his first lead write-thru.

CLEVELAND (AP) - True roundball royalty, the San Antonio Spurs are once again wearing the crown.

LeBron James, Cleveland's preordained King, isn't quite ready for his.

Finals MVP Tony Parker scored 24 points, Manu Ginobili had 27 -- 13 in the fourth quarter -- and the Spurs, who bounced over from the ABA in 1976, moved in among the NBA's greatest franchises with an 83-82 victory Thursday night for a sweep of the Cavaliers -- court jesters through much of their first finals.

Most AP writers offer several write-thrus, particularly for bigger games like this. That means a writer will file a quick deadline story for newspapers needing something before their first deadline. Then, the writer will go back to elevate a buried lead, to embellish some main points, or to add quotes and new information. These later write-thrus are used for newspapers with later deadlines, second editions, or who publish in the afternoon.

By the fourth lead write-thru, the AP’s Tim Withers develops a solid lead around observations that offer perspective on an historic victory. The score is not cited until the 10th graph.

CLEVELAND (AP) - Once again, the San Antonio Spurs walked the hallways in champagne-soaked T-shirts.

Bruce Bowen carried the Larry O'Brien trophy, one he had cradled before.

Tony Parker, wrapped in France's flag, squeezed an MVP award he richly deserved.

And Tim Duncan, always the center of everything for his team, recorded every precious moment with a camcorder.

This wasn't their first NBA title. But for the Spurs, it's the maybe the one that means the most.

Champions for a fourth time in nine years, they're now a dynasty.

"I don't care where we fall in history," Parker said. "I just feel blessed, honored and privileged to play on a team like this."

And what a team it is.

True roundball royalty, the Spurs again wear the crown.

LeBron James, Cleveland's preordained king, isn't quite ready for his.
Parker scored 24 points, Manu Ginobili had 27 -- 13 in the fourth quarter _ and the Spurs moved in among the NBA's greatest franchises with an 83-82 victory Thursday night for a sweep of the Cavaliers -- court jesters through much of their first finals.


In comparison, few readers would have known the results of the following American Legion baseball game before this morning.

CHAMPAIGN – Neil Wright’s hit to left-center scored Derek Leemon from first base, the winning run in Champaign’s 4-3 11-inning win against Mattoon in Wednesday’s late American Legion baseball game.


A straightforward lead works fine here. If this team should reach the state tournament, the lead would need to be more creative (and the score could be dropped down.) I expect the local newspaper would then put the game results in a scoreline above the headline or in a fact box, something that is unnecessary for a regular summer Legion game.

Like everything else in journalism, audience is the key to your approach to coverage. You can get away with burying the score in games that readers have probably followed, like a professional baseball game or a prep championship. Just make sure you’ve done enough reporting to write a lead worth reading.

-30-

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