We haven't really addressed the planning and designing of sports sections in this blog. That's an oversight worth remedying. 'Plan' may be a four-letter word in many news rooms, but direct the other four-letter expletives at yourself if you can't produce a decent section. Each staff has unique challenges, but the biggest is a failure to plan. As the old adage goes: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
At times, we can pull off a terrific page, section, or package at the last minute. But that's the exception, not the rule. Instead, sports editors need to plan well in advance. Plan, at the very least (and I do mean 'very least'), one week in advance.
Enter meetings with a goal. Your goal could be making sure you have at least one feature story per day for the next month. Or, it could be having one in-depth story per week. After the planning meeting, immediately enter everything onto a budget -- deadlines, length, visuals, assigned reporter -- and distribute it to the staff. And post it on the wall in the sports area. (That way, everyone will know exactly when the content is due -- no excuses.) And follow up on everything. Get regular updates from reporters, cajole staffers to do follow-up reporting, make sure visuals have been assigned. Neither stories nor visuals should be submitted the day before publication. You'll need time to send back stories for revision and to plan how you'll use photos and graphics. You should also sketch the main pages before creating them on Quark or InDesign. (I'd also plan to have an extra story just in case someone does not come through, which could leave you with pages to fill but no copy.)
Finally, put together a long-range budget that can either cover a semester or a school year. This is the spine for all other budgets. Typically, the Associated Press will send out a list of major sports events at the beginning of the year. Simply cut and paste these to your long-range budget. Of course, most college departments do not need major events like the Masters or the Super Bowl. So, instead, insert your school's sports schedule for the year. You can call the long-range budget something like "SportsSked--spring08." You can use this as the basis for your monthly planning budget, which, in turn, would lead to easier weekly planning sessions. As a result, your stories will have more depth and your section will be more interesting than a series of game stories and columns. Include fun stories like how to bunt or how to run a marathon but also include hard-hitting stories on athletic budgets. These stories take time -- and planning.
Remember, photos, illustrations and other multimedia reporting should not be an afterthought. Plan these vital, and time-consuming, elements early.
I'll post some sports budgets in the coming weeks. I'll also offer some tips for designing sports pages. In the meantime, let me know if you have specific questions on either of these topics by sending a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.