More cowbell: Quick takes on college sports media

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Writing and photography are more closely linked than one might believe. I learned that firsthand by working with numerous amazing photographers and through conversations with good friend and colleague Brian Poulter, who frequently takes photojournalism treks along national highways, rivers and into regions such as Alaska. Together, we developed a piece on how to apply photographic principles to writing, which will be published in a mass comm journal later this fall. Essentially, there are four levels of photos – and thus, four levels of writing – starting with informational. With each step up, the reader (or viewer) gets more engaged: graphic, emotional, intimate. Clearly, the goal is to almost always strive for the final two levels.

The photo above by the Kentucky Kernel’s Carter Gossett captures the basketball players’ emotions during the Wildcats’ recent victory over Clarion. Page designers dream of receiving such photos. We should all strive to also apply these principles to our writing as well by diving deeply to learn more intimate details and by observing intently to describe such moments.

With that in mind, here’s a look at student-run college newspapers across the country, along with some suggestions, tips, reminders and commentary.

Nice feature: The Daily Wildcat’s Ryan Kelapire explores how this year’s senior class helped transform the women’s soccer program at Arizona. Ryan does a nice job developing a scene to open the story.

Headline cliches: Please, avoid playing off team nicknames in headlines where the “Eagles soar past” someone, the “Phoenix rise to win,” or the damn headline below. Ugh.

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Instead, focus on the unique elements from games and precedes for headlines, as this one does:

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Notes: Like most fans, I’m a sucker for notes packages, such as this one on Wisconsin football. I hope your staff also regularly delivers such content. If so, send me a link so I can check it out.

More video! Capture as much video as possible, which is wildly popular on the smart phones where most readers receive their news. Collect video from one-on-one and postgame interviews, press conferences, and practices. Plus, start offering a postgame chat with a fellow sports staffer on the field or court to discuss a game’s key moments, impact, etc., after writing that deadline gamer. Video is as essential to sports coverage as cowbell to a rock band.

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Did you know? It’s redshirt … but red zone. The spelling is not consistent, but that’s the style. Make sure to also hyphenate red zone when it is used as a compound adjective as in: “red-zone situations.” … Redshirt is regularly used to denote a player who has missed a season for either a medical hardship or a player who has been held out for an entire season. But the term is not one officially recognized by the NCAA.

Even more colored shirts: Programs now also designate players as blue shirts, gray shirts and green shirts. SB Nation offers a fascinating look at the ways coaches can use loopholes to get students on campus early or late.

In-game analysis: Daniel Wayland at the Brown Daily Herald does a nice job analyzing trends in a volleyball match between Brown and Columbia in the passage below. Keep play by play to a minimum, referencing it when you seek to reveal key trends, key plays, key performances or key stats.

Bruno [Brown] had opportunities to challenge Columbia, which included a 13-11 lead in the first set and a 24-22 advantage in the second. But Brown stumbled with the lead, allowing the visitors to take control of the games. The team particularly struggled to prevent the Lions from going on scoring runs during the match’s decisive stages — Bruno conceded four straight points to conclude the second set, as well as five straight to finish the match in the third.

Mascots: BTW, do not refer to teams by their mascots: “Bucky rallied to win” or “Bruno faltered in the final minutes.” Instead, use school names or team nicknames. Further, use the proper pronoun: Badgers, Buckeyes, Gators et al = they/their. Wisconsin, Ohio State, Florida et al = it/its.

Consider developing power rankings each week for as many sports as possible, which include specific analysis and which develop essential skills for when you graduate. In order to do this well, immerse yourself in coverage from media at other conference schools, watch video if available, scrutinize game stats, and take part in a weekly press conference call, if available. Becca Mann at the Daily Nebraskan offers power rankings for every Big Ten volleyball program that is definitely worth a read.

Even though I dislike hyperbole (air =electric, Ronald Jones show) in sports coverage, I could not resist reading this story from Julia Poe at the Daily Trojan, mostly because she offers crisp descriptions of plays, seamlessly slips in statistical comparisons and is a damned good writer. Plus, she focuses on a main theme throughout the game story – Jones’ impact on this victory for USC football.

From the first time that sophomore running back Ronald Jones II touched the ball on Thursday, the air in the Coliseum turned electric.

He sprinted 61 yards in his first carry, dodging defenders and dishing out straight-arms until a cornerback dragged him out of bounds at the 27 yard-line. Six plays later, redshirt freshman quarterback Sam Darnold threw his first touchdown, taking a 7-0 lead and setting the tone for the night.

By the numbers alone, the game was the Ronald Jones show. He broke his own season best in the first half, notching 154 yards in eight carries and picking up an average of 19.3 yards every time Darnold handed him the ball. By the final whistle, he ran for 223 yards, almost twice as many rushing yards as the entirety of the Cal offense.

Violent references: Avoid saying teams won in a blood bath or that they butchered or slaughtered another team – Yes, even if the opposing nickname might be the Bulls, Razorbacks or Cows. They are inexact and unnecessary.

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About jgisondi

I covered sports and worked as a sports copy editor for more than 20 years at several newspapers in Florida, including the Fort Myers News-Press, Clearwater Sun, Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. I started writing for a weekly sports publication in Coral Springs, Fla., at age 15. I have been hooked on sports journalism ever since. I was fortunate to have worked with some amazing editors along the way, journalists who took the time to help me even when my copy was not top-notch. Now, I teach journalism at Eastern Illinois University and work as an editor for Landof10.com, a vertical that focuses on Big Ten athletics. A second edition of the "Field Guide To Covering Sports" will be available sometime in February 2017. The book is a practical guide to preparing, observing, interviewing and writing about 20 different sports, from auto racing to wrestling. Chapters also address ways to cover high school sports, fantasy sports, to develop sports blogs. You can also learn how to cover games, to write features and to interview better. Fans can also learn basic rules of these sports, along with ways to better observe the action. New chapters in the second edition will address social media, advanced analytics, fantasy sports coverage and revised, expanded chapters address game coverage, features and columns, among other new sections.
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