Archive for August, 2008

College sports staffs using more new media to cover key football games

August 30, 2008
The Michigan Daily offers solid print coverage, blogs, and has started to broadcast on blip.tv.

The Michigan Daily offers solid print coverage, blogs, and has started to broadcast on blip.tv.

In-state rivalries. Border clashes. Conference openers. This first full week of college football features more than a few compelling (and significant) games. But I am just as excited by the number of college newspaper staffs that are starting to publish sports blogs, offering real-time coverage online, and developing pocasts. Of course, coverage in any media should start with solid reporting. Check out how college newspapers across the country preview these big games. (On the other hand, I was also surprised how many college newspapers did not offer any type of preview story online. Thought ‘Bama and Vols fans lived for football.)

No. 6 Missouri, which returns talented quarterback Chase Daniel, arguably should have been a BCS team last season, proven by the Tigers’ thrashing of Arkansas, 38-17, in the Cotton Bowl. No. 20 Illinois, meanwhile, may have been ranked a little higher than it deserved. A 49-17 loss to Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl did not change that perception. The Illini have since lost running back Rashard Mendenhall to the Pittsburgh Steelers and now must rely on option quarterback Juice Williams. Missouri and Illinois meet tonight in St. Louis. Both teams, says Daily Illini writer Laura Hettiger, will be trying to prove they deserve their preseason rankings. The Maneater’s Lenny Goldman says the Tigers defense is unproven, although the squad showed improvement at the end of last season. For the record, Missouri won this border clash last season, 40-34. (The Daily Illini and Maneater have both started a sports blog. Good job.)

Washington travels across the border to face No. 21 Oregon for the 101st time tonight, although this is only the second team the two Pac-10 teams face off in a season opener. Huskies sophomore quarterback Jake Locker concerns the Ducks. “Jake Locker is a tremendous athlete, a tremendous quarterback and a tremendous competitor. He is, in my opinion, probably the most difficult weapon to defense in Division I football,” Oregon coach Mike Bellotti said. “He’s faster than you think, he’s stronger than you think and he possesses a very strong arm … You have to be aware, every single play, where he is.”

Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez may not name the Wolverines’ starting quarterback until right before today’s game – at least publicly. “No, I’m not ready to announce one today,” Rodriguez said. “Even if I was ready to, I’m trying to think ‘Why would I?'” (Selfish.) But the Michigan Daily does a terrific job tracking down this, and other stories, related to today’s opener against Utah. (The newspaper also has a sports game blog. Apparently, the staff will broadcast part of their coverage on blip.tv.) I’d say this is an easy tune-up before the real season begins, but we all remember last year’s exciting (or terrifying?) finish with Appalachian State.

The Rocky Mountain Collegian offers several stories leading to this afternoon’s game against Colorado – a feature on first-year coach Steve Fairchild, a former Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator, a column (but what is ‘hoodoo?’), and a preview. The Rams appear much excited for this game than the Buffs. “This game is one of the biggest stages to come on and show what you’re all about as an individual and for the team,” said CSU linebacker Ricky Brewer. “So I think this game here is gonna set the tone for us and, what bigger stage to do it on than the Rocky Mountain Showdown versus CU?” Colorado’s Campus Press is not so ramped up, though. The newspaper offers stories on the team’s new captains and another on football fan etiquette but the newspaper did not post a game preview for today’s game.

No. 17 Tennessee faces a UCLA defense that lost seven starters from last year’s team. The Daily Bruin did not publish a game preview online for this game, but they did start a sports blog. Check it out. By the way, the Bruin staff picks UCLA to upset the Vols, 17-14.

Clemson takes on Alabama in the Georgia Dome. Tommy Bowden has never won an ACC conference title. Not sure if this will be the year for the No. 9 Tigers. The Crimson White did not publish a game preview online for its football starved fans, instead posting this abbreviated opening line. Perhaps, someone forgot to post the entire story online.

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Tebow is even scarier this season (and other college sports stories)

August 29, 2008
The cover for the Kernel's Pigskin Preview

The cover for the Kernel

If you think Tim Tebow surgically cut apart football defenses last season, watch out. Florida’s talented quarterback learned some additional skills while circumcising (!) kids in the Philippines last summer. Think UF’s center will feel a little uncomfortable this season?

The Kentucky Kernel offers a pretty impressive football preview on its website that includes terrific photos, player profiles, capsules of each SEC team, and schedules. Would have liked a more in-depth overview story. The one posted relies too much on a few sources. But, still, the capsules and other features make this a pretty solid package for readers.

The Wisconsin Badger Herald does a nice job reporting on a new trend in Big Ten football, that the spread offense is now run by nine of the 11 conference members. Derek Zetlin interviews not only Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema, but also Illinois coach Ron Zook and Purdue coach Joe Tiller, among others.

Ball State sportswriter Andrew Walker does a nice job scouting opposing teams set to face the Cardinals’ volleyball squad this weekend. The story could have offered more insights had the reporter talked with some opposing coaches, but, still, not a bad analysis piece. … The Daily News Online also posted a slide show on its football season opener last night.

Would have liked additional sources beyond an Arizona’s football coach and player in the Daily Wildcats’ ‘opponent analysis‘ posting. Sportswriters need to speak to as many coaches and players as possible to offer a clearer, deeper, and more accurate report.

The Northern Star covered a simulated football game, using EA Sports 2009. Interesting. For some reason, I could not click into the simulation itself off the website, though.

The (Duke) Chronicle offers a series of stories on its football team that addresses offense, defense and special teams. Not a bad start, but, once again, insufficient reporting hinders such stories.

Love Texas sportswriter’s first (and, apt) name: Austin. He speaks with several players about the team’s volleyball rematch with Southern Cal. But remember: school names get a singular pronoun. Texas needs ‘itself,’ not themselves.

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Read other college sportswriters

August 29, 2008

In order to write well, one needs to read as much as possible. If one wants to be a better sportswriter, one needs to read other writers – both professionals and one’s peers. That’s why I just added links to college newspaper sports sections so you can better access these peer stories. I will also add more professional sports sections in the coming weeks. I just started posting websites devoted to prep sports coverage down the right side as well under ‘HS Sports coverage.’ I am also compiling links of college sportswriters who are blogging on their respective schools. You can send those links to jgisondi@gmail.com. Hope this resource helps.
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Check out new sportswriting resources

August 27, 2008

Need to find a information on UCLA’s tennis team? Need to find the roster for Florida State’s football team? When is Alabama’s state football championship game scheduled? I’ve added resources to this blog that enable sportswriters to research every single NCAA Division 1 sports conference and all 50 state high school sports associations. You can check out several Division 2 college conferences as well. These resources can be used by going down the right side of this blog under the headings College Sports Conferences and High School Sports Associations. In addition, check the Journalism Job section that includes regularly updated positions. Hope these additional resources help. I will continue to add new resources to this site through the school year, but feel free to make additional suggestions by emailing me at jgisondi@gmail.com. Happy reporting.
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Yet another reason to learn online skills

August 26, 2008

Newspapers across the country are moving rapidly to online production, as you probably already know. Some newspapers, like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have imploded the traditional news structure, eliminating news and sports departments in favor of departments like ‘news and information’ and ‘enterprise,’ according to Sporting News EIC Jeff D’Alessio. The AJC is not the only newspaper re-organizing its news rooms. (Still think the Internet is a fad?) Newspapers are actively seeking reporters with new media skills.

Every college newspaper (and yearbook) should develop a sports blog that addresses individual sports or sports in general on campus. Reporters should post info daily regardless of the print publication schedule. Post all breaking news online. These sports blogs should include photos, breaking news, practice notes, and, sometimes, a short feature or profile. And make sure you include internal links within each item, something that enables readers to dig deeper into issues and news. This additional research will also make you a more informed reporter.

If your news publication does not create a sports blog, develop your own as some college students, like an enterprising reporter at Davidson did for basketball. First, you must learn basic journalism skills, but apply them online as well. Frankly, this is no longer an option.

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A primer for writing football previews

August 24, 2008

Preview stories can take many forms and be presented in all media forms. They can be published online, in print, in a videocast, in a separate special section – or they can integrate several of these forms. Regardless the form, readers love’ em. These previews can address trends or they can focus on a feature angle. Or previews can be offered in capsule form. There is no single way to write a preview story, although many include the same key components. Check out the stories below for inspiration as you develop preview stories for your own college teams in the coming weeks.

■ Here is a link to the Orlando Sentinel’s always creative approach to football coverage. (Sorry, but I am biased here, rooting for my old newspaper. But this is truly a creative approach.)
■ The Rocky Mountain News packages a series of capsules that focus on key players and which include the previous season’s playoff results. The San Francisco Chronicle takes a more bare bones approach to previewing some prep football conferences, briefly offering strengths, weaknesses and notes.
■ Bloggers like The Mountain Top and the Big West Conference Connection have started previewing the Big East and Big West football conference teams, respectively. An Eastern Carolina University football blog previews the Pirates and their schedule. Some bloggers, though, spend more time on their opinions rather than on reporting trends, stats and news. Commentary can certainly be riveting, but save these pieces, or blog posts, until after the facts are cited.
■The Chicago Tribune, which runs a terrific prep sports website, previews the Big Ten conference football season. These writers find a feature angle and then address the same six questions at the end of each preview that includes questions such as “Northwestern will contend for the Big Ten title if …” and “In a word, the schedule can be described as …”
■ Rivals.com previews conferences, rather than teams, by focusing on key story lines, top players by position, and the top coaches. They also offer a preseason all-conference team. In addition, Rivals.com also writes previews that focus on the top 10 freshmen, top assistant coaches, and the top junior college players who have transferred to universities.
■ Some newspapers, like the Statesboro Herald in football-crazy Georgia, layer their coverage with videocast previews.
■ The Arizona Republic offers its previews in smaller capsules.
■ Here are some football previews on the Atlantic Coast Conference.
■ Here is a prep football preview in Tennessee’s Daily News Journal. My hometown newspaper, the Charleston Times-Courier, has started to preview local football teams in east central Illinois. (Go Trojans!)
■ Yahoo previews the NFL by touring training camps.
■ Here is College Football Poll’s expansive preview of all major conferences and individual award candidates.

Read as many previews as possible in order to find inspiration, transforming these ideas in your own sections. Plagiarism, of course, is an unpardonable sin of journalism. But you can borrow others’ ideas in order to recreate them as your own. See an approach you like? Use it in your own packaging and reporting. Like poets and novelists, journalists need to read others’ work.

Feel free to provide links to other football preview stories below in the comments section. Good luck.

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Dress professionally for practices (and no cheering in the press box)

August 23, 2008

As you head out to practices for interviews the first few weeks of class, please (please!) make sure you dress professionally. Yes, you may be a college student. And, yes, you may be running to practice right after class. But you can still dress professionally for your sports gig. Don’t wear t-shirts that promote drinking or say ‘I’m with stupid’ and don’t wear ripped, cruddy hats. (And never wear them backward.) Take some pride in your profession. Shorts are fine for practices, but try to wear a collared shirt. Coaches and sports information directors will take you more seriously for your efforts. I recently polled 79 sports information directors who said college journalists rarely act or dress professionally . Nearly 55 percent of SIDs said students never, or rarely, dress professionally for interviews or at games. Only 7.6 percent of students usually, or always dressed, appropriately, they claimed. Yet, countless college sportswriters complain they are not treated like the professional reporters. Act professionally if you expect to be treated with respect.

One more thing: No cheering in the press box. Yes, you may be assigned to cover your university, but you may not cheer, clap or high-five others. You are supposed to be an objective observer. If you want to cheer, go buy a ticket and sit in the stands.

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Check out syllabus for sports reporting

August 21, 2008

Anybody who has read this blog knows my respect and admiration for Steve Klein, a talented and inventive sports journalist and professor. Professors looking to develop a sports reporting class ought to check out the website for his classes at George Mason. I will post mine by the weekend as well, but here’s the link to Steve’s website for his sports reporting class.
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Create good sports reporting habits early

August 21, 2008

Sports journalists are returning to campus ahead of the rest of the student body in order to publish that first week’s newspaper. Many college athletes have also returned to campus, preparing for lengthy seasons of soccer, cross country, football, and volleyball, among other sports. (And some teachers, like myself, are also gearing up for an exciting academic year.) That first issue can be a challenge. Here are some tips for preparing that first issue.

First, do something as simple as heading out to a practice. Introduce yourself to coaches, trainers, and managers and watch the players work out. Many times, the managers and trainers are your best sources. They are there for every pass, corner kick, and ankle sprain. You can get a lot of background from these folks, information that can lead to news stories and features. But also watch the practices. Don’t write; just observe. Get accustomed to these practice sessions. Afterward, you can jot down a few thoughts and observations. Make sure the players see you at these practices so they know you are working as hard as they are, credibility that can lead to better working relationships and conversations. Attending practices is one of the most important things a sportswriter can do. Make this a habit. Not that you should blow off that afternoon calculus class. (Only kidding. I know sportswriters like myself can spell calculus much, much better than they can quantify derivatives and integrals.)

Make sure you also write a season preview story. This can be done the second week, but try to publish it before your conference schedule begins. You’ll need to get some background information first, determining, for example, the top players who return to each team. You’ll also want to determine which teams have the toughest schedules in and out of the conference. Check these websites frequently, if not daily. This is another habit that will yield great news and feature stories. You will also write much more informed game stories as well. One more thing – check if your conference schedules a weekly press conference by phone. If so, ask to be included so you can learn more about your sport and so you can ask questions for notebooks, features and game previews.

One more suggestion for preview stories – interview opposing coaches and players as much as you cite your own players in order to get a fuller, more balanced look at your team’s chances this season. This also yields a much more impressive clip.

We’ll talk about this some more later, but start blogging on your team’s practices even if only to offer a short note or a few observations. This can be especially helpful at newspapers that do not publish daily (but dailies should do this as well.) And file these dispatches right after practice. Eventually, you should start posting game stories as soon as they are completed. A more developed version can be published in the print editions or updated after you interview players and coaches.

Finally, make sure you introduce yourself to your school’s sports information directors, athletic directors and coaches – even if only to pop in their offices for a few minutes. Reporting is about developing relationships.

Also, check this blog for more information on reporting through the school year. Now that school is back in session, I will be posting at least two to three times a week. You can also contact me at jgisondi@gmail.com if you have questions or suggestions.

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