Today, I sent students an assignment that involves them taking the first step toward developing and writing a sports feature. Along with observation and interviews, research is essential — perhaps even more so in the germination process.
An EIU professor, faced with the daunting task of teaching students how to write leads for game stories, was stymied when his class defeated him in all four assignment submissions Monday night in Charleston.
I’m addressing ways to cover live sports events today, focusing more on cross country after having hit golf last week. We are reviewing sports that are currently still taking place in here in east central Illinois so they can better prepare for their own live coverage assignments. I like to start this class with cross country because the rules are simpler: The runners who cross the finish line the fastest win. No doubt, the sport requires strategy and nuance, but there’s no need to address baffling pass interference rules or reactionary match-up zones in basketball.
Fewer sports are being played here in central Illinois and around the country, but outdoor activities that enable students to be more socially distant during competition, such as golf, tennis and cross country, have been allowed in Illinois.
That means more coverage of these three prep sports than usual.
It’s going to be a different, and likely more difficult, semester for many who are teaching sports writing courses across the country. Few, if any, sports might be available in some states – and even where they will be competing, interviewing athletes and coaches will be more challenging. Nobody yet has many answers, but we’re all trying. To that end, I have shared syllabi for several courses below – Writing for Sports Media, Advanced Reporting and News Writing. Would love to see yours, as well.
I’ve assembled a list of sports writing exercises and handouts for those needing additional material as we all move to teaching online for the next several months. Feel free to use, share, adapt – whatever works to help you educate students. If you would like to share your own exercises, please send them along. I will post your instructions, your name and your college/media for full credit. I’m hoping this can serve as an archive for sports media education.
Writing stories about games on deadlines is not always easy, especially at the high school level where one is not delivered play-by-play, comprehensive stats, multiple quotes and players/ coaches to interview. Skills learned by covering prep sports enable one to more skillfully and artfully get more out of college and professional event coverage. After reviewing my students’ stories the past several weeks, I put together some reminders about game coverage at all levels.
Even if they seem obvious, we sometimes forget to apply them when covering sports events. Of course, this happens far more to newer writers, and students, who have barely been introduced to them.
Here are a few reminders I plan to offer my students this week after having reviewed their stories on college and high school basketball gamers.
In no particular order:
Insert the score of a game (and do so early). The score does not have to be in the lead, but it should definitely be in first few graphs. Take a photo of the scoreboard or from the scorebook before you start postgame interviews.
I started a sports website nearly four months ago here in central Illinois.
I did not have a point to prove.
Nor a thesis to test.
Or even some lofty premise to uphold.
Although I do have pent-up anger at newspaper chains for having gobbled newspapers like a private equity firm – essentially dissembling them by eviscerating staffs, reducing coverage and pretty much divesting from local communities. As a result, you can buy a cadaverously thin local newspaper edition filled with mostly non-local news for two bucks. The newspaper still has some very good journalists, but not nearly as many as they need and with not nearly as much support as they require.
Observations: Students developed leads that were general, which is often the case since they are often taught to take this approach in essays by most teachers from K-12. As a result, my students focused on leads about “regulation ending in a scoreless tie” or merely that Cocoa defeated Tallahassee Godby, 7-6, in a state title game.