Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Online skills are essential

No matter where you're working or taking classes, I hope you're working on some online skills as well. There continues to be great debate whether print publications are doomed. A former writer for the New York Times argues that print publications will fade away like parchment, typewriters and, perhaps, CDs. Digital is the future, this writer claims. Even books and magazines will die off in time, Adam Penenberg writes, eventually turning into artifacts that are either sold on eBay or tossed into land fills.

I'm not so sure that newspapers will suffer such a swift burial, but print publications are definitely hurting so much that online readership will be counted in the next Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC) reports, which should be announced in the next few weeks. The Audit Bureau, which is the primary circulation audit group in the United States, will not just publish paid print circulation in its biannual reports. Instead, the ABC will combine print and online numbers, probably in order to soften a steady drop in print circulation. No surprise: More and more readers are headed online. But, many are headed to newspapers' online editions. Newspapers remain the most credible news sources.

Sports readers are probably even more active than the average reader, constantly looking for scores, results, and commentary about their favorite teams. Fans will even follow games online through blogs. Sports readers also love to react to one another, something that is clear when you check comments below stories. Tonight, nearly 400 readers posted comments on a brief NFL story at Deadspin. That number of responses would make any newspaper editor envious.

So what does this mean for sports journalism, where online sites like CBSsportsline, ESPN, and Deadspin already publish scores, commentary and news independent of a print publication? That means more opportunities for writers who have learned how to write for this new audience, for readers who expect quick takes, concise writing, strong opinions, and interactive content. That means you better learn how to link to related content, how to add video and audio, and how to file quickly. Clearly, those with strong journalism skills (reporting, interviewing, observing) will do much better than most bloggers, although there will always be room for witty, engaging writers like Bill Simmons and Will Leitch.

Don't abandon your print publications just yet, though. There is much to be learned from this experience -- and print publications remain the most significant sources of news. (Even Leitch, the founder and key editor for Deadspin, said writing his regular column for the New York Times gives him an extra thrill.) Just don't limit yourself to writing for print editions. Collect some audio, find related stories so you can link to them off your online stories, and write glogs (live game blogs) for live events on days when you do not print. And, of course, read as much as you can, whether that is picking up the Best Sportswriting series, reading excellent sports journalists, or checking out sports blogs and websites.

You can start slowly, perhaps by writing a weekly sports blog for your school's online publication, something that is especially helpful for weekly newspapers where sports news can age rapidly. You might even want to start your own sports blog on a local sports team if you do not write for a school publication. Keep evaluating your own work, and ask others to offer criticism. Learn the basics, hone your skills and take some chances. And, most of all, have some fun along the way. After all, this is sports we're writing about.



Wolverinewatcher said...

Joe, I am at the convention in DC and I am taking your advice and starting a blog on my school's athletics.

Joe Gisondi said...

Great! Keep me updated with your progress from time to time.