Using cross country to introduce ways to write about sports

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.

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Here’s some quick golf coverage exercises

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.

Coaches send me screen shots of school matches for our local sports news website where I post short stories, which, of course, are longer for big events or for those that we cover in person.

As a primer for teaching golf coverage, though, these two shorter exercises work well.

23 tips for delivering better live-sports game content

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.

Back to basics: teaching, learning to write sports game stories

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Let’s not forget the basics.

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:

  1. 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.

Here are a few examples:

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How to keep score, take notes and write stories about live sports events

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Here are my notes for today’s session on ways to more effectively keep score, take notes and, ultimately, write a more informed story about live sports events. See you later today in Louisville at the Associated Collegiate Press/College Media Advisers national college journalism workshop.

BTW, it’s never too early to start planning for the sixth annual Sports Reporting workshop hosted at Vanderbilt, which is tentatively set for the second full week in February. I’ll supply more details when they become available.

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UMBC’s historic win in NCAA tourney generates some terrific stories – and another upset

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NCAA.org offered a nice analysis detailing trends in these No. 1 vs. No. 16 matchups.

So how did the country cover No. 16-seeded UMBC’s implausible, crazy victory over No. 1 Virginia? Here’s a sampling of the stories that addressed what might be the biggest upset in the NCAA basketball tournament – and the first time a No. 16 seed has ever beaten a top-seeded team. Few fans had ever heard of the school, making its second appearance in the tourney. After the historic game, they crashed UMBC’s website trying to learn more about the little team that did.

In another upset that is equally shocking, Virginia’s student-run newspaper, Cavalier Daily, did not post anything on its website, Twitter feeds for news or sports, or on Facebook. UMBC posted a story both online and offered updates on Twitter – although no social media may have been more entertaining than the tweets from UMBC Athletics.

Check out these stories

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There’s no better way to teach sportswriting than to bring students to cover live events

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EIU women’s basketball coach Matt Bollant and two of his players address the media, and my students, after a game last week. These experiences are invaluable for sports media students.

You can grill students all you want on interviewing techniques, keeping score, taking notes and writing game stories, but they won’t really learn until you throw them into live event coverage.

Everything makes sense until one has to cover a game on deadline.

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Baseball writers offer stories that put Cubs’ historic World Series title in perspective

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The Chicago Tribune’s front page today after the Cubs’ historic win

An historic game deserves equally momentous writing, right?

As everybody knows, the Chicago Cubs won their first World Series title since people primarily relied on horses for transportation in this country by defeating the Cleveland Indians in a heart-palpitating 10-inning game last night.

Stories are still rolling in, but we do have numerous deadline game stories on probably the most-watched baseball game since 1978 when viewers usually only had about three channel options. That Yankees-Dodgers series averaged 44.3 million. This year’s series will probably average about 22-24 million after Game 7 ratings that ultimately might have reached 35-40 million.

In 1956, legendary sports writer Shirley Povich offered exalted prose that matched a performance by Yankees pitcher Don Larsen, who threw the postseason’s only perfect game and gave New York a 3-2 lead in the World Series, at the time the most popular game in America. Think Super Bowl by today’s standards.

In his lead, Povich creatively mixed clichés and repetition to put Larsen’s amazing performance in historic (and perhaps biblical) context:

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The new(er) face of sports event coverage

This is the new(er) look of game coverage: a package compiled by a writer typically watching an event away from the venue and who relies more heavily on advanced metrics, video and social media instead of on play-by-play and post-game interviews. You’ll also notice that visuals (metrics charts that appear more like daily stock market charts), video clips and social media screen shots play as big a part in presenting this story as words do. To learn more about advanced hockey metrics, you might want to start here.

You’ll also need to learn to break down action on the ice, as SB Nation’s Pat Iverson did below. To improve your ability in assessing play, you can chat with high school/college coaches and players, asking if they’d be willing to meet with you to explain – even off the record – aspects of the game. If you’re lucky, you’ll also be able to sit in when they break down game video.

Value picks. Understanding advanced hockey metrics (left) can get as complicated as evaluating ebbs and flows in the stock market (right). 

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Miami Herald offers an excellent multimedia game package

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The Miami Herald delivered a terrific post-game package after Game 6 of the NBA playoff series between the Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors.
Today’s game coverage has changed a great deal from two decades ago, before social media and during digital media’s infancy, but some things haven’t changed: telling stories that are focused around key players, plays or trends – even if they are conveyed through audio, video, photos or all three mixed together.

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