Tips for teaching sports writing

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Teaching a sports journalism class next semester? Here are a few things to consider.

1. Create a class blog where students must post stories with links, photos (and audio/video whenever possible.) You can use either Word Press or Blogger, but several more sites, such as Weebly, have popped up as well. I’m also creating a Facebook page and asking students to Tweet on their respective teams.

2. Assign students to beats, asking them to cover teams they ordinarily would not cover. My sports writing students, for example, will each cover a team playing for Charleston High School so those who regularly cover a college beat for the college newspaper don’t get an unfair advantage in class. Plus, all students need to learn the prep beat. Despite what students think, preps is where most reporters start and, sometimes, remain for many years. (I’d rather cover the prep beat than college any day.) My students are assigned to freshman, junior varsity and varsity teams, which varies according to the season. Next semester, my students will write a season preview, a feature, a game precede and at least two game stories during the season. Game stories must be posted by the end of the night.

3. Require multimedia reporting. I require at least three links in each story, a basic element for all stories posted online. I also require photos or slide shows for some stories. Students can also add audio and video. They may also create a multimedia project instead. Here are some new media models to consider from the Columbus Dispatch, the Indianapolis Star, and the Roanoke Times. In addition, the Arizona Daily Star did a terrific job previewing Arizona softball.

4. Invite coaches to speak about their sports. Students believe they know it all (what fan doesn’t think this way?), but few sports writers know as much as the coaches who have spent their lives learning techniques, strategies and managing players. The coaches here at Eastern Illinois University have created graphics to teach softball, put together a top 5 things to watch for basketball, and invited classes to their baseball and rugby practices. Even after 20 years as a sports journalist, I also continue to learn more from these discussions.  Afterwards, you can require students to write a 1-2 page summary of their experience.

5. Put together several in-class assignments, using box scores, quotes and stats. I am creating some exercises for this site. But I will also have several in my new sports writing book set for publication in January. You can email me at jgisondi@gmail.com to learn when the book will be published and where the new exercises will be posted.

6. Ask the sports information director to speak in class so students can learn about your school’s policies and procedures. Plus, students can learn more about another career involving sports writing.

7. Have students cover a game on campus, but try to pick a lower profile event where your class won’t get in the way. Before the game, invite the coach to class. Then, have students read recent stories on this team. Next, set up press credentials with the SID. Finally, students will cover the game, taking notes and interviewing players and coaches. My deadline is usually 8 a.m. the morning after night games and midnight for morning or afternoon games. Stories must be emailed to me as attachments.

I will post my syllabus as I get closer to next semester.

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