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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or suggestions.