Teaching sports journalism

Hey, every writer sucks at first. So let’s nurture, not torture

No matter how good you are today as a writer, you once sucked at some level.

And, nonetheless, someone likely told you a story or essay was OK, encouraging you to improve.

That’s our jobs as editors and – even more so – as teachers.

Accentuate the positive, denote the negative and offer advice for improvement.

Here are some comments I just sent to a student who just published his first sports story.

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Covering Games, Teaching sports journalism

Remaining active is essential to teaching sportswriting

Covering sports is often both humbling and gratifying, more so at the prep and small college level where not as much information is readily available. As a journalism teacher, I find these reporting experiences essential to teaching, serving as a reminder what students endure each time they head to a gym or ball field.

I once had a journalism professor who was out of touch, arguing that my approach to covering a game the night before for a local newspaper had been all kinds of wrong – perhaps if viewed through his mindset, which had clearly calcified a few decades earlier. I walked over to the college counselors after class to switch my major to English. If I was going to learn about older writing, I might as well read Hawthorne, Dickens and Whitman whose words still resonate.

On this assignment, I sought to model several behaviors:

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Sports Features, Teaching sports journalism

We need to constantly emphasize the process for developing stories

I teach processes more than anything. 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.

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Teaching sports journalism

Writing about live sports events

From time to time, I’ll offer observations from my own sports (and sometimes news writing) classes.

Assignment: Students wrote stories based upon the football exercise in the second edition of the Field Guide To Covering Sports (pp. 365-367).

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.

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college sports media, Teaching sports journalism

Here are several ways to improve sports coverage at college media

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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.

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Teaching sports journalism

Not so obvious to journalism students? To earn the best sports media jobs, one needs to work hard for a long time.

I think we all need to drop into Capt. Obvious mode from time to time – by stating ideas that are clearly self-evident … except to some of our students.

Students do not often consider the toil required to get to the level where they can get to the highest level – nor that they should enjoy the work itself. Success usually comes to those who are diligent and patient.

Conversely, teachers do not always remember that students are really just beginning on their paths, regardless if they are freshmen or seniors. Here are a few thoughts on the subject that I posted on my Twitter account. Please, feel free to add your own suggestions and tips below – no matter how obvious because they will probably be new to someone.

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Covering Games, Teaching sports journalism

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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Sports Media Ethics, Teaching sports journalism

Why do athletes feel as though they are under attack? What can journalists do to address this?

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America feels as though it is under siege right now.

The students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who are eloquently, candidly and smartly addressing the concerns they have about gun violence in America, certainly do. As does the NRA, whose president says that the Second Amendment is being attacked. There’s also President Trump, who claims that the FBI investigation into his administration is a threat. And there are also millions of Americans, who are concerned about our election process being hacked by Russians. There are also smokers, drinkers, non-smokers, Christians, Muslims and agnostics who have, in their minds, grave concerns about attacks on their way of life.

Add athletes to this list.

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Teaching sports journalism

Here’s my sports journalism syllabus for the spring semester

Screen Shot 2017-12-19 at 10.55.51 AMI’ve never taught any class exactly the same way. So it’s no surprise that I have changed the syllabus for my sports writing class in order to reflect changes in the industry during the past few years, which are resonated in the second edition of the Field Guide To Covering Sports, released in August. This new edition, which has been heavily revised, includes several new chapters and advice from more than 130 sports professionals.

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Sportswriting, Teaching sports journalism

Advice from veteran sports writer Tommy Deas

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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:

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