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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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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Covering Games

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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Sports Language, Sportswriting: Language

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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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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Sports Analytics

Statistical analysis can be far more fun than beat coverage

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FiveThirtyEight.com offers many terrific examples on ways to develop and write a story based upon statistical research.

If you’re interested in diving into the statistical side of sports coverage, look no further than FiveThirtyEight, which offers compelling analysis that’s clearly articulated.

You can find top-notch analysis at FanGraphsBeyond the Boxscore, and FootballOutsiders.com. You can also regularly find fantastic coverage related to advanced metrics on a Wall Street Journal website that, unfortunately, is fairly expensive for those who seek only sports news. There’s also stories based on advanced metrics in Yahoo!, ESPN, and SB Nation, among others. But all pale compared to FiveThirtyEight.

Today, for example, Scott Kacsmar concludes that NFL coaches and quarterbacks should divorce after five years, if they have not already won a Super Bowl.

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Interviewing

‘Morning Joe’ interview with Congressman can be a lesson for sports journalists as well

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I’m not trying to wade into politics here – although I’ll gladly discuss my second fave topic elsewhere – but this interview with a Texas Congressman can serve to teach all journalists how to address sources who attack, deflect, obfuscate and conflate. Just imagine that an athletic director, coach, commissioner or agent is speaking instead.

Rep. Kevin Brady, the source interviewed during a segment on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” was asked about part of a tax bill that will probably come to a vote later today by Willie Geist, among the better interviewers on TV. In particular: he asked about carried interest, a term very few people know much about. But isn’t that a reason we watch, listen and read news?

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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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