Archive for September, 2008

Daily Skiff goes public with concerns

September 24, 2008

So what can sportswriters do when they can’t get a straight answer from a coach? Explain the situation to readers. That’s what Texas Christian University’s sports editor William Wessels did when Horned Frogs head coach Gary Patterson refused to say whether a senior tailback would remain suspended for last Saturday’s game. He posted a column about the situation in this morning’s edition.

It’s one thing to not tip off opposing coaches and to dodge questions from a room full of journalists, but do the fans not deserve an honest understanding of the situation?

I get it.

Why risk losing your competitive edge on opponents for answers to questions that people who are spending time and money to support the Horned Frogs want to know?

Sometimes, angry coaches may refrain from speaking because they did not like a published story. At other times, athletic directors may refuse to hand over public documents. By and large, most coaches and ADs are reasonable people (at least, in my experiences). But, there will be times when sportswriters will need to determine whether to apply public pressure, an action that exacerbates a situation. So, first, try to resolve problems privately, calling in a third party to help. If that does not work, consider going public. Check out how TCU’s Daily Skiff handled their frustrating situation.

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MLB seeks interns for summer ’09

September 23, 2008

Here is the press release for MLB’s summer internship program. It’s a terrific opportunity to learn on the job. Good luck.

Begin release

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.

We will be looking for talented college juniors and seniors, as well as graduate students, for our 2009 Summer Internship Program. The application deadline for all internships is Nov. 30. We will make our selections by the end of January.

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. Interns are paid $500 per week.

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 a limited number of internships for copy editors/producers.

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

If you have any questions, contact Bill Hill at bill.hill@MLB.com and put the words “Internship Info” in the subject line.

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Where are the weekend updates?

September 21, 2008
The Independent Alligator posted 1 game story, 3 sidebars and 1 blog online about Florida's football game this weekend.

The Independent Alligator posted 1 game story, 3 sidebars and 1 blog online Saturday about Florida's victory over Tennessee.

The Independent Alligator blew out its coverage of Florida’s easy victory over Tennessee, one of two big Southeastern Conference football games this weekend. (I guess when you have five teams in the Associated Press top 10, your conference will have plenty of big games each week.) The Independent Alligator filed a gamer, a sidebar on running back Brandon James, two other siders and a live game blog (glog). By far, the best weekend coverage by any college newspaper this weekend.

But I am always a little perplexed why a staff would not devote some resources to cover other weekend events. Florida’s student newspaper clearly has the resources to cover sports during the weekend, yet the staff did not file a story on the Gators’ equally amazing performances in cross country. The Gators’ men and women each blew away the competition in the 20th annual Mountain Dew Invitational. The men even took the top five spots for the bare minimum 15 team points. The women scored 17 points.

The Independent Alligator does a terrific job covering sports, as I have noted before. However, sports staffs need to start posting updates for other sports as well, especially if the newspaper has enough sportswriters to do so. Football is not the only sport during the weekend. College newspapers should also file stories on soccer games, cross country invitationals, and volleyball matches through the weekend. Still, the Independent Alligator is far ahead of most other college newspapers in offering weekend sports updates. Tennessee’s Daily Beacon Online has not updated anything for almost a week.

Several other schools failed to offer any sports updates during the weekend. The Daily Bruin did not post a gamer on the Bruins’ 31-10 loss to Arizona but they did post a live-game blog (or Glog). Not sure why this coverage extended through only three quarters, though. You also cannot find any sports updates from the following college newspapers – South Carolina’s Daily Gamecock, Connecticut’s Daily Campus, Alabama’s Crimson White, Oregon State’s Barometer, the Michigan Daily, the Daily Texan, Notre Dame’s Observer, Southern Cal’s Daily Trojan, Kansas State Collegian, Auburn Plainsman, Wake Forest’s Old Gold and Black, and the FSU News, to name just a few.

Here’s how a few other college newspapers covered sports this weekend.

■ The Daily Reveille relies on an Associated Press story after No. 6 Louisiana State defeated No. 10 Auburn 26-21 victory in a late-night game. But LSU’s newspaper also offered a live-game blog throughout the game. The Auburn Plainsman did not have any coverage as of late Sunday morning.

■ The Daily Kansan did a great job posting a variety of information online after the Jayhawks thrashed Sam Houston State, 38-14. The staff posted a live-game blog, a photo gallery, a podcast, and a game story. However, the gamer did not include the score. … The Daily Skiff offers a solid gamer on Texas Christian University’s 48-7 romp over Southern Methodist, which earned the Horned Frogs the Iron Skillet.

■ Cash Kruth does a great job assessing the reasons Michigan State ran over Notre Dame in a game story that is both well-written and well-sourced in the State News.

■ Penn has not defeated Villanova since 1911. A fumble in overtime prevented the Quakers from finally prevailing in this rivalry. David Gurian-Peck keyed on that play to write a solid game story in the Daily Pennsylvanian.

Virginia Tech scored 17 unanswered points to rally past North Carolina, 20-17, a game the Collegiate Times covered well. The Daily Tar Heel, meanwhile, posted a short basic gamer.

■ The Daily Collegian offers a great deal of updated weekend sports information. Penn State’s newspaper tells readers that five tennis players advanced in a tournament and that Joe Paterno watched the Nittany Lions’ rout of Temple, 45-0, from the press box. Apparently, he hurt his leg the week before. They even posted an update after Florida State’s loss to Wake Forest, something that enabled Paterno to become college football’s winningest coach for at least a week. The newspaper did a fine job offering updated sports results but the staff might want to consider expanding these gamers in the future.

■ In the Daily Eastern News, Scott Richey posted a solid game story on Eastern Illinois’ 25-21 victory over Illinois State that focused on key plays and included comments from coaches on both teams.

■ Houston’s rally fell short against Colorado State, but the Daily Cougar did not. Houston’s college newspaper posted a story on the Cougars’ 28-25 loss in Fort Collins, Colo., that included the key facts, key plays, and comments from key people. … Oregon also failed to recovered from an early deficit in losing to Boise State, 37-32, a game the Daily Emerald covered on Saturday.

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‘Living on the Black’ is a primer on pitching and storytelling

September 20, 2008
Sports journalists can learn a great deal about pitching – and storytelling – by reading Feinstein's latest book

Sports journalists can learn a great deal about pitching – and storytelling – by reading Feinstein

I’m always looking for books that can offer insights into sports. John Feinstein‘s Living on the Black does just that, revealing how two future Hall of Famers – Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina – approach pitching in the major leagues. As sports journalists, we need to recognize how much we don’t know, no matter how long we may have played or have covered a specific sport. This book reveals much about pitching by a talented sports journalist. Readers learn how pitchers react to errors, the importance of pregame and off-day routines, and why a first-pitch strike can make or break a pitcher, among other things.

The pitchers themselves are compelling, cerebral characters, something that drives this book. Both are also active union reps. Mussina is far more reserved while Glavine more easily endures the spotlight – although his last season with the New York Mets tested his patience. At one point, Glavine declines a request from a TV reporter, a moment Feinstein uses to offer an insight into journalism.

The reporter wisely waited to see if Glavine would say anything else. Sometimes, especially when dealing with a good guy, reporters know that silence is the best way to get someone to change his mind. Not this time. “I understand the reporter said, sticking his hand out. “Maybe some other time.”

“Almost any other time,” Glavine said. “I appreciate your patience.”

Which he did.

Feinstein also shows the challenges major-leaguers face adjusting to the rhythms of lengthy seasons. “No one goes through an entire year without a bad stretch of some kind,” Glavine says. “I’ve had them every year of my career. It’s like that old baseball saying about bad teams having winning streaks and good ones having losing streaks.”

The first inning can be the most difficult for even skilled pitchers like Mussina. You should count the number of pitches each inning to track trends like this. Halfway through a season, you’ll then be able to evaluate the best and worst innings for a team’s pitchers. That would be a terrific story. Glavine gives up nearly half his total runs in the first inning. Mussina can also be challenged at the start of games.

“The first inning you often aren’t completely comfortable on the mound,” Mussina said. “It takes a while to get yourself to feel exactly the way you want to feel in the game. You throw thirty to forty pitches in the bullpen, then you get eight warm-up pitches on the mound. That’s why a lot of times if you see a guy who is good get through a tough first inning, he settles down and pitches well. When you’re on the bench facing someone good and you get men on in the first, you automatically think, ‘Better get him now because there may not be another chance this good.'”

Some other insights:

■ Pitchers get more excited when facing another team’s top pitcher. “I think it actually gets me to pitch better because I know I have less margin for error,” Mussina says. “It isn’t as if you’re trying harder; it’s just that you’re a little more focused.”

■ Sometimes, pitchers call pitches more than catchers. “With some pitchers, you call pitches,” Posada said. “With Mike and some others, you make suggestions.”

■ The best umpires usually allow players to vent after they have blown a call, but, Feinstein claims, most aren’t that good. Umpires hate to be shown up.

■ Pitchers – and especially managers – care more about quality starts than wins. Sportswriters should also focus on these quality performances. For example, a pitcher can limit a team to two runs and still lose, 3-2, while a pitcher who allows five runs can also win 8-5. Don’t be seduced by wins and losses. Check a pitcher’s other stats.

■ Most pitchers prefer a strike to ball ration of at least 2-to-1, meaning they would prefer to throw 60 strikes for every 30 balls during a 90-pitch outing. Try to chart number of pitches and strikes each inning to get even more insights into a pitching peformance.

You should analyze Feinstein’s work as you read through this lengthy (but quick) read on two compelling pitchers. Also, assess how Feinstein interviews, reports, and describes key moments. This is an educational (and entertaining) book from a masterful storyteller. Check it out.

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Anatomy of a ‘no-hit’ game story

September 16, 2008
Yogi Berra (8) hugs Don Larsen after the Yankees pitcher threw the only perfect game n World Series history

Yogi Berra (8) hugs Don Larsen after the Yankees pitcher threw the only perfect game in World Series history.

Covering a no-hitter is no easy task, especially if the feat is accomplished late at night. That was the situation Sunday when the Cubs’ Carlos Zambrano threw the 237th no-hitter in history, a 5-0 victory over the Astros in Milwaukee. The game was already unique in that neither team was really at home (although the fans at Miller Field were clearly partisan toward Chicago). Hurricane Ike had forced Houston to move the game to a neutral site, otherwise the game could not have fit into the schedule before the end of the season.

Shirley Povich wrote, perhaps, the greatest lead for a no-hitter, typing the following after Don Larsen had thrown a perfect game in the 1956 World Series for the New York Yankees.

The million-to-one shot came in. Hell froze over. A month of Sundays hit the calendar. Don Larsen today pitched a no-hit, no-run, no-man-reach-first game in a World Series.

On the mound at Yankee Stadium, the same guy who was knocked out in two innings by the Dodgers on Friday, came up today with one for the record books, posting it there in solo grandeur as the only Perfect Game in World Series history.

With it, the Yankee right-hander shattered the Dodgers, 2-0, and beat Sal Maglie, while taking 64,519 suspense-limp fans into his act.

Povich showed why he is considered one of the best sportswriters of all-time by mixing several idioms and sayings and by creatively playing off the word ‘no.’ Notice also the variety of sentences in the lead, whose lengths vary from three to 18 words. Povich also inserts the score in the third graph. Of course, this was not a flukishly good lead. Povich delivered great insights and prose for more than 70 years at the Washington Post. He even took on social issues in some stories, like the one below:

On Jackie Robinson signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1946: “Four hundred and fifty-five years after Columbus eagerly discovered America, major league baseball reluctantly discovered the American Negro . . .”

Why are some sportswriters so good? Simple language and clear observations rolled around complex ideas. That’s why Hamlet’s speech about suicide is so eloquent: “To be or not to be.” That’s a helluva question for anybody. That’s also why declarative sentences often work best, especially when you are writing to a general audience. The best writers are also the best read, versed in classic literature, history and contemporary culture.

So what elements are required to write about a no-hitter? Here are a few:

■ Obviously, the score should be inserted relatively early, although do not force it into the opening sentence. You can wait until the second or third graphs in most cases.

■ Describe the final inning, although you do not need to describe every pitch. You can then describe the one or two innings leading to this inning later in the story, if you like.

Zambrano began the ninth by getting Humberto Quintero to ground out on one pitch, his 100th of the game. After pinch-hitter Jose Castillo also grounded out, Erstad chased a split-fingered fastball low-and-away for Zambrano’s first shutout since 2004.

■ Briefly describe great defensive plays (or lucky bounces) that helped preserve the no-hitter.

The Astros barely came close to a hit. David Newhan lined a drive that first baseman Derrek Lee jumped to catch to end the fifth inning. Zambrano also fretted when Geoff Blum sent a fly ball toward the right-field corner to lead off the eighth, but Mark DeRosa tracked it down.

Zambrano helped himself with his glove, too, charging off the mound and across the first-base line to catch Hunter Pence’s foul pop for the second out in the eighth.

■ Cite the last time the team threw a no-hitter (although this is nearly impossible for Little League and some high school games). College programs ought to include this information. If it is not offered, call the sports information director, who will probably already have such details ready for reporters.

Zambrano (14-5) walked one and hit a batter in the Cubs’ first no-hitter since Milt Pappas against San Diego in 1972. This was the 13th no-hitter in team history, including five in the late 1800s, and the second in the majors this season — Boston’s Jon Lester did it against Kansas City at Fenway Park on May 19.

■ Cite whether this player has ever pitched a no-hitter before. Has he ever come close before?

■ Cite scoring plays for the winning team, although do so briefly because that is not the most significant aspect of a no-hit game. This description can be slightly more important if the winning run scores in the final inning, but this would still be secondary information.

Alfonso Soriano gave Zambrano all the offense he needed when he led off the game with his 28th home run, launching a 1-1 pitch from Randy Wolf (10-12). It was his 49th career leadoff homer and fifth this year.

Ronny Cedeno and Zambrano both singled in the third, and two outs later, both scored on Lee’s double off an 0-2 pitch from Wolf. For Lee, it was only his second multi-RBI hit this month. Lee then scored on Aramis Ramirez’s single, and he tallied on Soto’s double to go ahead, 5-0.

■ You may want to describe the pitcher’s reaction after the final out.

Zambrano (14-5) dropped to his knees and pointed to the sky with both hands after getting Erstad to swing and miss for his season-high 10th strikeout. The big right-hander was immediately mobbed on the mound by his teammates.

■ Interview the catcher, asking him to evaluate pitches and location. Ask the catcher to verify what pitches were thrown during key at-bats. Did the last batter lunge at a slider for the final out? Did the pitcher use a sinker to induce the grounder to start a double-play in the seventh?

Cubs catcher Geovany Soto said he knew early in the game that Zambrano was having a special night.

“I don’t even know when I caught the fifth, sixth and seventh. I looked up and it was in the eighth; it went quick,” Soto said. “He was getting ahead a lot, a lot of groundballs, and he was in the zone.

“I’ve seen him throw the ball like that. That’s the Zambrano we know. He proved he’s the ace, and he came through today. His ball was really heavy, and he was using both corners of the plate. He was bringing it pretty good.”

■ Ask the pitcher to put the performance into perspective, to cite the pitches that worked best, and to explain what he was thinking in that final inning, or during a difficut at-bat.

I was warming up [before the ninth], and I said I still have some gas in my tank, and I can still challenge people,” said Zambrano, who got Humbrerto Quintero and Jose Castillo on ground balls to open the ninth and struck out leadoff hitter Darin Erstad to end it — raising his arms to the sky and falling to his knees with the final out.

”I thought at some point in my career I wanted to throw a no-hitter,” he said. ”This is one of the few things in baseball that you most enjoy.”

■ Interview opposing hitters to get their perspective on this performance, perhaps asking them to assess particular pitches, velocity or pitch selection.

Erstad struck out twice and was fooled on the game’s final pitch.

“Any particular time he can throw a no-hitter,” Erstad said. “He’s got that kind of stuff.

“You just try to battle him, and obviously we didn’t get it done. Chalk it up to another day in major-league baseball.”

■ Interview both managers for even further insights.

“He beat a team that’s really been hot,” Cubs manager Lou Piniella said about the Astros, who had won 14 of their previous 15 games to vault into the National League wild-card chase. “We were talking before the ball game about 90 pitches. But I told (bench coach) Alan (Trammel) if he’s got to come out of the game, you go get him. I’m not.

“He had everything going, from the first few pitches of the ball game. You knew his arm was live and the ball was coming out really easy. He had good movement on it, and located for the most part. Then he used his split-finger and his slider to keep the hitters honest.”

■ Insert great quotes high in the story.

■ Cite how many runners reached base, detailing what happened when they did so. Did any runners get past second base, were any runners doubled off, did any runners reach third thanks to errors or wild pitches?

Zambrano didn’t allow a baserunner until he walked Michael Bourn in the fourth. He allowed only one more baserunner, hitting Pence in the back with two outs in the fifth.

or

Zambrano allowed only a one-out walk to Michael Bourn in the fourth inning, who was immediately erased on a double-play grounder, and a two-out hit batsman in the fifth, when he plunked Hunter Pence with a 1-2 pitch.

■ Cite whether the pitcher retired a number of batters in a row, such as the first eight or last 11.

He retired 13 straight after that to finish the Cubs’ first no-hitter since Milt Pappas in 1972 — still throwing 96 mph in the eighth and reaching 95 in the ninth.

■ Cite the number of walks and strikeouts. Include the pitcher’s record.

■ Cite how did this pitcher fared in recent starts.

Until Sunday night, Zambrano was 1-1 with an 8.10 ERA in his previous five starts.

or

This Carlos Zambrano bore no resemblance to the righthander the Astros kicked around just 12 days earlier. He entered the game just 5-3 with a 4.40 ERA since the All-Star break.

■ Cite the significance of the game.

The Cubs moved 7 1/2 games ahead of Milwaukee in the National League Central after the Brewers were swept in Philadelphia, allowing the Phillies to move into a tie for the wild-card lead.

■ Consider if anything else is unique about this game, as was the case for Zambrano’s gem.

This was baseball’s first neutral-site no-hitter, the Elias Sports Bureau said.

■ Finally, write a lead worthy of such an athletic performance, which is easier said than done. Take some chances with leads for major events like this. Better to fail big than to succeed small. You may want to keep a journal where you record sentences, words and ideas you like as you read others in newspapers, magazines and books. Reviewing great works is always an inspiration.

Richard Justice, the talented baseball writer for the Houston Chronicle, used vivid verbs to build some tension in his lead. He also repeats ‘never,’ which resonates Povich’s style.

MILWAUKEE — He threw 96 mph heat on the hands, spotted knee-buckling breaking stuff on the corners.

Carlos Zambrano never let up, never lost his velocity, will or composure.

Zambrano finished off the Chicago Cubs’ first no-hitter in 36 years by getting Darin Erstad to lunge at a third strike in a 5-0 victory over the Astros on Sunday night at Miller Park. He then pumped his fists and screamed for joy as his teammates joined him for a wild celebration.

All those worries about his health suddenly seemed unfounded.

The Chicago Sun-Times’ Gordon Wittenmyer uses short sentences to offer the broader picture for readers more familiar with Zambrano’s shoulder problems. For Cubs fans, the no-hitter is great, but a healthy Zambrano in the postseason is even more important.

MILWAUKEE — The second pitch said 96 mph. The eighth said 98. The one after that: 99.

Carlos Zambrano? He said: ”I guess I’m back.”

Except you can’t get back to a place you’ve never been. And that’s where the Cubs’ big right-hander went Sunday night at Miller Park — throwing the Cubs’ ninth no-hitter since 1900 and the first in major-league history at a neutral site.

Make that an allegedly neutral site — where almost every one of 23,441 in attendance chanted his name, booed the ”home” Houston Astros and stood cheering late in the game on two-strike counts as he neared his historic achievement in his first start since leaving a game because of shoulder discomfort.

Most importantly, don’t feel compelled to write the same story as everybody else. Obviously, the primary facts are the same for all, but how you frame them is equally important. Take chances, offer the salient details and let the reader enjoy reliving a game for the record books.

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Daily Kansan captures key to loss

September 16, 2008
Daily Kansan photographer Jon Goering captures the decisive play in the Jayhawks' 37-34 loss to South Florida last Friday night in Tampa, Fla.

Daily Kansan photographer Jon Goering captures the decisive play in the Jayhawks' 37-34 loss to South Florida last Friday night in Tampa, Fla.

The Daily Kansan’s B.J. Rains breaks down the Jayhawks’ 37-34 loss to South Florida by focusing on a decisive play toward the end of the game, a play where a mere 12 inches may have changed the game’s outcome. A key play is usually a great way to introduce a game story or a folo-up piece. Rains does a solid job teasing readers with conflict in the lead, but he also puts the play into perspective and describes the interception in the final minute. (Notice also that photographer Jon Goering captured the key play.)

TAMPA, Fla. — If faced with the same decision again, Todd Reesing would do only one thing different — throw the ball about a yard farther.

Trying to get the Jayhawks into field goal range with 41 seconds left and the score deadlocked at 34-34 with the then No. 19 South Florida, Reesing dropped back to pass and saw wide receiver Raymond Brown streak down the middle of the field. Reesing took a chance and let it fly, but the ball fell a yard short of Brown and right into the hands of a leaping Nate Allen of USF.

“We got what we wanted,” Reesing said, who passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns. “I kind of fell off my back foot a little bit and just didn’t quite get it there. If I had to do it again, I’d probably make the same decision. I just didn’t make the play.”

Allen stayed on his feet and returned the ball 38 yards to the Kansas 26-yard line. After a one yard run, freshman Maikon Bonani hit his third field goal of the game — a 43-yarder as time expired — to give South Florida a 37-34 win.

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Michigan Daily's Maize Gauge is a fun extra that complements game coverage.

The Michigan Daily covers sports better than most by offering solid coverage, great packages, and reporting in new media. I really like the little extras, like the newspaper’s Maize Gauge, not only because it is visual, but because it breaks down some stats that might get lost. On the other hand, I am not a fan of game predictions that are, really, mostly about ego. Readers, for the most part, do not care who we pick unless we make the process entertaining for the reader, even if the pick is clearly a poor one. Don’t fret about your weekly record; instead, gloat about the readers you’ll attract. Of course, the line is finely drawn between funny and perplexing. Nobody is better at having fun with predictions than the Orlando Sentinel’s Jerry Greene, who proves that it’s not who you pick, but how you pick’em.

Game of the Week 2
ATLANTA (1-0) AT TAMPA BAY (0-1)
Wonder what Bucs Coach Jon Gruden plans on doing after he’s through coaching football (you know, like maybe next year?) Perhaps boss of a reclamation project such as rebuilding the Republican Party? This guy loves to tinker. That’s why he’s dumped quarterback Jeff Garcia and gone back to Brian Griese, a guy he’d dumped before. If you’re a kid at home playing with your Legos, this can be fun. Not so good, however, while coaching in the NFL.
LINE: Bucs by 7.
JERRY SAYS: Falcons by 3.

Leads Don’t force a connection, or comparison, when one does not exist. That’s what happened in the following lead. The fact Southern Cal faced Ohio State in women’s volleyball has no bearing on the same match-up on the football field. Better to use the straight lead offered in the second graph below. (Also, feel free to delete adjectives like ‘screaming’ before fans.)

On a weekend with a theme to “Beat the Buckeyes,” the Women of Troy set the bar high for their male counterparts on the gridiron.

The No. 7 USC women’s volleyball team breezed past unranked Ohio State (25-16, 25-13, 27-25) in a sweep Friday night at the Galen Center in front of more than 4,000 screaming fans.

Similarly, I am not sure the connection between Chinese superstitions and Michigan’s success on the volleyball court. Delete forced connections; instead, focus on the games themselves.

According to Chinese culture, three is a lucky number.

It’s been good fortune for the Michigan volleyball team this year as well.

The Wolverines grabbed their third tournament of the year this weekend, winning 3-0 at the Pepsi Challenge in Ann Arbor.

Virginia Tech's Angie Tincher

Angela Tincher

Campus roundup The Daily Trojan offers a solid gamer on USC’s surprisingly easy win over Ohio State. … The Collegiate Times offers an update on the USA National Softball Player of the Year, Angela Tincher, whose number was retired Saturday in Blacksburg, Va. … Allie Perez shows she understands soccer in her gamer for the Cornell Daily Sun. Allie analyzes the game well without opining and also includes quotes that explain other key subtleties of the game. Soccer, without easily mapped out play by play, can be a challenge to cover, but Perez does it well. Also, check out another fine soccer game story by the Missouri’s Maneater. … The Michigan Daily does a pretty good job assessing the volleyball team’s roster and chances to return to the Sweet 16. But stories like this are much stronger when more reporting is included. Ask opposing coaches for their assessments, something that will better inform your writing (and that will also enlighten readers.)

Typically, don't focus on national stories or figures (like Jamie Moyer, above) unless you do additional reporting or find a local angle.

Typically, don't focus on national stories or figures (like Jamie Moyer, above) unless you do additional reporting or find a local angle.

Columns Missouri’s football team is 3-0, the women’s tennis played well in a five-team tourney, and the women’s soccer team has won three in a row. So why write a column about Jamie Moyer, major-league baseball’s perplexingly good (and ancient) pitcher? Yes, the 45-year-old Phillies hurler is 14-7, and 7-1 in his last 13 starts, but leave the commentary to those who regularly cover MLB and the Phillies. Instead, think local in all columns. A college newspaper needs to fully cover its campus, offering news (and perspective) that readers cannot get elsewhere. Unless you can find a local angle (or can do additional reporting), leave national stories alone.

Profiles South Florida’s soccer goalie decided to play for a U.S. under-17 team a few years ago, which precludes Diego Restrepo from playing for his native Colombia. This is a nice feature on the player’s tough choice during a week when many Bulls fans (and alum like myself) are rejoicing in a football victory over Kansas.

Language Games are ‘tied,’ not knotted. And ‘trailed’ is preferred over ‘down,’ as in ‘Ohio State trailed Southern Cal 7-0.’

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Covering blowouts is a challenge

September 13, 2008
Missouri QB Chase Daniel became the school's all-time passing leader Saturday.

Missouri QB Chase Daniel became the school's all-time leading passer by throwing for 405 yards Saturday.

Covering blowouts can be a challenge, but Missouri Maneater’s Nick Forrester did a terrific job in covering the Tigers’ 69-17 football victory over Nevada. Typically, you want to focus on plays toward the end of the game, but when covering routs like this, citing an early play, as Forrester did, can work pretty effectively.

Senior quarterback Chase Daniel said that the Missouri offense was worried about the Nevada defense before this game. It didn’t show, as the Tigers racked up 651 yards of total offense in a 69-17 victory against the Wolf Pack.

On just the fourth play of the game, sophomore tailback Derrick Washington ran 59 yards for a touchdown, and Missouri never looked back.

Stats are usually not worth mentioning in the lead — unless a team rolls up 651 yards (or a quarterback throws for 405 yards on 23 of 28 passing for four touchdowns, as Chase Daniel did.) Unfortunately, these key stats were not cited in the story, but this is an early posting published a few hours after the game had concluded. Daniel’s overall performance was put in historical perspective, though. Daniel is now Missouri’s all-time passing leader with 9,153 yards. He also tracked down Nevada coach Chris Ault for a comment on Daniel’s performance. Good job for an early gamer.

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Does sportswriting need saving?

September 12, 2008

In the 1920s, Grantland Rice and his peers felt compelled to create heroes out of athletes. Americans had just persevered one of the worst periods in its history. More than 300,000 soldiers were either killed or wounded in World War I, which ended in 1918. That same year, the nation was struck by the Spanish Influenza, a flu that killed more people in a single year than the four worst years of the Bubonic plague. Anywhere from 500,000 to nearly 700,000 died of the disease, roughly a quarter of the U.S.’s population. (And it’s estimated 25-100 million people died worldwide.)

The nation needed a diversion, something to take its collective mind off war and disease. Rice and his colleagues filled the need, promoting baseball, college football, boxing, tennis and golf by creating heroes out of Jack Dempsey, Babe Ruth, Bill Tilden, Red Grange, and Bobby Jones, among others. Sportswriting in the 1920s was filled with exaggerated statements for these “greatest” athletes. The adjectives and adverbs were a-flyin’. And it continued well into the ’70s and ’80s. Today, we scoff and roll our eyes at the language used by some of these sportswriters. But, sometimes, we can also be mythmakers and idol worshippers. This is one of many problems author/blogger/sportswriter Will Leitch says exist in the profession right now.

Leitch is not shy at offering suggestions in his book God Save the Fan, which is no shocker to anybody who’s read his commentary on Deadspin. He hates ESPN as much as Carl Hiaasen hates Disney (which, now, is really the same company), he believes sports journalists can be elitist, and he offers advice on ways to adapt to new media.

In the book, Leitch says the need for experts is a blight on both fandom and sports journalism. As a result, TV is now filled with experts screaming) about issues and radio waves are filled with Mad Dogs ranting and raving about players, managers and owners. (Unlike working journalists, many of these ‘experts’ do not spend time in locker rooms or at practices.) I agree with Will that covering a sport does not necessarily make one an expert; however, not spending time observing practices and talking with those connected to teams can make you much less informed.

“This is, of course, the point; it’s not particularly difficult to become an ‘expert’ anymore. It’s all for show. Hell, now that I run a sports Web site, people have come to call me an expert, and I’m damned sure that I don’t know anything. … Does the fact that I write poop jokes and puns on ‘Chien-Ming Wang’ really qualify me to answer these questions? Typically, I tell them I am just another idiot who happens to type fast, and that my opinion should not be considered even slightly more credible than that of the guy who drove your cab to the station. They laugh, and then say, ‘Yeah, so really, who do you like?’ And then there’s some sort of wacky sound effect, maybe a gong, or a dnkey braying.”

Leitch particularly dislikes when sports journalists attempt to cross over into ‘real news,’ delivering analysis on what sports mean to communities, cities, and the country. Leitch, a devout (St. Louis & Arizona) Cardinals fan, argues that sports mean less than those covering them believe.

“It’s a fundamental concept: Sports do not matter. The average fan understands this – despite pretty much every sports commercial, which portrays fans as some sort of unwieldy, testosterone-laden, beer-shotgunning mob of delinquents – and that is why we put sports in its proper place: as somethng to partake in and enjoy because we want to escape from our jobs, our bills, our responsibilities, our lives. The world is a terrifying place, with grays and complexities and confusion at every turn. Sports affords us none of this: If our team wins, we are happy; if they lose, we are sad. It doesn’t need to be more than that. That simplicity is enough. It’s plenty.”

In addition, Leitch dislikes the idea of ‘branding’ journalists, turning them into celebrities who eventually become the story. He loves fantasy leagues that reveal athletes for what they really are – robotic producers of statistics. Writes Leitch: “Fantasy sports distill the athletic process to the core and treat athletes with the reverence that they deserve – none.”

Leitch can be rough on both professional athletes and sports journalists, but he also realizes his role is as much entertainer as commentator. And he’s having some fun in this book. Sometimes, he’s right on the mark; other times, he is not (at least, in my humble opinion). This book is not a primer on sports journalism, but sportswriters can still learn a great deal by reading it.

So are we still using sports as an escape from a plunging stock market, volatile international affairs, and an eroding environment? Leitch would agree that sports journalists still spill considerable ink (terabytes?) creating heroes and myths. After all, didn’t this nation just turn its lonely eyes to a horse (Barbaro).

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NCAA’s policy remains idiotic

September 11, 2008

As I have written before, the NCAA’s policy on live blogging (or glogging) at games is ridiculously narrow-minded. Reporters at a college paper in Iowa are the latest victims of the NCAA’s misguided policy. The NCAA is concerned that a newspaper’s live blog is going to cause financial strains for its sponsors and media partners? C’mon. The NCAA’s leadership needs to brush up on some history, which reveals that every increase in sports’ popularity is a result of increased media coverage. The NCAA should invite more bloggers to games, much like NHL teams have started to do in cities like Washington, D.C. Fans are not going to turn off the CBS feed to their TV, nor turn off the local radio feed in Iowa to follow the games online. These live blogs are for people who do not have access to these other media or for those who want to read along as they watch the games on TV or listen to audio. The University of Iowa just announced it would back off from its original stance thanks to a protest from the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Live blogs complement other media coverage, offering free publicity for the NCAA and universities. I can see why the NCAA would be concerned.

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There’s always time for another call

September 10, 2008

The Daily Kansan’s B.J. Rains writes a wonderful lead to a football preview, putting the Jayhawks’ game this weekend into perspective. He also adds some intrigue in the lead.

Coach Mark Mangino may not want to say it, but several of his players will.

Friday night’s game at No. 19 South Florida has all of the makings of a game that could make or break their 2008 season.

Win, and silence the critics and build momentum for another successful season. Lose, and stir more whispers that last year’s success was the result of a weak schedule.

Kansas receiver Dezmon Briscoe then explains the chip some Kansas players have on their proverbial shoulders, that the Jayhawks can’t win the ‘big game.’ “If we win, we will have people jumping on the band wagon. If we lose, then they are going to jump off and say how bad we were and how we didn’t play anybody.” Would like a comment from USF’s coaches, but, still, this is a good piece.

Sources I believe it was longtime Boston Globe sportswriter Will McDonough who said there’s always time to make another phone call. Of course, he was right, as he was with so many scoops and stories. If you have a few more minutes, make that extra call to another sports information director or coach or player to get more information. That call can yield a terrific insight, breaking news, or a great comment. Too frequently, though, journalists settle into comfortable (and lazy) habits, which might mean speaking with the same sources time and again, or hanging out only in the home-team’s locker room. Our job, however, is to report.

The Northern Star made that extra call for its football gamer. “You’ve got to give a lot of credit to Time Hiller,” Western Michigan head coach Bill Cubit told the Northern Illinois newspaper. “He took control out there.” Sportswriter Ben Gross took charge as well, writing an interesting game story that included comments from both teams. … LSU’s Reveille reports that the school’s game against North Texas will be played in Tiger Stadium, a week after Hurricane Gustav pounded the state. The story cites officials from North Texas and LSU confirming the game (unless, of course, Hurricane Ike slams the area.)

Juice Williams led a rushing attack that rolled up 399 yards on the ground against Division I-AA Eastern Illinois University (alma mater of Tony Romo and home to a mighty fine journalism department). The Daily Illini does a good job in its gamer, speaking with coaches on both sides. The Daily Eastern also covered both locker rooms, speaking with coaches and players on both teams after the game in newly renovated Memorial Stadium.

The Wisconsin Badger-Herald reveals that UW, surprisingly, turned into a passing team in its rout of Marshall last weekend. … Meanwhile, the Daily Wildcat relies on a coach, assistant coach and player in covering Arizona’s 41-16 victory over Toledo. … TCU’s Daily Skiff gets comments from its own head coach and some players after a 67-7 victory over Stephen A. Austin. (One guy against a whole team?). How did the Horned Frogs score so frequently. That’s often best learned from the opposing team.

Don’t use second-hand info for commentaries Not sure why an InsideVandy sportswriter is focusing on the Southern Cal-Ohio State game, especially since there is no original reporting. Please, report on your own campuses where you can attend practices and speak with sources. Instead, the paper could have previewed either Vandy’s football game against Rice or the women’s soccer game against Missouri. Readers can get news on USC-Ohio State elsewhere.

Leads Avoid lengthy introductory clauses in leads. If you must use an intro clause, void using ‘it,’ ‘they,’ or other equally vague pronouns as a sentence’s subject. Consider the sentence below:

As the transformation of college football continues to shift toward the spread offense, just as Arizona did prior to last season, it may seem like the running back could be the odd man out.

What does ‘it’ refer to? To the ‘transformation?’ To the ‘shift?’ The pronoun reference is unclear. This lead could be punched up by a shorter, direct sentence, such as: “Running backs are increasingly turning obsolete as college coaches shift to the spread offense.”

The Badger Herald also relies on an introductory clause in its footgamer lead.

After rushing for 404 yards and only throwing the ball 10 times against Akron, the University of Wisconsin offensive attack took on a different identity Saturday.

Why not invert the sentence, tagging the intro subordinate clause at the end of a more directly worded declarative statement, such as: Wisconson’s offense took on a new identity Saturday. The Badgers threw for more than 300 yards on 26 attempts against Marshall, a week after rushing for 404 yards and throwing only 10 times the week before.

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