Archive for February, 2008

Focus on postseason chances in game coverage

February 21, 2008

It’s nearly tournament time in college basketball. At this point of the season, individual accolades are not nearly as important as postseason opportunities. Fans want to know whether their team will qualify for their league tournaments. In college men’s basketball, teams like Florida, Oregon, Massachusetts and St. Joseph’s are on the proverbial bubble, unsure whether they will reach the NCAA Tournament. Women’s teams like Houston, Southern Alabama and Illinois State are also concerned. These teams may have to win their respective college tournaments to reach the NCAA Tournament. (Please, please, please: Do not call this the Big Dance unless you are also going to ruin your copy with terms like charity stripe, dishing the rock, and treys.)

So, focus on your school’s postseason chances. Will your school’s team even reach the league tournament? Perhaps, the team is in 10th place and only eight teams go, which is the case for our school in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament. What will it take to reach the tournament. At what point are they mathematically be eliminated? At what point does the team qualify? That should always be the lead for these game stories. Or perhaps, your team is on the verge of securing a first-round home game that is awarded to the top four teams in the conference. Focus on these angles, unless a player breaks a school record or something unusual happens. Either way, elevate the postseason chances early in your copy at this time of the year.


What do sports editors want? A mix of old and new skills, they say

February 13, 2008

A Florida sports editor says nothing is more important than developing news instincts on a beat.

A North Carolina sports editor says he looks for personality, enthusiasm and multimedia experience.

A senior editor in Illinois says sports journalists ought to know – and use – language well.

And a sports editor in Kansas says college students ought to get editing and reporting experience.

Above else, job applicants should know how to develop and insert a wide variety of sources – something some editors look at first. As a matter of fact, many sports editors only briefly review an applicant’s resume before going to the clips. If the clips impress, then the resume and cover letter may get a second look. Beat reporting is essential to attracting some of this attention.

Beat experience is essential to honing reporting skills, forcing sports journalist to cultivate sources, develop story ideas, and learn news values. “I don’t care about the beat they covered,” says the North Carolina sports editor. “Covering high schools is just as good as covering a small college or minor league team. In fact, there are more good stories on the high school beat, and therefore, more opportunity to show your reporting and writing ability.”

Beat coverage also requires reporters to develop organizational skills, a must for many sports editors like the one in Kansas: “I’ve already interviewed one job candidate who admitted he works week-to-week and never plans too far ahead. Strike three right there. Especially with a high school beat where you have to know what’s going on at three dozen schools. Reporters need to be forward thinking and not reactionary.”

Finally, beat reporting helps instill the value of real news. “Nothing is more important than news instincts on a beat writing job,” says Kim Pendery, sports editor for the Tampa Tribune. “It doesn’t matter how gifted a person is if he or she isn’t a good reporter. Beat writers live and breathe their beat and must be determined to break news first. Usually, that’s a matter of effort.”

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.

Sports editors also want to hire writers who are creative, journalists who can find new (and significant) angles in gamers, news features, and profiles. That means college journalists should read – and evaluate – as many books and articles as possible, including non-sports pieces.

“I also value creativity,” says Pendery, whose full title is Senior Editor For Multimedia Sports. “We write a lot of stories through the course of the season. I like someone who sees interesting angles and can do more than deliver the nuts and bolts. Readers have a short attention span and we can’t afford to be complacent and predictable.”

A central Illinois sports editor says applicants should include clips that look beyond the stats. “As far as writing goes, our approach is to avoid game stories filled with stats that could be found elsewhere, says Jim Rossow, sports editor for the News-Gazette in Champaign. “I look for someone to tell me not what happened, but why it happened or how it happened.”

In addition, sports editors are looking for new media skills. “Reporters are equipped with cameras to get shots when photographers are not available,” says a Chicago area editor. “Multitasking has become the rule.”

Rossow points out that his basketball beat reporter does much more than write stories for print each day. The News-Gazette’s University of Illinois beat reporter also does radio three to four times a week, conducts online chats once a week, participates in podcasts twice a week, continually updates the blog on the paper’s web site and regularly speaks on TV. “If I were seeking a writer right now,” says Rossow, “one of my first questions would be: What else can you do other than write?” Ralph Morrow, sports editor for the Key West Citizen, says the shift to multimedia means he’s now much more interested in personality. Enthusiasm goes a long way. Although this is not the most significant trait, personality is now a part of the equation. “I like someone who is Internet friendly,” Morrow says, “who’s a go-getter, a good interviewer, a good writer, and has a pleasant personality.”

In North Carolina, the sports editor wants someone who has at least a little new media experience. “It’s great if they’ve done something web-related, or even TV/radio, because we’ll use that. HTML skills are a plus, but not a necessity for a reporter position. When I interview them, I’ll be looking for personality and enthusiasm, because those will be key job requirements when we ask them to do multimedia projects.”

Finally, do not neglect your writing skills, the basis for good sports journalism across all media. Use language precisely and correctly. Editors especially hate clichés. “The one thing I stress to everyone who asks is that a good writer knows the language and uses it properly,” says a Chicago area editor. “Too many writers butcher the language — I sometimes think some never took, or paid attention while in, an English class.”

So how do editors look at packets sent them by prospective sports reporters? Usually, by first scrutinizing clips that should include a variety of stories – news, game stories and features. Toss aside the columns. Copy editing experience is a plus for many editors who believe editing others’ work teaches reporters where to improve their own copy.

“I put more of a premium on the ability to write,” says the Kansas sports editor. “If a candidate sends me his best feature and it doesn’t grab me, I probably won’t go too much farther with the packet. Gamers are lowest in importance. I put an importance in number of sources in news and feature stories. And again, for a job like this, I don’t care about column writing that much.”

The North Carolina sports editor goes straight to the clips. “I can eliminate more than half the field just by reading the first six to eight graphs of each clip. I’ll hire somebody who went to a junior college over someone who went to Missouri if the junior college kid has better clips. Once I’ve narrowed down the field, I go back and read the cover letter and resume, then read the clips again, this time top to bottom. I’m looking for a lot of things. Again, most important is writing ability. The clips should cover an array: gamers, features, enterprise. They must have good leads, multiple sources, good organization and a creative touch. Then, I’m looking to see where they’ve worked and where they went to school. I do have a lot of respect for strong journalism programs like Missouri, Kansas, Northwestern, Texas and North Carolina. And ideally I’d like to hire someone who’s worked at least one full-time job after college. I don’t care about the beat they covered.”

So get out there and keep developing your skills – and your clips. Be persistent, enthusiastic, curious, and diligent as you chase down your dreams.


Check out job listings

February 12, 2008

Check out a new feature listed down the right rail under ‘Pages’ for regulary updated job listings from several news organizations. I will add new sites as I find them. 

Two great learning opportunities

February 12, 2008

You may want to check out the Sports Institute at Boston College, where you can spend four weeks learning and practicing sports journalism. The literature says this course offers practical hands-on training in print, broadcast and multimedia reporting. The faculty are experienced as well. You can learn more by going to their website.

The Poynter Institute offers a more abbreviated immersion into sports journalism that features journalists from Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today and the Sporting News, among others. The Sports Journalism Summit attracts professional and academic applicants. But this summit also accepts college students so check out the site for this three-day session to be held in St. Petersburg, Fla. Application deadline is in a few weeks. Good luck.


Indiana tops Illinois in showdown

February 9, 2008

photo/Brad Vest (Daily Illini)

Indiana won an exciting double overtime basketball game last week, beating Illinois thanks to some missed free throws. It is unfair to say Shaun Pruitt lost the game for the Illini, even if his actions were crucial. Still, most fans will focus on the final plays – and so will sportswriters in most cases, which is fine in games like this. But we also need to offer analysis of other key points in the game to reveal how others also affected the outcome. In the Super Bowl last week, it would have been equally easy to say Eli Manning won the game for the Giants or that the Patriots defensive line lost it. We need to look beyond the easy to discover other reasons for results. That means learning as much as possible about game strategy. That means talking with those immersed in the game. I cannot emphasize this aspect enough. Sport writers need to speak with coaches and players before and after games to understand what happens in the games – even if you are on a tight deadline. We need to gain as much information before we write.

Let’s see how these stories compare in this week’s sports writing showdown. I want to again acknowledge that this assessment is intended for education and fun – NOT to demean the work of college journalists who work hard learning their profession. Unlike other college students, journalists have their homework graded by the public. As a newspaper adviser, I understand how challenging this can be. Still, let’s have a little fun with this exercise in the spirit of friendly competition. Please, feel free to offer your own comments below these stories as well.

Observation is an essential element for any reporter. This allow writers to capture moments before, during and after games that can help show key moments. That’s what Jason Grodsky did in his story published in the Daily Illini. Grodsky describes Pruitt, the Illini’s senior center who had twice failed to make crucial free throws. Pruitt failed to convert on a one-on-one opportunity with four seconds left in regulation. He also missed both free-throw attempts with two seconds left in the first overtime. Both would have given Illinois the victory. Grodsky does a good job showing this:

Shaun Pruitt’s head hung lower than anybody’s at the Assembly Hall on Thursday night.

Illinois’ senior center had three opportunities from the free-throw line to give Illinois the lead in the final minutes of Illinois’ game against Indiana, but the ball couldn’t find the bottom of the net.

After missing the front end of a one-and-one from the line with four seconds left in regulation, the senior center was unable to convert two more from the line with two seconds left in overtime.

In a game that saw eight lead changes and nine ties, the No. 14-ranked Hoosiers were able to pull ahead for the final time in the second overtime, outscoring Illinois 14-10 in the final period to escape with an 83-79 victory.

Normally, you do not want to delay the nut graph more than a few graphs. In this case, the score works fine in the fourth graph because the writer smoothly moved from an observation off the court to two key moments on the court. Still, this lead could have been improved had the writer described a little more of Pruitt walking, head hung low, as he sat as his locker, on the bench or as he walked off the court. Plus, he could have also asked some questions afterwards to learn more what Pruitt (and others) was thinking at this moment. More on this later.

Michael Sanserino, who writes for the Indiana Daily Student, offers a straight summary lead that offers a general assessment that also leads into a reference to Pruitt, clearly the focus of most any game story, before leading into the score in the third graph. This also works well – especially when one is probably faced with a tight deadline. EDGE: Illinois (slight).

These two writers focused on the key free throws, but they did not address other significant plays in much detail. Even though I watched some of this game, I would have liked more insights into how the game ended so tightly and why Indiana won the second overtime. Terry Bannon of the Chicago Tribune notes that other Illinois players also shot poorly from the free-throw line: “A major part of the story, especially at the end, was that the Illini made only 8 of 17 free throws, with senior center Shaun Pruitt making only 1 of 7.” And Bannon accurately notes that two players on the bench had an impact in the second overtime: “Illinois played the second overtime without Chester Frazier, who injured an ankle, and Brian Randle, who had fouled out.” Grodsky notes that Illinois guard Demetri McCamey scored nine points at the start of the second half, which is a good observation, but I would like to know how he scored – on short jumpers, three-pointers, lay ups, off high screens? And Sanserino writes that Indiana guard Armon Bassett took over in the second overtime by scoring nine points. This story should have also shown how he took over. Grodsky does a fine job offering an overview of trends (noting there were eight lead changes and that Illinois has lost all three overtime games this season), but the story could use more analysis. The same could be said for Sanserino’s story, even though he focused on more key moments – including the time Eric Gordon turned over the ball because of a ten-second violation.

But Gordon made mistakes as well. With IU up three and 25 seconds remaining, Gordon turned the ball over with a 10-second violation after he failed to dribble the ball past the half-court line. He responded by forcing a turnover on the next possession by pressuring Illinois guard Demetri McCamey, who botched a handoff to teammate Trent Meacham.

EDGE: Indiana.

Grodsky writes tightly. And he varies sentences, juxtaposing simple with complex. He twice uses dashes, though, when commas are more appropriate. Reserve dashes for when you want to change directions, deliver punch lines and shock and humor readers. They add flair and style to a story’s telling. But they should not be used just to replace commas as they do below:

McCamey – who became Illinois’ premier recruit after Gordon backed out of his verbal commitment to Illinois – outplayed Gordon, hitting a career high seven three pointers.

Sanserino offers a pretty good mix of sentences, too. But some could use trimming, like the following (deleted words in orange):

Gordon shot just 3of13 from the field, but he made 10of12 free-throw attempts to finish with a team-high 19 points, which was tops for the Hoosiers. But none of Gordon’s no points were more important than the 3-pointer he banked in with less than 30 seconds left to tie that tied the score at 63-63.

He also uses several clichés, saying a shooter ‘bricked’ two free throws, calling the free-throw line the ‘charity stripe,’ and writing that the second half was a ‘frame.’ Also, games are not ‘contests.’ Save that word for pageants and figure skating. Plus, we should avoid tossing expletives in stories unless they are essential. In a game story, rarely would you state that fans yelled ‘fuck you’ to a player. Instead, say these (moronic) fans cursed or yelled expletives. That gets the point across just fine. Now, if a player like Chester Frazier were to get suspended for saying ‘fuck you’ when he bumped into Gordon, then that might be significant to add in a follow-up or analysis piece. EDGE: Illinois.

This category was a slam dunk. The Illinois story did not include a single quote, whereas Indiana’s offered comments from both coaches. There are really two issues here – deadline and web content. On deadline, it can be difficult to get as many sources as you would like, especially when the game goes into double overtime. But we must try. The players and coaches offer perspectives that we cannot offer in the press box or at a table behind the official scorer. For instance, what was Pruitt thinking when he hung his head after the game and what went through his mind before, during, and after his crucial free throws? What were his teammates thinking as he attempted these shots? How was Gordon able to bank that really long three-pointer in the first overtime? And why in the heck did Frazier bump Gordon, a classless act that should have merited some bench time. Ask the follow-up questions. If you can’t interview coaches before deadline, get someone else to grab some quotes. Or you can quickly file your story before heading to the locker rooms for comments you can insert later. Update stories on the web as you get new information. That’s one of the advantages of the web.

Sanserino includes a few quotes in his story, which is a good first step. But he, like many other sport writers, needs to ask sources to expand on their thoughts by asking follow-up questions. Journalists interview to get information, not to record quotes. For example, Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson says: “In the second half, our defense got better.” I would then ask, in what specific ways did the team improve – and I would keep posing similar questions until I received a specific answer that I could explain to my readers. Sampson says of Gordon: “He probably was pressing a little bit.” How could Sampson tell? And how specifically did Gordon press? These insights would be great for readers. Still, Sanserino did chase down these coaches to offer some insights. EDGE: Indiana.

Grodsky did a fine job of focusing on Pruitt, but Sanserino kept looking for ways to reveal the game by revealing key moments, offering comments from coaches, and describing trends in the game. EDGE: Indiana.

Overall, Indiana takes this close ‘contest’ (yes, this is not a game.) Writing on deadline can be a challenge, but that does not mean we should use this as an excuse. Speak with more sources, offer analysis, avoid clichés like the plague, and read other writers to learn structure. Check out the book review section on this blog for some terrific sports books as well. Sports editors are looking for stories (clips) that include these elements. Keep working hard.

Both schools did a fine job with multimedia packages. Keep working in new media if you want a job in the future. Click here to see the Daily Illini’s package and here to see the Indiana Daily Student’s.


Sports copy editor sought

February 8, 2008

The Charleston Times-Courier is seeking an editor/designer for its sports desk. This paper, which does a good job covering prep and college sports, is looking to improve its packaging and presentation. I know the managing editor, who is a great guy. I’ll post more on getting jobs in the next few days. You can find other jobs at Journalism Jobs, and at the Associated Press Sports Editor’s website.

Sports Copy Editor/Designer

We’re looking for someone who knows sports and loves design to join our copy desk team. We seek someone to help us attract a wider audience through lively visual presentation in print and on our Web site. The preferred candidate will have college newspaper or professional copy editing/design experience. Minimum requirements include an eye for accuracy, a flair for headlines and design and knowledge of both Quark and Photoshop. The Mattoon Journal Gazette and Charleston Times-Courier are part of Lee Enterprises, the fourth-largest newspaper group in the country. If you are the one for this position, send a resume, CD, tearsheets or link to a Web site to Bill Lair, managing editor, Journal Gazette/Times-Courier, 100 Broadway Ave., Mattoon, IL 61938 (217) 238-6865 or to

Thomas Jefferson rocks

February 3, 2008

I’m getting chills listening to NFL players read the Declaration of Independence, the greatest document ever written — a document that gives us the freedoms we take for granted. Poll after poll shows that most people know little about this amazing document and that fewer than 20 percent can name more than two of the five freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution’s Bill of Rights — speech, press, religion, and the rights to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Let’s remember these inalienable rights past today’s Super Bowl. Get out and vote in Tuesday’s primaries. Show that you care about this great country. God Bless America, baby!

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former systems of government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.


UF-Georgia showdown much closer off the court

February 2, 2008

Andy Landers won his 700th basketball game as coach of Georgia’s women’s team, making him the fourth coach to reach this plateau. That’s no small feat given the highly competitive nature of the Southeastern Conference. Surely, Georgia fans were doubly excited that this milestone victory came against rival Florida. The No. 17 Bulldogs routed the Gators, 82-55.

Off the court, the college journalists covering these games were faced with a different task – revealing the importance of the game to its distinct readers, something these reporters did pretty well. They did an especially fine job of illustrating key moments and offering context.

Let’s see how these stories compare in this week’s sports writing showdown. I want to again acknowledge that this assessment is intended for education and fun – NOT to demean the work of college journalists who work hard learning their profession. Unlike other college students, journalists have their homework graded by the public. As a newspaper adviser, I understand how challenging this can be. Still, let’s have a little fun with this exercise in the spirit of friendly competition. Please, feel free to offer your own comments below these stories as well.

Kevin Copp focuses on Landers’ milestone win, which makes sense for the hometown newspaper. In the opening five paragraphs, Copp puts Landers’ accomplishment in perspective: he is only the third coach to win 700 at a single school and fourth fastest to do so. The lead includes the obligatory quote from the coach as well, but that works well in the introductory paragraphs.

The No. 17 Lady Bulldogs secured a milestone victory for their head coach with their most dominant performance of the SEC season in an 82-55 win over Florida.

With the win, Andy Landers, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007, recorded his 700th victory at Georgia.

“I’ve been blessed to be at a school with an administration that supported this,” Landers said. “More importantly, when you have great assistant coaches and great players, this is something that’s going to happen.”

Landers joins Tennessee’s Pat Summitt and Texas’ Jody Conradt as the only coaches to record 700 wins at a single school.

Landers is the eighth coach in women’s basketball history to reach 700 career wins. It took him 918 games to reach the mark, making the Georgia coach the fourth-fastest to 700 wins behind Summitt, Stanford’s Tara VanDerveer and Conradt.

Sophomore point guard Ashley Houts illustrated what a low profile Landers kept about the achievement, as she first found out by reading a sign held up in the stands during the game.

Gators fans would not be as excited to dwell on Landers’ achievement, although Phil Kegler correctly references this feat in a story published in the Independent Alligator. Instead, Braun evaluates the impact of this rout, revealing that Florida is not yet among the top teams in the SEC.

The Gators talked all week about the opportunity a game with No. 17 Georgia held.

Full of momentum, they called it a chance to see where they matched up with one of the nation’s best, one year removed from a disappointing 9-22 season, and playing at home, where they’d won eight straight.

Instead, UF (13-6, 2-2 Southeastern Conference) tried its hardest to imitate last year’s team as Georgia (16-3, 3-2 SEC) dismantled them 82-55 Thursday, tying UF’s largest margin of defeat this season.

Both reporters did their job. EDGE: Even.

The Florida story includes comments from both coaches and a key player from both teams, compared to a single source in the Georgia story. EDGE: Florida.


Kegler addresses key moments and relevant stats. He explains why the Gators played poorly in the first half (because they shot 23.3 percent), why the team fell behind (two extended scoreless droughts), and how Georgia compensated when its All-American was forced to the bench in foul.

It was so bad on both ends for UF that Georgia guard Ashley Houts matched UF’s first-half output singlehandedly, scoring 21 of her career-high 25 points in the opening 20 minutes.

With teammate and All-American Tasha Humphrey stuck on the bench with two fouls, Houts put a bigger focus on looking for her own shot.

“That’s been a common case this season, and my shot was kind of falling for me tonight,” Houts said. “I was feeling good about it so I wasn’t afraid to take it.”

Landers called Houts’ performance “incredible.”

“Basketball is a game of opportunity,” Landers said. “What Ashley did tonight was take advantage of the opportunities. She found the gaps. She found the seams. She got the ball deep and laid it up. Then when she was left open on the perimeter, [she] spotted up and shot it very, very well.”

Kegler does a terrific job breaking down the game while Kopp’s strength is in breaking down the significance of Landers’ victory, putting the 700th win in perspective. Would have liked more analysis of the game. EDGE: Florida.

Neither writer relied heavily on clichés or jargon, although Copp used “long range” for three-point range and Kegler called UF’s offense “high octane,” a vague, cliched term. Also, the teams are referred to as Lady Bulldogs and Lady Gators. We need to pressure schools to delete these sexist labels. EDGE: Even.

Copp attacked the story straight on, stating that the Bulldogs coach won a milestone victory and that Georgia won in a rout, which is a solid approach. Some other suggested approaches: reveal the coach’s thoughts when he realized he would win his 700th victory, focus more on the fact he did not tell his players, or interview Pat Summitt or Jody Conradt before the game to include their perspectives. Kegler’s strength is the way he puts the game in perspective. Suggestion: Ask more follow-up questions so sources can further explain what they mean in quotes like: “It’s very disappointing. We just couldn’t get our offensive flow early.” What strategy had they hoped to apply – and how specifically did the flow get disrupted? EDGE: Even.

Overall, the edge goes to Florida 2-0, but both writers should be commended for doing a solid job on deadline, which can be a challenge. I wish both writers continued success.