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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Friday, July 18, 2008

Gonzo (sports) journalism

Hunter Thompson was more than a drug-inhaling, liquor-imbibing, self-aggrandizing radical journalist. A new book claims the man who put Gonzo into journalism, writing subjectively, profanely and sarcastically, was also a sports journalist. Not that Thompson made many deadlines, apparently. In Outlaw Journalist, UF journalism professor William McKeen reveals that Thompson loved sports, covering Super Bowls, heavyweight title fights, and marathons. CBS Sportsline’s Greg Hardy interviews McKeen about the man whom he calls “the world’s luckiest failure as a sportswriter."

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Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Student journalists offer 1 side

There are always at least two sides to any story – unless that story happens to be about sports on college campuses. Or so it appears based upon a recent survey of college sports journalists. (A few weeks ago, I surveyed 72 college sports journalists and college advisers, along with 79 sports information directors. The results will be published in College Media Review.)

More than half of those responding say they rarely or never interview players and coaches from opposing teams for any of the following stories – gamers, previews, profiles, and features. Just over 10 percent of all college sports journalists say they interview opposing players and coaches for these same stories. That's a shame. Sports journalists cannot be lazy reporters. Sportswriters already have a poor reputation as borderline journalists who write for the toys department or serve as PR hacks for teams even though some of the finest reporters can be found in the sports department. Unless a locker room is closed, there is no excuse for not grabbing a quick comment from the other locker room or dugout. And there is absolutely no reason for not calling opposing coaches and players for game previews, profiles and features. That's how readers – and sports reporters – gain perspective on their local, or campus, teams. As sports journalists, we need to work hard and report in much more depth.

This summer you may be out there covering Little League baseball or travel softball. Treat these sports the same as you would college and professional teams. Introduce yourself to the opposing coach and ask to speak to some of these other kids. You'll learn a lot about the game. And readers will be terribly impressed – as will the sports editors who may consider hiring you some day.
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Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rugby is quietly building momentum

Robert Husseman, a sports copy editor for the Oregon Daily Emerald, writes that the University of Oregon could be the first major Division I program to adopt women's rugby as an NCAA sport. The club team recently petitioned Oregon's athletic department, asking for NCAA status. This does not guarantee the sport will be established on the Eugene campus; however, it does show that women's rugby is quietly building some momentum. The sport is currently on the NCAA's emerging sports list, which essentially means that the NCAA has given it 10 years to garner enough teams to offer a championship. So far, five universities play women's rugby – Eastern Illinois University, West Chester (Pa.) University, Bowdoin College, Southern Vermont College and Norwich University – which is far below the required 40 teams needed to earn championship status. But the NCAA would probably extend women's rugby an additional five or 10 years if momentum continues to build. According to Husseman, petitions have been circulated through 50-plus universities, including Colorado, Missouri and California. Robert did a fine job exploring a complex topic, and offering salient details, significant background, and solid reporting on Oregon's petition. Check it out.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Has sports journalism really lost its game?

Sportswriting today is unimaginative, sentimental, superficial, and sensational. At least, those are some of the claims made by Utne's Michael Rowe in "How Sportswriting Lost Its Game."

Rowe ponders: Does sports journalism suck? Overall, he seems to believe that opinion suffocates analysis, that stats derail stories, that analysis is empty, and that profiles are vacuous. On the other hand, Rowe cites several exemplary stories as well, such as Chuck Klosterman's piece on the Boston Celtics' transformation -- a story that is self-aware and which invokes first person, approaches that are usually eschewed in journalism classes and news rooms.

Using 'I' is a no-no everywhere except in the blogosphere, or so it seems. (I know, I know. You're saying, 'Joe, that's an obvious statement.' But, like other bloggers, I had to find a way to insert myself into this post.) Actually, using 'I' in a news story may jolt some editors, prompting them to find a 'better way' to tell the story in a more traditional, third-person omniscient manner. Using 'I' may also elicit anger (or jealousy) among print journalists who hate the self-promotional approach used by ESPN's anchors, by sports talk radio 'personalities,' and even by cross-over print journalists like Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon (who remain excellent sports journalists). Like with anything else, though, 'I' can be used both expertly by seasoned writers like Klosterman, and poorly by younger reporters who have not read much. (And reading, really, is the key to good writing. Read Gary Smith. Gay Talese. John Feinstein. Frank DeFord. Sports Illustrated. And books like Seabiscuit, Red Rose Crew and In These Girls, Hope Is A Muscle.)

Rowe also notes some other excellent examples, like one the New York Times ran on sexual harassment at Jets games and another that is really a series of dispatches on the Sonics' pending move from Seattle. These eclectic pieces are compelling, even if they are sometimes crude, like the one where the author drops an F-bomb, a word that would be as welcome in a news room as 'I' or 'layoffs.'

Whenever LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony come to town, I am happy to see local folks wearing their jerseys. I respect other people's basketball passions, even if they are vaguely treasonous. But whenever Kobe Bryant comes to town, my stomach burns with hate. So last week when I walked into Key Arena and saw at least a thousand people wearing Kobe-fucking-Bryant jerseys, I almost vomited.


Yet, Sherman Alexie does not pivot on this single expletive; instead, he turns toward a sad, subtle point about empty moral victories. In another dispatch, Alexie connects the Sonics' pending departure to Oklahoma to other national problems -- unregulated hedge funds, socialism, and Marxism -- before concluding that he would love to play hoops with Karl Marx's ghost so they could "have a long talk about the soulless billionaires who love to reap where they've never sowed." In another piece, he remarkably finds a way to blend Emily Dickinson's poetry with hope.

Rowe, though, believes that good sports journalism is rare, calling these exemplary pieces "islands in a sea of dead, beaten horses." Are these pieces unique? Certainly. But that's true for anything -- certain stories, art work, or buildings are better than others. As Rowe indicates, sports journalism can be overly sentimental, especially in formulaic profiles whose narrative goes from youthful struggles to current success (or vice verse). Single or double-source profiles do suck. In addition, Rowe notes that sports sections include way to many notes and briefs, that stories rarely have an overarching point, and that blogs frame news as debate, arguing points instead of digging into stories.

But Rowe is a little too harsh. Sports journalism is not as dire as Rowe and Richard Ford state. There's a lot of good local sports journalism in community newspapers that chronicle kids playing in youth leagues, competing for their local high school, or about adults running in 10K races or shooting a 300 game in the local bowling league. Sure, some of these pieces can be reported better, but what do you tell the sports reporter who wrote eight or nine pieces that week? How is he going to find the time to hang out for several days with a player or coach? Not that this sportswriter shouldn't push to develop a series or shouldn't work on a large profile piece, stories that delve into a topic important to the local community. (And which will provide an impressive clip for potential future employers.) But sportswriters at weeklies and small dailies need to work these into a busy schedule filled with game stories and short profiles.

This is not to dismiss Rowe's points. Rowe is correct to ask for more sophisticated and contemplative narrative journalism.
I want sportswriting to offer evidence of athletic struggle, not celebrity, evidence that “professional” sports tells me something about the cruelty, appeal, and exhilaration of playing. Fans and sportswriters, spectators all, may try to get inside sport, but few of us are on the sidelines and even fewer are on the field. Readers have been left to digest fantasy fluff and their own obsessions. If it has become increasingly difficult to admire athletes and appreciate sports, we ought to realize that their potential for narrative, for story, made them newsworthy in the first place.


We do need more intelligent storytelling and reporting. Check out Rowe's piece for more on these points. It's a good read.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To err is human, but to make a fielder's choice can also be divine

You're covering a game, taking notes and faced with the following scenario: A runner is on second with no outs. The batter slaps an easy grounder to the pitcher, who, instead of firing the ball to first for the easy out, turns and starts to throw to third, where the base runner is headed. However, the third baseman does not get back to the base in time so the pitcher turns back to first. But she does not throw the ball since the hitter is only a few steps from the base. So now runners stand on first and third. How do you score this?

I faced this scenario last weekend during a girls softball game. At the time, our scorekeeper asked: "How the heck do you score that one?" He immediately received two conflicting answers. I said: "E-1," denoting that this play should be scored an error on the pitcher. The other coach said, "Fielder's choice. You can't score this an error if she didn't throw the ball." Both of us have played and watched baseball for more than 30 years, yet we were at odds on this play. So where does one turn for answers? That's always a challenge, especially when you are covering a game held in a small town, far from an official scorer.

I've carried rules books to games in the past, although not as frequently as I should have. Now, I carry the National Softball Association's official rule book in my car, but it does not address this scoring scenario. Instead,this book focuses more on equipment, base running, and other clearly stated rules of the game. Keeping score is not a priority within this text. Zack Hample's Watching Baseball Smarter is another excellent resource, explaining the context, lingo and strategy of baseball; however, this book does not focus on scoring plays like the one noted above.

You might want to purchase an official major league baseball or NCAA rules book. If you have access to the Internet, you can also go to sites that outline rules for major league baseball, NCAA softball, NCAA baseball, and youth softball. Some state high school associations, like Florida and Illinois, post their rules manuals online that can be downloaded, printed, and stashed in a briefcase or backpack. (The NCAA has even posted a video outlining rules changes for baseball this season.)

Still, some plays are harder to define than others. In cases like this, I usually try to delete what the play isn't or cross-reference several resources to find an answer. For example, one online resource confirmed my call, indicating the pitcher should be assessed an error since 'ordinary effort' would have led to the team getting at least one out. But what is 'ordinary effort'? Judgment plays a part in many scorekeeping calls. On this play, this player could have easily thrown out the hitter, so this definition works. Still, this website could be wrong, so I went to several others, looking for similar scenarios and additional definitions for fielder's choice and error. The Baseball Almanac defined fielder's choice:

FIELDER'S CHOICE is the act of a fielder who handles a fair grounder and, instead of throwing to first base to put out the batter runner, throws to another base in an attempt to put out a preceding runner. The term is also used by scorers
(a) to account for the advance of the batter runner who takes one or more extra bases when the fielder who handles his safe hit attempts to put out a preceding runner;
(b) to account for the advance of a runner (other than by stolen base or error) while a fielder is attempting to put out another runner; and
(c) to account for the advance of a runner made solely because of the defensive team's indifference (undefended steal). That's the same definition cited in MLB's official rules section.

By this definition, this play could not be scored a fielder's choice because the pitcher did not attempt to put out the lead runner. But could this play also be called 'indifference'? Probably not, because the team did want to get at least one out. So fielder's choice does not appear to be the correct call.

I next checked my favorite book about baseball rules, Baseball Field Guide, a book that illustrates the rules of the game like no other. The authors, Dan Formosa and Paul Hamburger, rely on illustrations and clear writing to clarify and define rules of the game, such as when a batted ball landing near home plate is fair or foul, the rules vs. the reality of where umpires will call a strike, and the 16 ways a batter is out. The 240-page book, which is about the size of a reporter's notebook, can fit nicely into any satchel or back pocket. The book is also indexed, my favorite feature of all.

The authors define fielder's choice as a play in which a fielder must choose between at least two runners -- "putting one of them out instead of the other." Since this pitcher did not attempt to put out a different runner, this definition appears to work. But my scenario is not clearly defined as an error in this book, either. Physical miscues, like dropped balls and errant throws, are typically judged as errors, not mental lapses.

So what is an error? According to MLB rule 10.12, an error is assessed when a fielder's actions assist the team at bat. Errors include misplays, wild throws, and muffs. This rules does not apply to mental errors, misjudgments and bad hops: "The official scorer shall not charge an error to a fielder who incorrectly throws to the wrong base on a play." This would probably apply to a player who intended to throw to the wrong base. Fielder's choice? Perhaps.

So why spend so much time trying to determine a call that did not affect the winner of a game? Two reasons -- one, we want to offer correct information; and, two, because researching plays like this makes us more knowledgeable about the games we cover. On deadline, we may not be able to thoroughly research plays, but we can revisit plays like this in second-day game stories, notebooks, or features. To do nothing at all is clearly an error on our part.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Apply for this great sports scholarship

Just received the following information for an Associated Press Sports Editors scholarship. Check it out and send something in.

Here's the information from the release.

The Associated Press Sports Editors are sponsoring four $1,500 scholarship for collegiate sports journalists.

APSE, a national organization of sports editors, is awarding four scholarships to help motivate talented students to pursue a career in sports journalism. Collegiate sports journalists entering their sophomore, junior or senior years are eligible for the scholarship which will awarded based on the students' journalistic work, their academic record, financial need, and geography. The scholarships will be awarded to students from four different regions of the United States. The winners will be chosen by the APSE scholarship committee, which is chaired by Joe Sullivan, sports editor of the Boston Globe and includes editors from all sections of the United States.

Please have them include the following information in their letter of application:
- Personal: Name, address, age, phone number.
- Academic: A copy of the student's collegiate grades.
- Financial: A brief rundown of the student's financial situation, with regards to how he/she plans to pay for tuition and copies of any pertinent records including the copies of the FAFSA form EFC and family’s income tax return.
- Letters of recommendation: One or more from teachers/employers.
- Five examples of sports journalism (usually stories but could also be sections the student has edited).
- Finalists may be contacted for an interview .

Mail information to:
APSE Scholarship
c/o Joe Sullivan, Sports Editor
Boston Globe
135 Morrissey Blvd.
Boston, MA 02205-2845

Deadline for applications is June 1. For more information contact Joe Sullivan at the Boston Globe 617-929-2845, jtsullivan@globe.com.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Put together a tennis package

Several conferences will hold their tennis championships during the next few weeks. A conference championship is always big news, but, sometimes, sports like tennis get dismissed because they are not perceived as 'major' sports. That's a shame. Just because 10,000 people do not pack the local courts does not mean we should dismiss this sport. We should cover tennis just like we would do basketball and football.

That means you could put together a package that includes capsules, a well-researched preview and, perhaps, a column. During the tournament, you could also write daily gamers (which can be published online during the weekend.) Next season, you might want to develop a tennis blog as well. (I'd recommend you start a blog for every sports team on your campus.)

There are many ways to cover the ACC tennis championships this weekend. First, you might want to determine match-ups. Georgia Tech, for example, plays its first match Friday when the Yellow Jackets will face either North Carolina State or Wake Forest in the second round of the Atlantic Coast Conference women's championships at Sanlando Park (a long lob from my old house in Altamonte Springs, Fla.) Who's the better opponent for the four-time regular-season champ? Checking the stats will yield some information. You could also ask Georgia Tech's players to assess these two opponents. Which players have played them tougher? Finally, you may want to speak with players at both N.C. State and Wake Forest, asking them how they feel about playing Georgia Tech again. Yes, making so many calls can be a challenge, but the insights offered would be impressive.

Beat coverage fosters this type of in-depth coverage. It is difficult to get so much information so quickly -- especially if you rarely speak with players after matches on your courts. A tennis beat writer would not only have better perspective, but would also have contact information for opposing players and coaches. (Yet another reason to interview opposing players for game stories.) Some staffs cover tennis based upon phone calls. That is unfortunate because the best stories come from watching matches first-hand.

Even if your school has not covered as many matches as you would have liked, you can still put together a pretty good package. First, assemble capsules that can include school names, school records, coach's names and career records, the top five singles players in order and the top two doubles teams (along with their respective records). If you want to be more ambitious, you may also want to add a question or two to the bottom of the capsules, such as "What do you need to do to win the conference tournament?" or "Who could be the surprise team of this tournament?" While making these calls, you may want to ask another question or two for a preview story. Packages like this take time and effort, but they will yield much for readers wanting to learn more about the tournament. And they serve as great clips for your portfolio as well.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

S.I. offers great lessons to young writers

You learn how to write by reading. How else can you learn to craft a great lead, to develop a compelling anecdote, and to write fluidly and precisely? Read, take notes, analyze, repeat the process endlessly. All writers need to keep a journal. In mine, I take notes from books and articles, citing phrases and words that I try to infuse into my own writing. I learned that areas can be scalloped with natural harbors, that a light fog can make people appear wraithlike, and that an insecure man may offer a maladroit joke. Without such diligence, your own writing may also become clumsy. Always push your writing to the next level. That means reading good writers. There are few better than those writing for Sports Illustrated, still the premiere sports magazine anywhere in the world. S.I. offers some requisite smaller features like news to note, Q&A and a Who's Hot list, but these are really filler for the main course -- in-depth, compelling features that offer insights into athletes, society, and sports themselves. Stories that are told by talented writers, whose finely polished, precise language reads more like a short story than a clumsy news dispatch.

L. Jon Wertheim supplies this week's gem in the April 14 edition in "Breaking the Bank," a story that recalls a bank heist by a former Ultimate Fighting Championship brawler. This story also has an important lesson for sports editors and page designers -- sell your stories. Here's the headline and the preamble:

Breaking the Bank
Four years ago, 'Lightening' Lee Murray made his Ultimate Fighting Championship debut in Las Vegas. Today he sits in a prison cell in Morocco, the alleged mastermind in the largest cash heist in history. So tell us: Is that something you might find interesting?"


Wertheim, who has written several books on sports, breaks this story into four parts. He leads with a compelling scene, one that includes a kidnap, a robbery, an inside man, and high-powered weapons. He goes into the minds of both the man kidnapped, the bank's manager, and the mastermind, the former UFC fighter. Wertheim shows how the manager was blindfolded and told his family, also nabbed, would die if he did not comply. Right away, Wertheim has established story, character and plot. After doing this, Wertheim breaks into a second section where he profiles the mastermind, former UFC fighter Lee Murray. Too many writers reverse this structure, offering background on someone first before telling the main story. Keep background information in the background -- and do not cite such details as if it were a chore. Don't cite facts about a person's life. Instead, learn stories and details that help define a person's life. Speak to as many people as possible and read as much as you can in order to better understand this person's life. That's what Wertheim does in this second section. Lee Murray was not born in 1977. Instead, Wertheim writes: "Lee Murray came into the world in 1977 with his fists balled, and he never quite seemed to unclench them."

In the next section, Wertheim returns to the aftermath of the heist, showing how the robbers got caught. Then, he shows how the gang was rounded up in the final section. Notice how well Wertheim understands the situation in the passage below (and consider the research needed to gain such an authoritative voice):

The suspects, though, also did plenty to hasten their demise. Mirroring Murray's fighting career -- disciplined and methodical in MMA; arrogant and unthinking in street brawls -- the same thieves who had been smooth and poised in actual pilferage could scarcely have been sloppier in the aftermath. Some gang members boasted to friends about the heist. One of the vehicles used in the crime was set afire in the middle of a field, attracting attention. The money was poorly hidden. Oceans 11 quickly devolved into a comedy of errors that recalled the Al Pacino classic Dog Day Afternoon.


Wertheim relies on interviews, documents and testimony for much of his information. At times, he writes "It was revealed" or "He would later testify." There is nothing wrong with stepping aside for a moment to clarify a point to the reader. That happens in all kinds of storytelling.

There are many lessons to be learned from reading pieces like this. Take note of several things when you read others. Language is the first to jump out. List and define words in a notebook. Make sure you also take note of other elements in stories -- how a writer learned key details, how a story is structured, and how frequently quotes are used. Wertheim's story read more like a narrative that included few quotes. Too many writers rely on quotes to tell the story, instead of working to understand the story themselves. Try applying some of these lesson in your next story. That's how you become a better writer.

Happy readings.

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Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sports Institute seeks applicants

The Sports Institute is again seeking applicants for its terrific summer sports program held in Boston from June 2-27. Sports reporters from the Boston Herald, Boston Globe and the Providence Journal will offer seminars on a wide variety of topics. Here is the information from the institute’s web site. You may want to check it out.

Participants in the program will take four courses over the period of study, meeting a minimum of four hours a week per course. The intensive area of study will be open to current Boston University students as well as students from other colleges and universities. College students must have at least junior or above status. Graduate students are welcome as well. Professionals seeking career advancement are encouraged to enroll.

Tuition for the four week program is $4,000. Living expenses are not included in this fee. Contact Prof. Shorr via email with further questions:fshorr@bu.edu. The Sports Institute at Boston University is affiliated with sportsmediaguide.com.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Nothing inconceivable about Davidson writer's success

Davidson had just pulled off two improbable victories. Stephen Curry scored 30 points in the second half, including a 3-pointer with a minute left to lead the Wildcats to a mild upset of Gonzaga, 82-76, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Curry then helped Davidson erase a 15-point second-half deficit to stun Georgetown, 74-70, to advance into the Sweet Sixteen.

The cheering in the RBC Center in Raleigh was deafening. Students on campus were screaming and yelling. And the school's marketing director was probably popping champagne.

The college's newspaper, unfortunately, did not post anything on its website, leaving readers of the Davidsonian with a column on racism and a feature assessing student involvement on campus. (By the way, the paper gave fans an A- for fan support at basketball games but only a D+ for support at other school athletic events.) That schools do not regularly post online is -- I feel like Vizzini from the Princess Bride but I'll say it anyway -- almost inconceivable. Yet, there you have it.

The weekly paper did not have a word about a story that transcends sport. It is breaking news. In its defense, the school has only 1,700 students and does not have a journalism program. Thank goodness, Will Bryan stepped in to fill this void for Davidson basketball fans by covering games, notes and issues on his terrific blog. Will's World offers TV clips from interviews on Pardon The Interruption, CBS highlights of games, as well as commentary, gamers - and a live blog, or glog.

Will introduces readers to Davidson in a recent post, explaining that the college (not university) has both an excellent academic and athletic history (Lefty Driesell twice coached the school to the Elite Eight in the 1960s.)

More impressively, Will has been blogging since 2005. Like many bloggers, he first wrote more about his personal life. Eventually, he explored other subjects and approaches like making NFL picks. By 2006, he had started to write more regularly on the Davidson basketball program. Will clearly has learned much about new media and writing from his regular postings. I will repeat: Every young journalist needs to start blogging on a regular basis. Will proves that you do not have to work at a daily paper to write daily. Start one today. You won't regret it.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Journalists are ready for the Big Cliche

I feel like putting on my dancing shoes, baby. It's time for the Big Dance where a Cinderella always pops up. And it's also that time when cliches run rampant. Writers and editors especially love using the Big Dance, but they also enjoy many other cliches. Many of these cliches are overused well before the NCAA Tournament begins. Games are frequently called tilts, teams fight back when their backs are against the wall, victories are hard-fought, and players assert ther will.

Headline writers particularly love to use Big Dance. TV Guide plays off the Irish dance troupe, writing: "Lords of the Big Dance: NCAA March Madness 2008 Preview." And Austin Peay's editors are excited that the "Govs advance to the big dance," although the reporter refrained from using that term. ESPN writes that "Cinderellas at Big Dance share common attributes." Detroit Free-Press editors wrote that Michigan State's women were "left off 64-team Big Dance card."

The Sporting News breaks down the game between No. 6 USC and No. 11 Kansas State by stating: "The showdown of super freshmen Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo should be enough to keep everybody glued to the screen. This is probably one-and-done for someone's NCAA Tournament career and perhaps the only chance to see either Beasley or Mayo in the Big Dance." You can also check out the NCAA bracket history for the Big Dance.

Many college newspapers refrained from using this cliche. The Independent Alligator did a fine job covering the Gators, explaining that the team would not defend its men's basketball title. The GW Hatchet, meanwhile, writes that the George Washington women are preparing for the Big Dance. Who knows? Maybe they'll also be a Cinderella team. The Arizona Daily Wildcat did not yield to cliches. College newspapers covering the No. 1-seeded teams in the two tournamenta did a fine job offering stories that included context but that were not riddled with dancing references. Check out particularly solid coverage in the Daily Tarheel and Daily Bruin.

But, alas, neither writers nor editors can stop using this slam-dunk reference, one that everybody understands. Even the Wall Street Journal argues that the field for the Big Dance is mediocre. Sigh. Please, work hard to at least keep such references out of the stories themselves. Your readers -- and prose -- will thank you for your efforts.

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Friday, March 7, 2008

Don’t get personal, earn athletes’ respect

Here are a few more highlights from two sports panels I attended a few weeks ago during the Illinois College Press Association. As expected, the writers and editors at the Chicago Tribune offered some terrific advice on a wide range of topics.

On writing blogs
This is where writers put breaking news, notes and observations. For example, if Lou Piniella says anything during spring training, the paper’s baseball writer, Paul Sullivan, will add those comments on the blog. “We reserve the nuanced, analytical stories for print,” says Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath. … Many blogs offer fan perspectives, but this information is not always verified. Instead, many blogs offer rumors or rely on reporting done by newspapers. That’s where news organizations play a key role. “Somebody has to provide that content,” McGrath said, “But it has to be responsible content. … Everybody has an opinion. We try to have an informed opinion.” … Journalists love to get recognized for breaking stories online. Said McGrath: “We put it up there and get it out. And then we check ESPN to see if they pick it up and cite us.” … John Mullin, the Tribune’s long-time Bears beat writer, says the best bloggers are accurate and passionate about their subject.

On print content
Newspapers want more stories – and they are looking for people who can find and tell them. So work on reporting – and storytelling – skills. Take courses in creative writing and creative non-fiction. Last season, the Tribune eschewed the story everybody else sought – how home-run king Hank Aaron felt about losing his record. Instead, the paper sought out Sadaharu Oh, who hit 868 career homers while playing in Japan. Said McGrath: “We try to produce content that other people can’t, or don’t, have.”

On working as a sports journalist
Tribune prep writer Dave Sirico says he loves covering preps as much as he did covering horse racing. He says the love for sports is what drives him to do his job. “If you enjoy the thrill of competition and writing about it,” he said, “you’ve picked the right career.” … McGrath said he feels blessed to be a sports journalist. Phil Hersh, who wrote game stories on his brother’s typewriter as a kid, says he doesn’t have a single regret with his career. “I know it sounds old-fashioned,” Sirico said, “but your job is your reward.” … Mullin offers this reminder: “I don’t cover sports. I cover people. That’s where the stories really are.”

On covering high school sport
s
Sirico covers games about five to six days a week, most of which are published on the Tribune’s website. There’s a refreshingly innocent quality among many prep athletes – especially those who participate in sports that do not typically receive much attention like cross country, soccer, and swimming. Sirico says he loves the energy connected to high school sports. “These kids pour their whole soul into their sports before friends, family, and teachers.” Reporters also need to pour their own souls into their stories, regardless the event or topic. “You should believe your story is the most important event of the day,” Sirico said. Phil Hersh, who has covered Olympic events, the Tour de France and the World Cup, says reporters should treat every assigned story the same. “In a high school gym, you do not care what else is going on. You should treat it with the respect it deserves.”

On high school recruiting
This highly controversial topic probably deserves a more in-depth view at some later date. We should treat kids differently than we do professional athletes for a variety of reasons – not the least of which is that high school athletes are still kids, no matter how much we try to publicize phenoms like Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. A 17- or 18-year-old is not nearly as a mature as a 24 or 34-year-old – typically. Put aside your cynicism. Treat these kids differently. You can still call these kids to find out where they are going. Unlike boosters and coaches, sports journalist are not trying to convince them where to attend school. (Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl recently analyzed problems related to recruiting – how fans get so angry they taunt and verbally abuse opposing players and their families. Disgusting stuff.) Sirico usually checks with key recruits about once a week. “Sometimes, I think we lose site as to why they are out there in the first place.” Competition seems to become secondary during recruiting season, he said. “You still have kids out there playing their butts off. People are interested in recruiting so we have to do it, but I hope it doesn’t become the central focus of what we do.” Dan McGrath calls the emphasis on prep recruiting distasteful. “I think we’re almost at the tipping point where we don’t let them be kids anymore,” he said. “And we’re as guilty as anyone.”

On being right, not first
Hersh would rather be accurate than first. Take the time to verify information, otherwise you will look foolish. And if someone else beats you to a story, show respect and class. “It’s important to be first,” Hersh said. “But it’s way, way, way more important to be right. You’re going to get beat sometimes on any beat. If that happens, acknowledge your peers, repeat the news and go on.”

On ego
Player and coaches know more about their respective sports than we do. Remember that. Don’t criticize unless you truly know all there is to know (And, even then, be careful.) Sports journalists frequently write that coaches should be fired, players benched, and programs reprimanded. Shouldn’t we rather report the facts on these points and let the readers decide? Save the mud-slinging and second-guessing to fans and radio sports show hosts. As journalists, we should spend more time reporting so we have a more informed opinion. “The 53rd guy on the Bears roster has forgotten more than I’ll ever know about football,” says Mullin, who has covered pro football for more than two decades.

On writing columns
Columns are not places to bloviate. Rather, they are places for carefully crafted, fully investigated, and informed opinion. “A columnist who does little reporting will not be very helpful,” says McGrath.

On whining
A coach yells at you. So what? A player refuses to talk with you. Ho hum. Readers are not interested in this information. Find a way to work around these challenges. Talk with these people later, after tempers have subsided. If this does not work, talk with your sports information director or athletic director. Unless the issue affects other aspects of the team, avoid writing about it. “Fan don’t care if players don’t like you,” Mullin said.

On getting personal
You don’t think a player or coach is doing her job. Fine. Talk with teammates and opposing coaches/players. Investigate whether this is true. Then discuss the manners in which the team, or player, is not playing well. You can use specific moments in games and actions off the field. But there is never a reason – ever – to demean anybody. “I always felt [Bulls general manager] Jerry Krause was maligned by the press,” Mullin said. “People would write that he had food stains on his shirt or that he was fat. That’s just mean.” … That’s unconscionable, says Neil Milbert, the Tribune’s college basketball writer. Beat writers need to be fair – and then need to go in the locker room the next day “to take the heat.” Jay Mariotti, who writes for the Chicago Sun-Times, has been derided by his peers for refusing to go inside locker rooms after games. John Mullin says coaches and players should have the opportunity to offer their opinions to sports journalists as well. A few seasons ago, Mullin wrote a story about locker-room spies that angered then Bears coach Dave Wannstedt who yelled at him for several days – even though they had sometimes ridden bikes together during training camps. Said Mullin: “But my story wasn’t personal and he realized that.” And they continued to talk through the season.

On showing up to practices
Athletes respect writers who put in the same effort they do. Do not just appear at games or use stats from the sports information office. Get out to the fields and courts to get to know the players, earn trust, and find stories. “Show up before the season starts,” Mullin said. “Go to off-season workouts and go to practices. By November, in their minds, they’ve seen you every day since summer. That engenders respect. You’ve been there for the whole trip with them. They know who’s been there and who has not. You’re sweating along with them.”

On asking questions after a bad loss

Body language is important. Don’t appear you’re happy that a team, or player, lost. And don’t take cheap shots. (You never seemed able to handle the ball today, Rex. Why do you suppose you fumbled the ball so many times?) Instead, temper your questions with phrases like “I hate to ask,” “I hate to bring this up,” or “I need to ask you about.” Don’t act embittered when your team loses, Mullin says, acting as if the athletes betrayed you by losing.

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Sunday, March 2, 2008

The real fields of dreams

Greg Hardy lists some items to consider during spring training in his most recent column for The (Columbia) State, something that also serves as a primer for the upcoming major league baseball season. Greg, who is a friend of mine, also regularly writes irreverent columns for cbssportsline.com’s Spin. Check him out.

Greg’s column elicited more than a few smiles, reminding me of great times spent in Florida ballparks before I moved to Illinois. There really is no better line than “catchers and pitchers report to spring training.” And there is truly no better place to be than a spring training game.

Greg inspired me to offer my own spring training list, one that is alphabet challenged since it only goes from C to Y (with a few other letters left out.) Here goes.

C – Conversations with fans sitting nearby, hearing stories from old men (and women) about retired players like Harmon Killebrew, Ted Williams and Sandy Koufax.
D – Thinking of my dad who taught me respect and love through the greatest game ever. I miss hearing his stories, laughing when he told a lame joke, and just hanging out with my pop.
E – Early games where teams use four or five pitchers and insert only a few veterans, games where you can see players whose hearts and souls are focused on every pitch.
F – Four-hour games. Yes, that's right. During spring training where else would you want to be than in a place where young kids are fighting for a roster spot, the sun is shining, and your team still has a shot? As a matter of fact, I'll usually head out to a spring game a few hours early to see batting practice and to hear fungos cracking fly balls to rookies and veterans alike. With all due respect to those fields in Iowa, heaven is really spring training sites like those at Winter Haven, Tucson, and Fort Myers – places where dreams truly come true.
G – Seeing young girls with gloves shagging foul balls and keeping score. Loving the fact my daughters and I can speak about the game as my father and I had.
H – In March, we all believe our team can win – even fans in Pittsburgh and Milwaukee. And it can happen. Who thought the Rockies would reach the World Series or that the Brewers would come close to postseason play? Hope is important. (Just ask the millions who have voted for Barack Obama.)
I – Innocence still lives on in places like Vero Beach and Kissimmee despite efforts to commercialize these spring training games.
K – Kids reaching over the railing with their programs, excited to even get an autograph from players numbered 88 and 92.
R – Seeing a rookie succeed despite their anxiety and fears. Last year, we watched Hunter Pence drive in the winning run in an extra-inning game in Kissimmee. He nearly won the NL's rookie of year award.
S – Sunny days where fans can kick back, casually read a program, and escape their worries.
W – Hearing wood bats cracking rather than the pings echoing in so many high school and college parks. Ban aluminum bats before someone gets killed.
Y – Yogi Berra played with exuberance, determination, and respect for the game. He won 10 World Series rings, but never gave up. If players like Yogi can't attract fans, nothing will. Or, as Yogi once said: "If people don’t want to come out to the ballpark, nobody's gonna stop them."

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Thursday, February 28, 2008

Immerse yourself in the new world of sports journalism

Don’t despair when you read that newspapers are losing readers or that news organizations are laying off workers. Seriously.

That people are losing jobs is sad news, to be sure, but this is no reason to abandon hope in journalism. Newspaper websites are gaining readers online, specifically younger readers who are engaged in today's news and issues, according to several surveys. And online advertising is solidly growing, accounting for about $2.3 billion of total newspaper revenue last year -- more than twice the total from 2003.

These changes have also created more opportunities, says Chicago Tribune sports editor Dan McGrath. "We know the audience is out there," McGrath said during a panel at the Illinois College Press Association last week. "We just need to find a way to reach them."

Phil Hersh, who has covered international sports since 1987, says he can now reach a much wider audience at all times of the day. No longer do newspapers rely upon a 24-hour cycle. News is breaking? Put it online. Readers are on all sorts of time schedules, something that is clear to Hersh, who files stories and gamers at all hours of the day at the Tour de France, World Cup Soccer, and the Olympics. "There's no paradigm shift like we've had with the Internet," he told the students in Chicago. "When we had the goalie controversy with the U.S. women's team last year, I sent five paragraphs on my Blackberry at four a.m. (CST). By five a.m., we already had five comments."

McGrath said game coverage is changing quickly, especially at events that are completed early in the day, like the U.S. Soccer World Cup and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. In these instances, the traditional news cycle implodes. By noon, the paper will probably file the traditional game story online for events that had concluded earlier that morning (in U.S. time). Then, the writer may revise this gamer with updated information and the featurized leads typically reserved for second-day folos. By the next morning, this story is already old news to many readers, meaning newspapers may opt to either published a condensed version or instead use a featurized story long on storytelling

As newspapers shift coverage, they'll offer more features and columns in printed sports sections. That means storytelling (and deeper reporting) will take on an even larger role in presenting sports. (Fiction writing should be a required class for all sports reporters wanting to learn structure, character, plot and conflict. Just don't make anything up when you return to journalism work.)

Blogs are also playing a bigger part in news rooms. College newspapers should include at least one sports blog for breaking news, notes, observations at practices and commentary. Higher profile programs may merit an additional, separate blog where several writers can contribute from the field, filing on laptops or cell phones. To some degree, blogs are often abbreviated columns, where writers test ideas and offer snippets that may evolve into longer pieces. "My blogs tend to be columns in blog form," Hersh said. "I may put out five snarky little paragraphs (like some other blogs), but not that often." Unlike most fan bloggers, journalists offer more significant and relevant information, said McGrath. "Everybody has an opinion," he said. "We just have to have an informed opinion. A columnist who does little reporting will not be very helpful."

Make sure you learn the basics of reporting. But also seek to learn other presentation methods like podcasts, slideshows, and v-casts. News will regularly be read on iPhones, Facebook and other media before you know it. Some news organizations are also producing videos for YouTube. It's a whole new world for journalism - and one that is not nearly as scary as it seems if you prepare yourself well.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Focus on postseason chances

It's nearly tournament time in college basketball. At this point of the season, individual accolades are not nearly as important as postseason opportunities. Fans want to know whether their team will qualify for their league tournaments. In college men's basketball, teams like Florida, Oregon, Massachusetts and St. Joseph's are on the proverbial bubble, unsure whether they will reach the NCAA Tournament. Women's teams like Houston, Southern Alabama and Illinois State are also concerned. These teams may have to win their respective college tournaments to reach the NCAA Tournament. (Please, please, please: Do not call this the Big Dance unless you are also going to ruin your copy with terms like charity stripe, dishing the rock, and treys.)

So, focus on your school's postseason chances. Will your school's team even reach the league tournament? Perhaps, the team is in 10th place and only eight teams go, which is the case for our school in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. What will it take to reach the tournament. At what point are they mathematically be eliminated? At what point does the team qualify? That should always be the lead for these game stories. Or perhaps, your team is on the verge of securing a first-round home game that is awarded to the top four teams in the conference. Focus on these angles, unless a player breaks a school record or something unusual happens. Either way, elevate the postseason chances early in your copy at this time of the year.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What do sports editors want? A mix of new and old skill sets, they say

A Florida sports editor says nothing is more important than developing news instincts on a beat.

A North Carolina sports editor says he looks for personality, enthusiasm and multimedia experience.

A senior editor in Illinois says sports journalists ought to know – and use – language well.

And a sports editor in Kansas says college students ought to get editing and reporting experience.

Above else, job applicants should know how to develop and insert a wide variety of sources – something some editors look at first. As a matter of fact, many sports editors only briefly review an applicant’s resume before going to the clips. If the clips impress, then the resume and cover letter may get a second look. Beat reporting is essential to attracting some of this attention.

Beat experience is essential to honing reporting skills, forcing sports journalist to cultivate sources, develop story ideas, and learn news values. “I don’t care about the beat they covered,” says the North Carolina sports editor. “Covering high schools is just as good as covering a small college or minor league team. In fact, there are more good stories on the high school beat, and therefore, more opportunity to show your reporting and writing ability.”

Beat coverage also requires reporters to develop organizational skills, a must for many sports editors like the one in Kansas: “I’ve already interviewed one job candidate who admitted he works week-to-week and never plans too far ahead. Strike three right there. Especially with a high school beat where you have to know what’s going on at three dozen schools. Reporters need to be forward thinking and not reactionary.”

Finally, beat reporting helps instill the value of real news. “Nothing is more important than news instincts on a beat writing job,” says Kim Pendery, sports editor for the Tampa Tribune. “It doesn’t matter how gifted a person is if he or she isn’t a good reporter. Beat writers live and breathe their beat and must be determined to break news first. Usually, that’s a matter of effort.”

Sourcing is the single most important way one can stand out in a field populated by college sports journalists who rely mostly on home-team players and coaches. And this is not just the case for game stories. Outside sources are used even more infrequently in profile stories and features. Doing a story on the top scorer on the women’s basketball team? Then, interview opposing coaches and players over the course of several games. You will learn much about this player’s skills that cannot be learned from watching at the scorer’s table or by talking to a few teammates and coaches. Speak to as many outside sources as possible, whose perspective is essential to better understanding an issue and that will impress sports editors.

Sports editors also want to hire writers who are creative, journalists who can find new (and significant) angles in gamers, news features, and profiles. That means college journalists should read – and evaluate – as many books and articles as possible, including non-sports pieces.

“I also value creativity,” says Pendery, whose full title is Senior Editor For Multimedia Sports. “We write a lot of stories through the course of the season. I like someone who sees interesting angles and can do more than deliver the nuts and bolts. Readers have a short attention span and we can’t afford to be complacent and predictable.”

A central Illinois sports editor says applicants should include clips that look beyond the stats. “As far as writing goes, our approach is to avoid game stories filled with stats that could be found elsewhere, says Jim Rossow, sports editor for the News-Gazette in Champaign. “I look for someone to tell me not what happened, but why it happened or how it happened.”

In addition, sports editors are looking for new media skills. “Reporters are equipped with cameras to get shots when photographers are not available,” says a Chicago area editor. “Multitasking has become the rule.”

Rossow points out that his basketball beat reporter does much more than write stories for print each day. The News-Gazette’s University of Illinois beat reporter also does radio three to four times a week, conducts online chats once a week, participates in podcasts twice a week, continually updates the blog on the paper’s web site and regularly speaks on TV. “If I were seeking a writer right now,” says Rossow, “one of my first questions would be: What else can you do other than write?” Ralph Morrow, sports editor for the Key West Citizen, says the shift to multimedia means he’s now much more interested in personality. Enthusiasm goes a long way. Although this is not the most significant trait, personality is now a part of the equation. “I like someone who is Internet friendly,” Morrow says, “who’s a go-getter, a good interviewer, a good writer, and has a pleasant personality.”

In North Carolina, the sports editor wants someone who has at least a little new media experience. “It's great if they've done something web-related, or even TV/radio, because we'll use that. HTML skills are a plus, but not a necessity for a reporter position. When I interview them, I'll be looking for personality and enthusiasm, because those will be key job requirements when we ask them to do multimedia projects.”

Finally, do not neglect your writing skills, the basis for good sports journalism across all media. Use language precisely and correctly. Editors especially hate clichés. “The one thing I stress to everyone who asks is that a good writer knows the language and uses it properly,” says a Chicago area editor. “Too many writers butcher the language — I sometimes think some never took, or paid attention while in, an English class.”

So how do editors look at packets sent them by prospective sports reporters? Usually, by first scrutinizing clips that should include a variety of stories – news, game stories and features. Toss aside the columns. Copy editing experience is a plus for many editors who believe editing others’ work teaches reporters where to improve their own copy.

“I put more of a premium on the ability to write,” says the Kansas sports editor. “If a candidate sends me his best feature and it doesn't grab me, I probably won't go too much farther with the packet. Gamers are lowest in importance. I put an importance in number of sources in news and feature stories. And again, for a job like this, I don't care about column writing that much.”

The North Carolina sports editor goes straight to the clips. “I can eliminate more than half the field just by reading the first six to eight graphs of each clip. I'll hire somebody who went to a junior college over someone who went to Missouri if the junior college kid has better clips. Once I've narrowed down the field, I go back and read the cover letter and resume, then read the clips again, this time top to bottom. I'm looking for a lot of things. Again, most important is writing ability. The clips should cover an array: gamers, features, enterprise. They must have good leads, multiple sources, good organization and a creative touch. Then, I'm looking to see where they've worked and where they went to school. I do have a lot of respect for strong journalism programs like Missouri, Kansas, Northwestern, Texas and North Carolina. And ideally I'd like to hire someone who's worked at least one full-time job after college. I don't care about the beat they covered.”

So get out there and keep developing your skills – and your clips. Be persistent, enthusiastic, curious, and diligent as you chase down your dreams.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Check out new job listings

Check out a new feature on the sister site to this blog, at onsports. wordpress.com, that lists job opportunities. News organizations regularly update these job openings. This feature is listed down the right side of the rail, under PAGES. Click here to go to this site.
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Monday, February 11, 2008

Two great learning opportunities

You may want to check out the Sports Institute at Boston College, where you can spend four weeks learning and practicing sports journalism. The literature says this course offers practical hands-on training in print, broadcast and multimedia reporting. The faculty are experienced as well. You can learn more by going to their website.

The Poynter Institute offers a more abbreviated immersion into sports journalism that features journalists from Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and the Sporting News, among others. The Sports Journalism Summit attracts professional and academic applicants. But this summit also accepts college students so check out the site for this three-day session to be held in St. Petersburg. Application deadline is in a few weeks. Good luck.

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Saturday, February 9, 2008

Indiana tops Illinois down stretch in sportswriting showdown

photo/Brad Vest (Daily Illini)

Indiana won an exciting double overtime basketball game last week, beating Illinois thanks to some missed free throws. It is unfair to say Shaun Pruitt lost the game for the Illini, even if his actions were crucial. Still, most fans will focus on the final plays – and so will sportswriters in most cases, which is fine in games like this. But we also need to offer analysis of other key points in the game to reveal how others also affected the outcome. In the Super Bowl last week, it would have been equally easy to say Eli Manning won the game for the Giants or that the Patriots defensive line lost it. We need to look beyond the easy to discover other reasons for results. That means learning as much as possible about game strategy. That means talking with those immersed in the game. I cannot emphasize this aspect enough. Sport writers need to speak with coaches and players before and after games to understand what happens in the games – even if you are on a tight deadline. We need to gain as much information before we write.

Let’s see how these stories compare in this week’s sports writing showdown. I want to again acknowledge that this assessment is intended for education and fun – NOT to demean the work of college journalists who work hard learning their profession. Unlike other college students, journalists have their homework graded by the public. As a newspaper adviser, I understand how challenging this can be. Still, let’s have a little fun with this exercise in the spirit of friendly competition. Please, feel free to offer your own comments below these stories as well.

LEADS
Observation is an essential element for any reporter. This allow writers to capture moments before, during and after games that can help show key moments. That’s what Jason Grodsky did in his story published in the Daily Illini. Grodsky describes Pruitt, the Illini’s senior center who had twice failed to make crucial free throws. Pruitt failed to convert on a one-on-one opportunity with four seconds left in regulation. He also missed both free-throw attempts with two seconds left in the first overtime. Both would have given Illinois the victory. Grodsky does a good job showing this:

Shaun Pruitt's head hung lower than anybody's at the Assembly Hall on Thursday night.

Illinois' senior center had three opportunities from the free-throw line to give Illinois the lead in the final minutes of Illinois' game against Indiana, but the ball couldn't find the bottom of the net.

After missing the front end of a one-and-one from the line with four seconds left in regulation, the senior center was unable to convert two more from the line with two seconds left in overtime.

In a game that saw eight lead changes and nine ties, the No. 14-ranked Hoosiers were able to pull ahead for the final time in the second overtime, outscoring Illinois 14-10 in the final period to escape with an 83-79 victory.

Normally, you do not want to delay the nut graph more than a few graphs. In this case, the score works fine in the fourth graph because the writer smoothly moved from an observation off the court to two key moments on the court. Still, this lead could have been improved had the writer described a little more of Pruitt walking, head hung low, as he sat as his locker, on the bench or as he walked off the court. Plus, he could have also asked some questions afterwards to learn more what Pruitt (and others) was thinking at this moment. More on this later.

Michael Sanserino, who writes for the Indiana Daily Student, offers a straight summary lead that offers a general assessment that also leads into a reference to Pruitt, clearly the focus of most any game story, before leading into the score in the third graph. This also works well – especially when one is probably faced with a tight deadline. EDGE: Illinois (slight).

CONTEXT & ANALYSIS
These two writers focused on the key free throws, but they did not address other significant plays in much detail. Even though I watched some of this game, I would have liked more insights into how the game ended so tightly and why Indiana won the second overtime. Terry Bannon of the Chicago Tribune notes that other Illinois players also shot poorly from the free-throw line: “A major part of the story, especially at the end, was that the Illini made only 8 of 17 free throws, with senior center Shaun Pruitt making only 1 of 7.” And Bannon accurately notes that two players on the bench had an impact in the second overtime: “Illinois played the second overtime without Chester Frazier, who injured an ankle, and Brian Randle, who had fouled out.” Grodsky notes that Illinois guard Demetri McCamey scored nine points at the start of the second half, which is a good observation, but I would like to know how he scored – on short jumpers, three-pointers, lay ups, off high screens? And Sanserino writes that Indiana guard Armon Bassett took over in the second overtime by scoring nine points. This story should have also shown how he took over. Grodsky does a fine job offering an overview of trends (noting there were eight lead changes and that Illinois has lost all three overtime games this season), but the story could use more analysis. The same could be said for Sanserino’s story, even though he focused on more key moments – including the time Eric Gordon turned over the ball because of a ten-second violation.

But Gordon made mistakes as well. With IU up three and 25 seconds remaining, Gordon turned the ball over with a 10-second violation after he failed to dribble the ball past the half-court line. He responded by forcing a turnover on the next possession by pressuring Illinois guard Demetri McCamey, who botched a handoff to teammate Trent Meacham.
EDGE: Indiana.

LANGUAGE
Grodsky writes tightly. And he varies sentences, juxtaposing simple with complex. He twice uses dashes, though, when commas are more appropriate. Reserve dashes for when you want to change directions, deliver punch lines and shock and humor readers. They add flair and style to a story’s telling. But they should not be used just to replace commas as they do below:

McCamey - who became Illinois' premier recruit after Gordon backed out of his verbal commitment to Illinois - outplayed Gordon, hitting a career high seven three pointers.

Sanserino offers a pretty good mix of sentences, too. But some could use trimming, like the following (deleted words in orange):

Gordon shot just 3-of-13 from the field, but he made 10-of-12 free-throw attempts to finish with a team-high 19 points, which was tops for the Hoosiers. But none of Gordon’s no points were more important than the 3-pointer he banked in with less than 30 seconds left to tie that tied the score at 63-63.


He also uses several clichés, saying a shooter ‘bricked’ two free throws, calling the free-throw line the ‘charity stripe,’ and writing that the second half was a ‘frame.’ Also, games are not 'contests.' Save that word for pageants and figure skating. Plus, we should avoid tossing expletives in stories unless they are essential. In a game story, rarely would you state that fans yelled 'fuck you' to a player. Instead, say these (moronic) fans cursed or yelled expletives. That gets the point across just fine. Now, if a player like Chester Frazier were to get suspended for saying ‘fuck you’ when he bumped into Gordon, then that might be significant to add in a follow-up or analysis piece. EDGE: Illinois.

SOURCES
This category was a slam dunk. The Illinois story did not include a single quote, whereas Indiana’s offered comments from both coaches. There are really two issues here – deadline and web content. On deadline, it can be difficult to get as many sources as you would like, especially when the game goes into double overtime. But we must try. The players and coaches offer perspectives that we cannot offer in the press box or at a table behind the official scorer. For instance, what was Pruitt thinking when he hung his head after the game and what went through his mind before, during, and after his crucial free throws? What were his teammates thinking as he attempted these shots? How was Gordon able to bank that really long three-pointer in the first overtime? And why in the heck did Frazier bump Gordon, a classless act that should have merited some bench time. Ask the follow-up questions. If you can’t interview coaches before deadline, get someone else to grab some quotes. Or you can quickly file your story before heading to the locker rooms for comments you can insert later. Update stories on the web as you get new information. That’s one of the advantages of the web.

Sanserino includes a few quotes in his story, which is a good first step. But he, like many other sport writers, needs to ask sources to expand on their thoughts by asking follow-up questions. Journalists interview to get information, not to record quotes. For example, Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson says: “In the second half, our defense got better.” I would then ask, in what specific ways did the team improve – and I would keep posing similar questions until I received a specific answer that I could explain to my readers. Sampson says of Gordon: “He probably was pressing a little bit.” How could Sampson tell? And how specifically did Gordon press? These insights would be great for readers. Still, Sanserino did chase down these coaches to offer some insights. EDGE: Indiana.

ORIGINALITY/CREATIVITY
Grodsky did a fine job of focusing on Pruitt, but Sanserino kept looking for ways to reveal the game by revealing key moments, offering comments from coaches, and describing trends in the game. EDGE: Indiana.

Overall, Indiana takes this close 'contest' (yes, this is not a game.) Writing on deadline can be a challenge, but that does not mean we should use this as an excuse. Speak with more sources, offer analysis, avoid clichés like the plague, and read other writers to learn structure. Check out the book review section on this blog for some terrific sports books as well. Sports editors are looking for stories (clips) that include these elements. Keep working hard.

Both schools did a fine job with multimedia packages. Keep working in new media if you want a job in the future. Click here to see the Daily Illini's package and here to see the Indiana Daily Student's.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Sports copy editor sought

The Charleston Times-Courier is seeking an editor/designer for its sports desk. This paper, which does a good job covering prep and college sports, is looking to improve its packaging and presentation. I know the managing editor, who is a great guy. I'll post more on getting jobs in the next few days. You can find other jobs at Journalism Jobs, and at the Associated Press Sports Editor's website.

Sports Copy Editor/Designer

We're looking for someone who knows sports and loves design to join our copy desk team. We seek someone to help us attract a wider audience through lively visual presentation in print and on our Web site. The preferred candidate will have college newspaper or professional copy editing/design experience. Minimum requirements include an eye for accuracy, a flair for headlines and design and knowledge of both Quark and Photoshop. The Mattoon Journal Gazette and Charleston Times-Courier are part of Lee Enterprises, the fourth-largest newspaper group in the country.If you are the one for this position, send a resume, CD, tearsheets or link to a Web site to Bill Lair, managing editor, Journal Gazette/Times-Courier, 100 Broadway Ave., Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 238-6865 or to blair@jg-tc.com