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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