Sports 5 - Still More Tips
By Steve Row, Journalism Education Coordinator, Richmond Newspapers Inc.
Writing Sports – 10 tips for improving scholastic newspaper sports writing
1. Write about players and teams, not about games. When school papers come out once every four to six weeks, stories about individual games a month earlier serve little purpose and in fact are a waste of space. You can write about groups of games in one story, but look for trends or common threads: Strong defense? Injuries? Unexpected stars? EXCEPTION: The school's biggest rivalry, or a regional or state championship match, could merit its own story, although not overly long.
2. When writing about players, always identify them by class in school and position on team. Don't say "John Smith" when you can say "senior tackle John Smith," and don't say "Sue Jones" when you can say "sophomore goalkeeper Sue Jones." And don't use double-digit numbers to refer to either grade in school or year of graduating class.
3. Keep up with team statistics and use them frequently in stories. Find out who keeps the scorebooks for various sports, and review the stats often. Also, always know where your team ranks in the conference, district, region and state, based on records and/or local polls, but tell the reader when the ranking was noted ("As of late October�," "With half the season in the books�")
4. Keep up with individual statistics and use them frequently in stories. If a player sets or ties a school or local record, note it in a story. Maybe highlight it as its own story. Be sure your coaches and/or athletic director inform you when an athlete or team ties or breaks a record.
5. Know sports writing style: scores are numerals separated by hyphens (12-6, not 12 to 6); team records are numerals separated by hyphens (8-2, not 8 and 2); winning scores always come first, even if your school did not win the contest (your team lost 12-6, not 6-12). Spell your opponents' school name and nickname or mascot correctly. Use sports terms that apply to specific sports occasionally. You do not have to define them. However, don't use words or phrases that are obscure or not widely known.
6. Make sure your sports stories are the last stories turned in before deadline. This is so the stories can contain the most up-to-date records, standings, etc. If you refer to a team's record, always insert a disclaimer that indicates to the reader when the story was written ("The team's record as of late October...," "The conference record going into the final week of the season...")
7. If you are writing about a team, watch the team practice and watch the team play. You must be present to know what happened, and you must take notes on what you are watching. You cannot write a good sports story on the basis of what someone tells you from memory. And you must be willing to spend some time after the matches to talk to participants.
8. If you are doing a profile on an athlete, watch that person at practice and watch that person in competition. See above.
9. Look for opportunities to do sports feature stories that are not tied directly to games. These might include stories about student trainers, the pre-season tryout process, different coaching philosophies, different training regimens and typical practices, seniors playing in their last games, why benchwarmers persist in trying out for teams when they know they won't get much playing time. Also, write about students who excel in outside sports (club soccer, AAU swimming, etc)
10. Sports writing can be more flexible than news or feature writing, but remember that even in sports writing a clear distinction exists between reporting and commenting. If you are writing your own opinion about a team or a sport or a sports issue, that is commentary. If you are writing an article about how the team is doing, or a profile on an athlete, remain as objective as possible.
Editing Sports – 10 tips for improving scholastic newspaper sports pages
1. Cover all sports in each issue, even if you have to write some sports briefs about some of the minor sports. But don't always dismiss the so-called minor sports in each issue. Find a team or an athlete to highlight. And equal coverage for girls and boys sports is necessary. Don't avoid writing about a team just because that team is getting a lot of ink in the local paper. You still might do a better job with a better angle than the local paper used.
2. Be sure to include at least scores from junior varsity and freshman competition in each issue. Check in with coaches every once in a while to see if a freshman or JV player might be having a particularly noteworthy year, for a possible profile. Remember that they work just as hard in practice, and their success (or lack of success) could indicate how the varsity will do next year.
3. Set up a separate sports calendar in each issue for all athletic events for the next six weeks. If space permits, include scores from each sport under its own heading, and then put next few matches in the same space as the scores. If more space permits, set up separate calendars and scoreboards.
4. Always try for action pictures, taken from close range, showing faces, showing emotion, showing energy. But also look for candid behind-the-scenes pictures, such as coach diagramming a play on the sidelines, faces of players on sidelines shouting at those on the field, a runner stretching before race, etc. Don't be afraid to use pictures from practices.
5. Emphasize bold headlines, using action words, occasional sports terminology, even occasional plays on words if sports-related.
6. Put stories about the same sports on the same page. Don't put varsity football and varsity cross country on one page, JV football on another page. Put football stories together. Unless you have space already designated for sports profiles, look for ways to pair profiles with team stories.
7. Treat the first sports page as if it were a section front, if you have at least three sports pages. And if you have at least three sports pages, make sure the first sports page is a right-hand page. If you have two sports pages, the first sports page should be a left-hand page.
8. Avoid using computerized clip art of various sports (as in, don't use it.) Photographs are best. Send photographers out to get lots of generic sports pictures to use in place of clip art.
9. Team pictures are OK for a yearbook, but avoid using in newspaper. Faces are too small to be recognizable, and the quality of the picture is usually pretty awful.
10. Rosters and/or starting lineups are good to include in the issue that comes out closest to the start of a season (along with team previews, coaches' comments, etc.) Remember that if you use rosters, include class designation, and if you use starting lineups, include class designation and position.
SPORTSWRITING RULE: NEVER NEVER be a cheerleader for your teams on the sports pages. Don't write about "our" team, write about "the" team. NEVER NEVER congratulate a team or an athlete in your sports stories. NEVER NEVER prepare a house ad to congratulate a team or an athlete or wish a team good luck; if the sports boosters want to buy advertising space for such a congratulatory message, sell the space. NEVER NEVER end a story like this: "The Fighting Gnus will undoubtedly be the class of conference and will achieve anything they set out to do. So let's all go out and support the Gnus!!"