Covering Games

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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General

Perhaps this journalism model can help change local sports coverage, even if we’re just trying to fill a need

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I started a sports website nearly four months ago here in central Illinois.

I did not have a point to prove.

Nor a thesis to test.

Or even some lofty premise to uphold.

Although I do have pent-up anger at newspaper chains for having gobbled newspapers like a private equity firm – essentially dissembling them by eviscerating staffs, reducing coverage and pretty much divesting from local communities. As a result, you can buy a cadaverously thin local newspaper edition filled with mostly non-local news for two bucks. The newspaper still has some very good journalists, but not nearly as many as they need and with not nearly as much support as they require.

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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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Covering basketball, Sportswriting: Language

Some March Madness cliches are more wretched than others

used to rail vs clichés like “Cinderella” and “bubble teams.” Those words, though, have been used so pervasively in discussions about the NCAA Basketball Tournament that they are now as endemic to coverage as March Madness. That’s what makes English perhaps the best language on the planet; words are blended and redefined, in part, through popular usage and changes in society. (God help us, though, if charity stripe eventually makes the cut.)

Sports language has been a big part of our vernacular for more than a century. Baseball, in particular, has a strong hold on how we describe our lives. We go to bat for others, strike out when we fail, and hit a home run when we succeed. Sometimes, though, we throw a Hail Mary pass in a desperate attempt to do well. At other times, a decision or action is a slam dunk.

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Covering Games

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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Interviewing

Don’t fear asking the right questions

Don’t let coaches intimidate you from asking questions. If you believe the biggest controversy revolves around whom will start at quarterback, then ask about that scenario — even if the coach becomes agitated, surly or even angry, as Tide coach Nick Saban did here.

To Saban’s credit, he apologized. Likely, some coaches will also offer a mea culpa, if you regularly cover a beat (or if the response is well publicized).

Coaches have the power to eradicate such questions by either responding candidly or by making a decision on, say, who will be the starting quarterback. They just need to realize that transparency will set them free.

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General

Journalism still has a future despite its hiccups and challenges thanks to passionate young reporters. But Americans need to step up as well.

I’ve learned a few things, and developed stronger stances on several other things I thought I knew after discussing journalism with the 15 high school students attending our camp at Eastern Illinois University.

1. It’s tough to determine what to believe with so many real and false news websites, and even when real news sources fail to be as objective as they should be.

2. Working journalists should refrain from offering personal opinions, snarky comments or anything else that even slightly diminishes one’s integrity. Use social media to share verifiable information and to promote media content. Reporters can even share about their life, if appropriate and not political. Continue reading

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