Teaching Journal: Writing about live sports events

Through the semester, I’ll offer observations from my own sports (and sometimes news writing) classes that could prove helpful for both students and teachers.

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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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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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. Continue reading “Some March Madness cliches are more wretched than others”

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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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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Journalists are ready for the ‘Big Cliche’

March Madness kicks off in less than a week, which means that everybody’s dusting off their cliches about the Big Dance. So I’ll shake the rust off a piece I published back in 2008 on Blogger where I lamented, to no avail, the use of imprecise bromides that have far more fizzle than sizzle. I think there’s a good argument that King Lear would also rage against such language. Alas, here goes my attempt to change your mind.

(March 19, 2008): I feel like putting on my dancing shoes, baby. It’s time for the Big Dance where a Cinderella always pops up. And it’s also that time when cliches run rampant. Writers and editors especially love using the Big Dance, but they also enjoy many other cliches. Many of these cliches are overused well before the NCAA Tournament begins. Games are frequently called tilts, teams fight back when their backs are against the wall, victories are hard-fought, and players assert their will.

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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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