Archive for June, 2007

Sports departments are still pretty white

June 27, 2007

There’s a reason strong racial sterotypes remain in sports media — especially at the most senior levels. There are few minorities in charge of daily newspapers.

Studies by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports have indicated this. A study for the Associated Press Sports Editors proved this. The numbers in the 2006 Racial and Gender Report Card are jolting.

For example, only five African-Americans run a sports department for a daily newspaper in the United States. That’s 1.56 percentage. Only nine Latinos are sports editors, compared to 303 whites, according to the report, which covered more than 300 Associated Press newspapers.

Read the rest of the report by going to my posting at the Journal of Sports Media.

Look to the past to learn about the future

June 25, 2007

Veteran sports journalist Buddy Martin is correct. Sports journalists do not know enough about their own history.

We fault professional baseball players for not knowing about Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron, and pro football players for knowing little about Johnny Unitas and Gale Sayers, yet we do not always know enough about our own profession. “We’re just as guilty,” said Martin, an editor who has accomplished quite a bit himself. He has served as sports editor at several newspapers, including the New York Daily News, St. Peterburg Times and Denver Post. Plus, he has earned an Emmy Award and is co-director of The Sports Journalism Summit at the Poynter Institute.

How many sports journalists know anything about pioneers like Grantland Rice, Graham McNamee, Red Barber, and Paul Gallico? How many have read writers who helped elevate the profession like Red Smith and Shirley Povich. Fewer still know about the contributions of early black sports journalists like Wendell Smith, who played a significant role in bringing Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers. Plus, there are numerous more contemporary writers and broadcasters, such as Will Grimsley, Howard Cosell, Edwin Pope, Dick Schaap and Jerome Holtzman. Red Smith, Dave Anderson and Jim Murray brought sports journalism to a more literary level, winning the only three Pulitzers awarded for sports commentary. Only one other sports journalist has received a Pulitzer.

Sports editors typically get even less attention, especially outside the profession. That’s the case with Van McKenzie, an innovative editor who was posthumously honored as the Red Smith Award winner by the Associated Press Sports Editors last Friday in St. Louis. McKenzie ran sports sections at the New York Daily News, St. Pete Times, and the Orlando Sentinel, where he served as executive sports editor until his death earlier this year. Frank Deford hired McKenzie as managing editor of The National, an ambitious daily sports section that collected tremendous talent but which, unfortunately, folded after 15 months. He also served as editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution where he turned the sports section into one of the best in the country and where he also led the newspaper’s coverage of the 1998 Democratic National Convention.

“Van McKenzie was our Babe Ruth,” Martin said. “He hit it out of the park a few times – and he struck out. He had a zest for living.”

Here are two important lessons we all need to consider, especially in these changing times for journalism. In his widely circulated manifesto (or Vanifesto), McKenzie said two things that are worth remembering:
■ “Words to live by: Never assume anything.”
■ “Words to die by: That’s not the way we do things around here.”

Change is essential in all fields. Sports reporting is no different. But, first, we all need to know something about the past before we can attempt to change the future. So read more about pioneers in sports journalism (about all history, for that matter), whose lives can teach us much about the profession we love.

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Feel free to bury the score

June 15, 2007

I continue to hear editors and instructors tell students to put the score in the first three paragraphs of a game story, but that’s antiquated thinking, in most cases – especially in games where everybody knows the score. Most fans will know the results before they read your game story. Readers typically do not read stories to get the scores anymore; instead, they read to re-live the game (especially if their team won.)

In print, most newspapers will include a scoreline above the story for home-town games. That’s what the Cleveland Plain Dealer did last night when the Spurs completed a sweep of the Cavaliers (see page above, right). And that’s what most newspapers do for big games, whether that is an NBA championship or a prep baseball district playoff.

If the game is big, the results are frequently known before fans read the story. Fans can follow games online or can scan for scores on their phones. (We’ll see how technology, like the new iPhone continues to change the media landscape for both content and design/presentation.) On some occasions, bigger games can be written more straightforwardly where a key play or angle ties into the score. For example: “Jorge Posada drilled a two-run homer in the ninth to lift the New York Yankees past the New York Mets on Friday night, the team’s 10th victory in a row.” This is not a lead you would read in New York, where fans will know the score. But this might be the lead used in a baseball roundup published in Lincoln, Neb., or Salem, Ore.

There is still a place for straight, concise leads. You might write a straight lead for some high school games where fans might not know the score, although I would encourage you to develop more creative leads linked to solid reporting and analysis. But you probably want to elevate the score in most prep game stories where the results are not so widely known. Still, in many cases the straight lead where the score is offered is passé. Take last night’s NBA Finals, where even the Associated Press writer waited until the third graph to offer the score in his first lead write-thru.

CLEVELAND (AP) – True roundball royalty, the San Antonio Spurs are once again wearing the crown.

LeBron James, Cleveland’s preordained King, isn’t quite ready for his.

Finals MVP Tony Parker scored 24 points, Manu Ginobili had 27 — 13 in the fourth quarter — and the Spurs, who bounced over from the ABA in 1976, moved in among the NBA’s greatest franchises with an 83-82 victory Thursday night for a sweep of the Cavaliers — court jesters through much of their first finals.

Most AP writers offer several write-thrus, particularly for bigger games like this. That means a writer will file a quick deadline story for newspapers needing something before their first deadline. Then, the writer will go back to elevate a buried lead, to embellish some main points, or to add quotes and new information. These later write-thrus are used for newspapers with later deadlines, second editions, or who publish in the afternoon.

By the fourth lead write-thru, the AP’s Tim Withers develops a solid lead around observations that offer perspective on an historic victory. The score is not cited until the 10th graph.

CLEVELAND (AP) – Once again, the San Antonio Spurs walked the hallways in champagne-soaked T-shirts.

Bruce Bowen carried the Larry O’Brien trophy, one he had cradled before.

Tony Parker, wrapped in France’s flag, squeezed an MVP award he richly deserved.

And Tim Duncan, always the center of everything for his team, recorded every precious moment with a camcorder.

This wasn’t their first NBA title. But for the Spurs, it’s the maybe the one that means the most.

Champions for a fourth time in nine years, they’re now a dynasty.

“I don’t care where we fall in history,” Parker said. “I just feel blessed, honored and privileged to play on a team like this.”

And what a team it is.

True roundball royalty, the Spurs again wear the crown.

LeBron James, Cleveland’s preordained king, isn’t quite ready for his.
Parker scored 24 points, Manu Ginobili had 27 — 13 in the fourth quarter _ and the Spurs moved in among the NBA’s greatest franchises with an 83-82 victory Thursday night for a sweep of the Cavaliers — court jesters through much of their first finals.

In comparison, few readers would have known the results of the following American Legion baseball game before this morning.

CHAMPAIGN – Neil Wright’s hit to left-center scored Derek Leemon from first base, the winning run in Champaign’s 4-3 11-inning win against Mattoon in Wednesday’s late American Legion baseball game.

A straightforward lead works fine here. If this team should reach the state tournament, the lead would need to be more creative (and the score could be dropped down.) I expect the local newspaper would then put the game results in a scoreline above the headline or in a fact box, something that is unnecessary for a regular summer Legion game.

Like everything else in journalism, audience is the key to your approach to coverage. You can get away with burying the score in games that readers have probably followed, like a professional baseball game or a prep championship. Just make sure you’ve done enough reporting to write a lead worth reading.

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NFL sayeth ‘we do not need video coverage from any stinkin newspapers’

June 13, 2007

So now the NFL is also trying to limit newspaper coverage of their teams, something that seems absurdly ridiculous. A newspaper offering (free!) coverage that will promote and market its team, the ultimate goal of every public relations and advertising manager. I guess the NFL believes it is above such petty coverage, that it can market itself just fine, thank you very much. Where have you gone, Pete Rozelle?

The Houston Chronicle’s NFL beat reporter <a href=”http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid716758716/bctid979255280
“>takes a humorous swipe at the NFL’s rule that online sites limit videos to 45 seconds and that they use only portions of taped interviews. The video, which far exceeds the limit by going about two minutes, 50 seconds, includes Texans owner Bob McNair and several players. (I’m sure they’ll be fined for this inexcusable swipe at the almighty NFL.) I read that the video has already been pulled from YouTube. The NFL does not want competition for its own web site that now includes more and more streaming video.

On the other hand, newspapers should not rely so heavily on video coverage. The strength of a print publication is its more complex, in-depth coverage. Print reporters need to analyze, assess and then present the information they receive. That means asking a great deal of questions, reading as much as possible related to the topic and then critically assessing the material in order to present a concise, illuminating story to readers. That’s why sports roundups are helpful — someone waded through all the information I probably did not want to read to compile a brief look at sports in general or the NFL in particular as part of a notebook.

So these quick videos of players speaking works well as complementary pieces, but they typically do very little for substance. These taped interviews should really be only a small part of a bigger story. This is not like the NFL preventing papers from reprinting pictures of games. This is a smaller problem.

Yet, the NFL, like the NCAA, is not acting in its best interests. The more videos fans watch of players, the more they connect with these players, and the more these fans follow these players, meaning the more they will watch NFL games, which leads to them buying jerseys with these players’ names on them. Isn’t that basic Marketing 101? So why the 45-second video rule or the draconian handling of newspaper’s online coverage. (These videos do send more readers to a newspaper’s online site, something that attracts readers to the more complex issues and stories. So the videos do serve a purpose.)

We’ll see what happens. In the meantime, do the more important coverage by digging in and reporting on the key issues and on gaining perspective for better feature stories and profiles. Ultimately, that will capture quite a few readers (and fans) as well.

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Call out youth coaches who play only to win

June 12, 2007

Too many youth league coaches believe their job is to win, something that pushy parents remind them. (When they are not complaining about playing time for their kids.)

Youth leagues are really for developing skills, whether that is hitting, fielding, running, sliding or pitching. Few kids will recall a team’s record in four or five years, about the time some of the kids will begin feeling pain in a shoulder or arm or elbow thanks to an overzealous and egocentric coach. No players are more prone to injuries than pitchers. That’s why sports writers should step in and start counting pitches. And that’s why we should work on some more in-depth pieces that chronicle these issues, stories that can educate parents who otherwise would have no idea that throwing 100 pitches three to four times a week is not okay. Many parents trust these coaches to do the right thing.

Sometimes, the coach might not know better. Remember, many youth league coaches are drafted into service because no one else is willing to volunteer some time. But that does not absolve them of the responsibility of protecting these kids. You could gently ask a coach about the number of pitches a player threw in a game, something that might spark some interest in this coach.

Some coaches definitely do know better. I came across one such coach while covering prep sports in Florida 20 years ago. The coach got pretty surly when I challenged him on the number of pitches his kids threw, claiming he never had any injuries. Sadly, one of these kids, a pitcher for the University of Florida, died about five years later while having surgery on his pitching arm. He was a great kid who deserved better.

Don’t believe those who say that softball pitchers are not prone to such injuries. The underhand motion also can put tremendous pressure and strain on a young girl’s shoulder and arm. A 15-year-old girl died a few months ago here in east central Illinois while having surgery on her pitching arm. Count pitches in all games you cover. Some travel softball teams play up to 100 games a season.

Denny Throneburg, a two-time national high school coach of the year, warned parents of these dangers in his pitching camp this morning. Throneburg, who has also won six state softball championships at Casey-Westfield High School, said a pitch limit depends on a pitcher’s age. Girls under age 12 should be limited to 60 pitches a game, while those 14 and under can throw 80 and high schoolers can toss 100. But he warned that these girls should not pitch on back to-back days. Pitchers need to rest their bodies to avoid pulls and muscle tears, among other things. In camps, Throneburg tells the girls to smile, have fun and to earn good grades. My kind of coach. Clearly, he knows a little about winning, too.

Studies performed by the American Journal of Sports Medicine and Tulane University say injuries to young pitchers have become an epidemic, especially among girls aged 12-18. I also recall a story on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” where famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews, the man who advanced arthroscopic surgery techniques, lamented the number of high school baseball pitchers he’s starting to see. These are kids, dammit, not pro prospects, so we need to start covering them that way.

We should not lionize prep stars (and younger) who win several games during a weekend or who record high numbers of complete games. Rather, we should question why this is happening, letting readers know (through expert sources) that throwing so many pitches is not a good thing. (Even major-league pitchers rarely go the distance, something that way too many so-called experts and fans lament.) Yes, a young pitcher might go a little longer in playoff and championship settings, but these performances should be exceptions. We need to protect these kids the best we can — and writing stories about pitch counts and in-depth pieces about injuries educates parents, coaches and family members so they can, hopefully, take a more active interest in the lives of their loved ones.

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Blogging policy shows the NCAA is out of touch

June 12, 2007

So the NCAA just ejected a sports writer from a regional baseball game for blogging.
Just as I told my class today, sports is all about making money. Sadly, that also includes those who run collegiate athletics. NCAA officials are concerned about live broadcast rights, believing such blogging will affect its ratings, so they told a beat reporter for Louisville Courier-Journal to leave the stadium in the fifth inning of the Cardinals’ 20-2 rout of Oklahoma State in a baseball supersectional that sent Louisville to the College World Series. The newspaper claims it will fight this policy as a First Amendment issue. Really, this is really a common sense issue.

The NCAA receives hundreds of thousands of column inches of free advertising each year from reporters at professional and college news publications, not to mention from bloggers. Certainly, news publications also benefit, selling newspapers to readers about these events. It’s a symbiotic relationship that has worked for a hundred years, since newspapers first started reporting on college football in late 1800s. At the time, college football gave up control of its games in order to sell their universities through sports coverage – a Faustian deal, to say the least.

Now, colleges want to promote their institutions and to pile up a fortune in advertising revenue – even if that means stepping on rights and liberties. Universities are supposed to be bastions of higher learning, where one can even debate issues that some find loathsome in order to elevate learning and to provoke higher thinking. I’d hate to see how the NCAA would run academics. (Journalism classes would be run by public relations managers and business departments would be run by the highest bidders.)

The NCAA’s argument is ridiculous. Blogs are no more a ‘live representation of the game’ than a newspaper story. Blogs contain commentary about a game typically read by those who cannot watch on television. Blogs, also referred to as live-game logs (or glogs), are growing at news sites across the country. Gloggers comment on games at CBSsportsline.com and at mlb.com, among other places. These reports apparently threaten the NCAA, an institution stuck in the past. More and more, newspapers are relying on glogs and blogs to capture and retain readers who can easily access results as they happen. If the NCAA wants to continue to promote its sports (and academics?), it must face this reality. Ultimately, these collegiate sports will earn higher ratings thanks to the interest created by newspaper coverage. (And, who knows, a rich alum might plunk down some money for the ol’ alma mater.)

Maybe, the NCAA wants to horde everything for itself, in much the same way MLB was trying to control broadcasts of its games earlier this season and the way the NFL appears to be leaning. Still, I cannot imagine even the dictatorial NFL refusing credentials to newspapers that glog (although I suddenly have some worries.)

The NCAA clearly needs to rethink this ridiculous policy – and not just for some ‘bleeding heart liberals’ who believe free speech is a pretty darned good thing. But also for self-preservation. The NCAA will lose revenue if it continues to refuse coverage to newspapers’ online editions. Instead, newspapers might spend more resources on other things to cover, something more dear to readers’ hearts, like Little League. And, believe me, readers will follow.

The NCAA will not win this argument in the world of public opinion. Reporters and public citizens will find a way to get information out to others. Newspapers can station a reporter in front of a TV, have sports writers file outside the press box, tell reporters to call in information, or ask fans to be citizen-reporters. There are ways of getting around this ridiculous policy. The NCAA’s own blogger calls his organization ‘arcane,’ knowing that reporters already cover so many other events on the Internet. According to the NCAA blogger: “I don’t know anybody in their right mind who would choose in-game commentary on a blog over a television broadcast, so I don’t see how there’s competition between our partners and independent bloggers who have received credentials.”

The NCAA needs to realize it no longer has control over media coverage. Heck, newspapers no longer control the news, not with blogs and message boards and web sites dedicated to commentary and news. The Internet is an intrinsic part of journalism today. Even newspapers realize this. The NCAA needs to face this fact as well, and change its policy. Either way, bloggers will find a way to report the news in some other manner. Ultimately, the NCAA will look all the more foolish for not understanding something it is supposed to be king of – marketing its sports.

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Here’s an opportunity to report for MLB next summer

June 11, 2007

Interested in covering a professional baseball team next summer? Then, check out the following information just sent to me by the assistant managing editor for MLB.com. Sportswriters typically have a more challenging time than news reporters when it comes to landing a summer internship, mostly because it is usually a slower time for many sports staffs that focus on high school sports. But don’t disregard a news internship at a newspaper where you can sharpen your reporting and writing skills, something that will make you a much better sports reporter in the long run. As far as internships go, the one at MLB is a pretty good one, one that pays $340-$400 a week. This is the same salary most of our summer interns get as they work at newspapers across Illinois.

Looks like the candidates will also receive valuable experience working with professional journalists while adding equally important clips. This internship also offers multimedia experience, something that will also prove invaluable when you seek a job, so check out the announcement below from MLB. And good luck.

2008 Summer Internships
Want an exciting summer of covering Major League or Minor League Baseball? MLB.com offers 33 reporting internships to aspiring sportswriters. These internships are designed to give associates the full range of experiences that comes with covering a professional team. Each associate will work closely with a site reporter to give visitors to a team’s Web site all the information they need to follow the team from Opening Day to season’s end. Each Major League city will have one associate, and MLB.com, which manages the Web site for MiLB, will offer three internships for the Minor Leagues.

Starting Sept. 10, we will be looking for talented college juniors and seniors, as well as graduate students, for our 2008 Summer Internship Program. The application deadline for all internships is Nov. 21. We hope to make our selections by Dec. 21.

Our internship pays $8.50 an hour for undergrads and $10 an hour for those who have graduated or are in graduate school. We expect each intern to spend a minimum of 10 weeks in the program, dates determined by a person’s college schedule. Also, the more flexible an applicant is in terms of which Major League city he or she can work in, the better the person’s chances of being selected.

Applicants should submit a resume, five-to-10 published articles (no columns should be included), a list of references and a 750-word essay on why MLB.com should pick you? Please use the essay as a way of showing your creativity as a writer; in short, it should be more than a simple cover letter.

MLB.com also will be offering internships for photographers, copy editors/producers and designers.

Associates are responsible for arranging their own housing and transportation.

Please mail all internship applications to:

Bill Hill
Assistant Managing Editor/MLB.com
Attn: Internship Application
14825 N. 97th Place
Scottsdale, AZ 85260

Check out the syllabus for course in sports and the media

June 11, 2007

Here’s a link to a class syllabus for a course I start teaching tomorrow, entitled Sports and the Media. Sorry for the time off, but I had been working on several work and home projects. I have a lengthy list of issues and tips to address in the coming weeks. Hope your summer is going well.

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