Speaking with the enemy

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Check out how Sports Illustrated covers games, speaking with numerous and varied sources.

Check out how Sports Illustrated covers games, speaking with numerous and varied sources.

Alabama certainly rolled over Clemson last weekend, handing the Tigers their worst college football defeat in about three years, something that almost assuredly destroys Clemson’s BCS title hopes. After the game, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said: “We got whipped about every way you can get whipped. We never established any control in the game.”

Nobody could argue with that assessment. But the fact Alabama’s Crimson White included this quote from an opposing coach is a shocker, sadly enough. Few college football writers interviewed opposing players or coaches in their football game stories this past weekend.

Joe Paterno tied Bobby Bowden for most career college victories after Penn State routed Coastal Carolina 66-10 last Saturday at 373, something that prompted the Daily Collegian to solicit a comment from the opposing coach. “It’s not part of good history you’re the team he beats to tie the record,” Coastal Carolina coach Dave Bennett said. Daily Collegian sportswriter Josh Kangenbacher did a fine job reporting on a game that was never in doubt, which can be a challenge.

Talking with only the home team is clearly the norm at college newspapers, but it is a poor reporting. Plus, this makes college sports editors appear more like homers – whose allegiance is to a single team – than like independent journalists who seek enough facts to put events into proper context. This may sound like a lofty requirement for somebody covering sports. Yet, it is not. The prefix ‘sports’ does not absolve journalists from working like others in the newsroom – even if they are young students learning the craft. Good habits are learned at the beginning. Please, start speaking with as many sources as possible for not only game stories, but for previews, features, analysis, and (hopefully) for in-depth news stories related to the business of sports.

Here is how some college newspapers covered football this past weekend.

Louisville lost to Kentucky at home for the first time since 2002, but readers never get to learn the reasons for this lopsided victory. Did the Cardinals ofensive line have difficulty creating holes inside, causing the team to punt nine times? Did Kentucky have a better game plan? Not sure. The Kentucky Kernel only spoke with Wildcats coach Rich Brooks and three players. At bigger games like this, why not assign a reporter to both locker rooms, sharing the uotes afterward. Plus, the sports information director can collect additional comments as well. (Not sure why the Louisville Cardinal did not even post a game story on this in-state rivalry game. Instead, the paper offers preview stories about this game as well as the one against Tennessee Tech next week.)

The Daily Nebraskan offered only two comments, from quarterback Joe Ganz and coach Bo Pelini, in its assessment of the team’s 47-24 defeat of Western Michigan. The paper did offer a nice second story that focused on Western Michigan’s challenges in this game, something readers surely appreciated. Still, papers need to offer a story that combines the elements of several stories into one. You can repeat a few quotes in sidbars and mainbars. First, put together a comprehensive gamer that includes key plays, trends, comments from both sides and offers the game’s significance. Then, offer the siders, analysis, columns, and slide shows. (BTW, football generates more than $87 million a year to businesses in Lincoln, Nebraska. Go find these harder news stories as the Daily Nebraskan did here. Not everything should be bats and balls coverage.)

Daily Illini reporter Wes Anderson speaks with Missouri quarterback Chase Daniel and Illinois coach Ron Zook following a wild, high-scoring game in St. Louis that the Tigers won, 52-42. Solid analysis, fluid writing, and good sources help elevate this story.

In a preview of Oklahoma State’s football game against Washington State, the O’Collegian did not speak with any Cougars players or coaches, nor did it interview other coaches in the Big 12 or any national football experts. Instead, readers heard from several hometown players and the head coach.

West Virginia opened up its offense but the perspective on the game was narrowed to Mountaineer coaches and players. The Daily Athenaeum did not ask Villanova’s defensive backs, linebackers, or coaches how they felt defending WVU’s passing attack. Always get that additional perspective. Always do that extra reporting. In addition, always cite the game’s score early in stories – even in follow-up stories like this. Several game stories and sidebars failed to remind readers of the score.

The Daily Utah Chronicle did not ask Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez about his debut in Ann Arbor, Michigan, even though reporters spoke with five of the Utes’ own players/coaches in a pretty good follow-up story. Rodriguez said his team did not play aggressively. “I didn’t think we played very physical,” Rodriguez told the Michigan Daily. “I thought we played very tentative at times and were thinking a little too much.” On the other hand, the Michigan Daily did not cite any Utah players/coaches.

The Daily Mississipian spoke only with Rebels offensive and defensive coordinators, plus someone named Nutt, after the team defeated Memphis 41-24. Give full titles for all people (like Rebels coach Houston Nutt) in first reference, even if the story is a sidebar or follow-up.

Even pretty good stories by the Daily Trojan and Daily O’Collegian did not include sufficient sources in their game stories. Oregon’s Daily Emerald cited only its coach and quarterback after the Ducks’ 44-10 over Washington while Washington State’s Daily Evergreen offered two quick quotes in its gamer. Plus, the Daily Bruin failed to get any Tennessee folks to volunteer comments on their 27-24 upset loss to UCLA in a game story that was otherwise pretty well done.

Get the full story in all coverage. Yes, it’s more difficult to file a story for football games played late at night, but coverage can still be coordinated. For afternoon games, there is really no excuse for interviewing players and coaches on the opposing team, especially for volleyball matches, soccer games, and cross country meets. Tell the full story.

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