Tuesday, November 20, 2007

How would you feel? Some tips for taking sports scores

You've worked hard all season to get into the basketball lineup, enduring months of hard training. Running sprints in the gym. Planting your feet, holding your ground, taking the charge -- a slamming of bodies. You dive into piles of elbows, knees, and fists to get loose balls during practices. And practice is every afternoon -- but (sigh) sometimes at 6 a.m. You get into the game mostly for mop-up time, when the coach realizes the team has no chance to win (or lose). Two minutes here, three minutes there. In a rare circumstance, a full quarter.

One game, you find yourself in an unusual situation -- holding the ball near the basket. A defender slams into you, deflecting the shot. But you hit one of your free-throw attempts. Your name will now be in the scoring summary, something you'll be able to brag about with friends and family. The next morning, you rush to get the newspaper before school, but there it is. Your name misshapen, butchered, destroyed. Disdoni. Instead of praise the next morning, students will joke about your newly crafted name. Then, you notice your teammates' names are also misspelled -- Jori (not Joy), Cheyanne (not Cheyenne), and Andersen (spelled with an 'o' at the end). Karly's name is spelled two different ways -- in the scoring summary and the brief game story.

As sports journalists, we get pretty hacked off when our byline is misspelled -- even though we get our name into publication frequently. Imagine the kid who gets into the paper once or twice all season, only to see it misspelled. We need to get these names right. We need to verify them every time, otherwise our credibility is ruined. Names, scores, locations, statistics -- these are so much more important than adjectives, adverbs or metaphors.

Newspapers do a great service to readers by compiling local sports roundups. But this good will is destroyed if we do not correctly record this information. Taking game results on the phone can be a difficult task, especially when clerks or editors are also editing and designing other stories and pages. But we cannot rely on excuses. The reader wants it right, or not at all. (Getting news accurately is what we do. Otherwise, we are just printing presses not news organizations.)

Many sports sections hire stringers or clerks to write briefs and to take scoring summaries. If you get this opportunity, consider the following tips:

1. Ask callers for their name and affiliation.
Unless this person regularly calls in results, you do not know if someone is fabricating the information. We rely too much on the good will of callers. I've known people to call fake holes-in-one, little league scores and race results. Few try to fabricate prep scores because they know coaches will also call in the information. Knowing who called helps for another reason, cited next.

2. Verify information with opposing coaches.
Sometimes, both coaches will phone in the results. Do not tell a coach that you already have the results; instead, ask this second coach to verify the names of players and to check the scoring summary. Coaches often relegate this task to team managers, who do not always have the correct spellings of opposing players. They rarely have the first names of players either, which causes problems when you write the brief game stories.

3. Ask for a key play. That way you have something to offer in the game brief that readers cannot find in the summaries.

4. Look for unique team stats. Did a basketball team hold another team scoreless in a quarter? Did a wrestling team record nine pins in a dual match? Did a soccer team outshoot its opponent by a large number and still lose?

5. Look for unique individual stats. Did a player record a double- or triple-double, recording more than 10 rebounds, assists and points? Did a soccer goalie record more than 10 saves? Did a wrestler pin someone in less than 30 seconds? Ask for first names as you take these stats, otherwise you may forget later in the rush of fielding other phone calls.

6. If all else fails, write the brief on the leading scorer.
That's still a good angle -- just one that is over-used, especially if your newspaper runs a full page of these briefs.

7. Verify final scores. Make sure the score by quarters or innings adds up to the final score. Problems like this happen much more than you can imagine. Try to do this before you let the caller go.

8. Calculate scoring summaries. Make sure the points cited for players in team summaries adds up to the final score. Then, verify that the free throw totals accurately reflect the team totals. Typically, scoring summaries for basketball go something like this: Miller 8 2-4 18. This means 8 field goals and 2 of 4 free throws for 18 points. But you might also see Anderson 8 2-3 20. Verify that this player made two 3-pointers, otherwise the scoring total would be incorrect.

9. Get phone numbers for callers. That way, if you have problems later, you can contact them.

10. Finally, edit your copy. We are not merely stenographers taking whatever is told to us. We need to be editors, verifying everything. Yes, sometimes a coach or manager will give us misspelled names - but we need to work diligently to try and get this, and everything else, right.

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