Advice from veteran sports writer Tommy Deas

tommy

Tommy Deas

 Tommy Deas, executive sports editor at The Tuscaloosa News and former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, offered terrific advice to students attending the College Media Mega Workshop here in Minneapolis. Deas regularly mentors young students, which was evident by his pragmatic advice and encouraging tone. 

Here is some advice culled from our conversation with Deas, offered in no particular order of importance:

  1. Master AP Style. If you don’t know how to capitalize, you won’t go to top of the pile of job applicants. For example, Auburn is singular and Tigers are plural. Thus, Auburn uses the “it” pronoun and Tigers uses “they.” And that long distance basketball shot is called a 3-pointer, not three-pointer. And definitely not a “trey.”.
  2. Write on deadline. Find outlets to get this experience, even if it is a contributor or stringer. 
  3. Journalism is the lost art of walking up steps and knocking on doors, as legendary journalist Jimmy Breslin said. Get outside the room to add detail, information and context.
  4. The ability to write is essential, but reporting skills are far more important. Deas said he seeks to hire those who can break news and report it well. Even further: develop enterprise stories to tell readers things they do not know.
  5. Know how to use the camera on a smart phone.
  6. Be adaptable. New platforms, such as Vine and Four Square, come and go. But that doesn’t mean you don’t take chances or try new things.
  7. Be willing to make a commitment, even as a stringer. For example, don’t ask for several Fridays off during prep football season. Show you are willing to do the work.
  8. Plan for what can happen and not what will happen. For example, who would be the first five people you’d call to interview if your college football or basketball coach retired  tomorrow? Be prepared.
  9. Writing is a series of rewrites. To summarize Chekhov: writing is the art of rewriting what is already rewritten. Get advice from valued friends and editors, and continually scrutinize your own work.
  10. Stories without details are not compelling. Details tell stories.
  11. Find a way to differentiate yourself from those competing against you for jobs and stories by writing stories that are clear, compelling and clean. Edit, revise, rewrite as much as time allows. Show that you can organize information. As Tommy stated: one can be better than, worse than, or different from the competition. What will be your choice?
  12. Develop relationships. Treat people with respect not because of who they are, but because of who you are.
  13. When submitting clips with resumes, include stories that reveal breaking news, enterprise, multimedia, writing skills and the ability to write on deadline.
  14. You’re not writing about sports; you’re writing about people. Few people care deeply about ping pong, for example, yet many people would want to read this story on ping pong. Check it out for yourself.

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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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