This is the most important time of the year for college sports media: when editors and producers need to plan coverage for the next three to – ideally – six months.
Too often, editors and producers rely way, way (way!) too much on game precedes and folos, which is both lazy and unimaginative. To compound problems, college newspapers and TV stations lean on, respectively, print/digital game stories and brief descriptions of game highlights for its primary coverage. To be fair, professional newspapers and TV stations frequently fumble through game coverage as well even though this is the lowest form of sports reportage.
Build on game coverage in order to attract audiences and to measurably improve your portfolio.
So let’s review a few ways you can elevate sports coverage for your media organization.
- First, comprehensively cover your most important games by clearly describing games, intelligently analyzing trends, and throughly interviewing as many key people as possible to reveal explanations, reactions and expert insights. Don’t tread timidly by interviewing a few players/coaches from your home school; instead, be fearless by talking with players/coaches from the opposing team as well – otherwise, your audience will be stuck with only one perspective. They won’t hear the opposing defensive backs describe what it was like to cover your school’s receivers or hear an opposing catcher assess how his pitcher threw a shutout.
- After games, offer a quick assessment of the game, preferably with another reporter. You can do this on the field/court before locker rooms open, or head back out there after having completed your interviews. These postgame sessions range typically anywhere from 2-10 minutes. (Make sure to promote this everywhere, including tag lines at the end of precedes and folos.)
- Analyze key plays, stats, players, trends from the key game across multiple platforms.
- Record, post video. Video is no longer an option for sports media. Fans demand it in all media, from Instagram to Twitter. Videotape press conferences, fan reaction in crowds during games, and events.
- Podcasts are essential. Have beat reporters, anchors, producers and editors develop podcasts on specific sports, beats, issues and/or recruiting. Want to learn more about podcasts, then consider attending our next annual national college sports media conference in Nashville, which typically takes place the week after the Super Bowl in early February. I will post more on this in the coming weeks.
- Report on the athletic department’s budget to determine spending trends year to year, across the conference and among teams. Don’t forget to assess Title IX compliance. Sports writers are also journalists.
- Cover all teams on campus, even if they do not compete on or near campus, which is far more likely in sports such as golf, cross country and swimming. For away games, set up a time to speak with the coach and players on the bus ride back. If you do not have the staff to cover everything, don’t feel compelled to offer summaries days later. Nobody really cares at that point; instead, find a feature angle connected to these games. (Re: the approach used by Sports Illustrated and The Athletic.)
- Vigilantly engage your audience through social media – across Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, SnapChat and as many other platforms your audience uses. Break all news on Twitter, which has become the first level of reporting. Whether someone gets named the starting quarterback, or gets hurt in practice, post the initial information on Twitter. You can then develop these stories across other social media and on your websites and blogs. In addition, promote all content across these multiple social media platforms. Follow athletes, coaches and administrators who have accounts to get personal updates, commentaries, and announcements.
In order to improve, you need to schedule weekly and daily planning meetings with your sports staff. Otherwise, you’ll be left scrambling to cover just the basics.
In addition, hang out at practices, if possible. Have informal, off-the-record meetings with coaches, asking them to offer how they feel about coaching, players, and life in general. And don’t write about scuffles among players during practice sessions, which are rarely news unless someone goes to the hospital. If you do address these events, you’ll likely alienate coaches, players and managers whose insights and assistance could yield far more important stories than a practice feud.
Don’t forget to introduce yourself to coaches before you start covering their teams, either in their offices or before a practice. Plus, make sure to dress professionally if you don’t want to be treated like a college kid pretending to be a sports journalist. Avoid tattered shorts, t-shirts with stupid slogans, and baseball caps turned sideways.
Finally, don’t rip into coaches and players. That’s how fans react. Sports journalists investigate by analyzing decisions from numerous perspectives and by speaking with coaches and athletes to learn why decisions were made. Sometimes, teams are just not good enough or good plays fail.