Covering Sports News Writing
Sports writers must know … • the rules and basics of playing and scoring the sport they are covering • who are the key players on the team(star seniors, up-and-coming underclassmen, returning individual winners from last year, etc.) • how the team did last year • what statistics are typically kept for this sport and what they mean
Sports writers must know … • the schedules for the teams they cover (update with results throughout the season) • when is the perfect time to reach players and coaches for features • the coaches • what other resources are available: stats, videos, other info online?
In school sports • winning isn’t everything • players = stories • non-players = stories and sometimes coaches = stories, too • losing = tasteful stories
Types of sports news stories • advance or preview • game coverage • briefs • news features Most of the stories you write will NOT be game stories … why?
Why game stories aren’t so great Timeliness:The outcome of the game is known, so it’s not news because it’s not that interesting anymore. Another game might have already happened, changing stats reported in a previous game story.
Why game stories are helpful On the other hand, there is nothing like reporting on a significant game to sharpen your sports writing skills. Beginners, particularly, can learn a lot from covering a game. It’s GREAT practice — and awesome for keeping websites up to date.
Covering games Plan and prepare before the game. • Talk to the coach and let him/her know you’ll be covering a game. Ask what to expect, who to watch, any trends developing. • Get a team roster with player names andjersey numbers. • Know the stats and find out who will be the statistician for the game. Make arrangements ahead to get the end-of-game stats when the game ends. • Use email or social media to contact the coach of the opposing team to get a roster.
Covering games During the game ... • Watch carefully. Note the big plays and scores. • Tweet results or big plays as they happen, using players’ names (you have the roster with you!). • Observe the opposing team, too. You should know who their key players are, and have the roster of that team as well. • Do not express your opinion in tweets or coverage. You are acting as an outside observer, not a fan.
Covering games After the game ... • Get the end-of-game stats from the statistician and get to the locker room to gather quotes from the players while the emotion is still running high. • Use your notes and your tweets to help you organize a chronology of the game. • Take a deep breath. What was the most important thing that happened? After you have your notes and quotes, stop and think about what the lead is. • Write quickly. Your goal should be to have the game story online within 12 to 24 hours of the game ending.
What’s (often) better than sportsgame stories • If something extraordinary happened in a game that everyone is talking about, such as an injury or an unexpected rout of a favored team, write the most up-to-date information — looking forward, not back. • Write about an individual player or group (offense, defense, offensive line, etc).
Better than game stories • Look for trends across several games. A strong offense, challenges on the defense, injuries, stars or outstanding players, recurrent problems or issues? • Find out who keeps the team’s stats and get to know that person. The statistician is your new best friend. • Always know where the team ranks in the district, region and state.
Know the stats • Keep up with team statistics and use them in your stories. This is especially important in game stories, but you need it for all sports stories. • If a player or team breaks or ties a school or local record, you need to make that a big part of your story. It’s probably your lead. • If a player or team makes it to regional or state competition, that’s a news story too.
Watch the team practice, play • You cannot write a good sports story from someone else’s memory. • You must be present to know what happened. Take notes and make photos while you are watching. • Spend time after games to speak to the players and coaches. It’s best to get them while they are still thinking about the game.
Worth saying again You cannot write a good sports story from someone else’s memory. You have to be there.
Identify players in the story • Don’t just say “Joe Smith” Say “tackle Joe Smith” • Identify the player’s position. In captions, use the jersey number, too. • Don’t use numbers for grade or year of graduation — sports have plenty of other numbers already. • Make every attempt to identify the other team’s players, too.
Use AP Style for scores • Scores are numerals separated by hyphens (12-6, not 12 to 6). • Records are numerals separated by hyphens (8-2, not 8 and 2). • The winning score always comes first, even if your school didn’t win.
Do not editorialize • Even in sports writing, a clear distinction must exist between reporting the news and expressing an opinion. • If you are writing an article about how the team is doing or a profile of an athlete, you must remain objective. • If you are writing what you think about the team, the players, the sport or the game, that’s a commentary, not news.
Do not be a cheerleader • Don’t write “our” team, write about “the” team. • Nevercongratulate a team on its win in your story, or say it was a good try if the team lost. • What’s the word for this? editorializing
Story ideas • athletes and health (conditioning during the season or off season; prevention and care of injuries) • what it’s like to: warm the bench, lose eligibility, be injured the whole season, lose in the finals, be scouted • recreational and “extreme” sports • non-school sports students play, such as equestrian, water skiing, bicycle racing,figure skating • how and why coaches become coaches
Story ideas • how much it costs to play a sport • how much it costs the school to run theathletic programs • what happens in the weight room • generations of athletes in the same family • athletic booster club • multiple-sport athletes; students who play school sports in all three seasons • students who play club sports during their sport’s off-season
Story ideas • maintaining the athletic fields, courts, playing surfaces, scoreboards • how athletes prepare for the final game of their high school career • coping with sports injuries • the college recruiting process • alumni who are playing sports in college on scholarship
Assignment 1: story ideas • Working with a partner, brainstorm five sports story ideas for your newspaper or yearbook.Use specific examples: • sport • athlete • angle • Turn in your ideas by the end of class.
Assignment 1 extension Write your story • Using the list of ideas you brainstormed with a partner, choose one idea that you can write. • Use the Story Prep Worksheet to plan your story.
Assignment 2: sports coverage • Using other student media, previous issues of your publication, or prep sports coverage from local professionals, find a well-written school sports news story. • Summarize the story. Be sure to include: - headline - byline - date published - name of publication - the 5W’s and H
Assignment, continued ... Next, write a half-page reaction to the story. Discuss the following: • the way the story was written and reported; what the reporter had to do to get this story • why this story is news (news values) • why you are sure this is news, not opinion • what was not included and could or should have been in the story • how a similar story might be written for your publication • other thoughts, opinions, insights or reactions