College papers do not use enough sources


Sports journalists understand their audience, as you can tell from the stories posted below by newspapers in Wisconsin and New York. Fans want to know about their own teams the most.

Something else you’ll notice if you read the stories below – – comments from players and coaches of both teams, something that also serves hometown fans. Fans learn more about their own teams by listening to new voices, which, in this case, would be the Giants coaches and players, if you are a Packers fan. Bob McGinn of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offers comments from Packers general manager Ted Thompson, defensive tackle Ryan Pickett, coach Mike McCarthy, quarterback Brett Favre, and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin, but he also includes a quote from Giants coach Tom Coughlin for this night game. Given more time, this reporter may also have included a comment from Corey Webster on the pivotal interception and from a Giants defensive lineman on the Packers’ struggles with the running game.

College journalists do not frequently includes sources from the opposing team. I recently read through websites for more than 30 college publications. Of the 32 stories I critiqued, only six included sources from both the home and opposing team. Instead, college sportswriters followed a similar formula: 1 coach + 2 players = 1 game story. Some stories include a third player or offer two coaches and a single player. But the coverage is all relatively one-sided.

Andrew Zuckerman of Maryland’s Diamondback says this is partly because universities frequently limit access to locker rooms. “It is nearly impossible to get quotes from both teams since the locker room is open for such a limited amount of time and you’re going to want as many quotes as possible for gamers, siders and next-day follow ups,” Zuckerman says. “In Maryland’s case, there won’t be another media availability until Friday, so it benefits the Maryland beat reporters to stay in the locker room until the team kicks us out.”

Given the time constraints, that’s a smart move to get information for additional stories. But there are several ways to overcome this. First, papers can send a second reporter to hit the opposing locker room. The great Dave Anderson says he sometimes runs quotes for his colleagues at the New York Times if he has completed his column. Journalism is a team game as well, right? (This writer can even use some of these quotes for a sidebar.) Writers can also ask the sports information director to send someone to collect quotes from the opposing locker room. Or, writers can share quotes with one another afterwards. The writer for the Daily Nebraskan , for example, can share quotes with the writer for the Iowa State Daily when the Cornhuskers face the Cyclones.

There is no excuse, though, for failing to include comments from opposing players and coaches in precedes when deadline is not looming. Beat writers should regularly call other conference coaches on a regular basis for notes, quotes and comments — thoughts that should be included in preview stories. You can get many of these numbers by calling sports information directors and by asking coaches for phone numbers when they come to town. Usually, it’s better to talk with the coach well before the game when it’s calmer. The earlier the better. You can also use this time to collect comments for profiles and features. What does this coach think about a new rule, for example, or about a top-ranked wrestler in the conference? After a few weeks, you’ll have comments from several coaches, which ought to lead to an informative, compelling story.

Late-night games are a challenge to write on deadline. No doubt. But look for ways to get additional insights that will help your story stand out.


One Response to “College papers do not use enough sources”

  1. What do sports editors want? A mix of old and new skills, they say « ON SPORTS Says:

    […] Sourcing is the single most important way one can stand out in a field populated by college sports journalists who rely mostly on home-team players and coaches. And this is not just the case for game stories. Outside sources are used even more infrequently in profile stories and features. Doing a story on the top scorer on the women’s basketball team? Then, interview opposing coaches and players over the course of several games. You will learn much about this player’s skills that cannot be learned from watching at the scorer’s table or by talking to a few teammates and coaches. Speak to as many outside sources as possible, whose perspective is essential to better understanding an issue and that will impress sports editors. […]

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