Blogging the Sports Summit: Dusting Off the History Books
I missed it the first time and I missed the reprise yesterday -- Alex Wolff's "Mining the Past of Sports: The art and craft of the historical feature."
Luckily, I was able to snag a copy of the Sports Illustrated
senior writer's handouts. So, although it's nothing like experiencing
Wolff’s session in the flesh, here is a compilation of the notes that
he gave out to participants:
The advantage of the historical piece:
- Athletes and coaches may not have time for you now, but…
- Adaptable to the smallest papers in the smallest markets
- "Counterprogramming" niche
- ESPN and the Web emphasize the now, the quick
- The therapeutic urge
- Subjects and sources will finally want to talk
- Consider the virtues of losing for providing rich material
Before you begin:
Plot for space:
- Find a peg
- Year-end ("instant history")
- Death (the prepackaged obit)
- When all else fails, serialize
- Accommodates shortened attention spans
- Allows for promotion
Ways to go about it:
- Tie the past with the present
- The "where are they now?" or "catch-up" piece
The "one man in the riptide of history" lede
Chronology is your friend, and will permit you to:
- Write a straight, chronological "tick-tock"
- Begin in the middle or end of a story, then rewind to fill in
Where you should go…
- Libraries and historical societies
- University archives (not just sports information departments)
And keep in mind…
History itself is your ally: Consider how shifts in political winds will open up rich material.
Use a photograph as your starting point: A la "the Ken Burns Leer."
To see Alex Wolff's strategies in action, check out these historical features from Sports Illustrated:
"When the Terror Began" Thirty
years later, the hostage drama that left 11 Israeli Olympians dead
seems even more chilling and offers grim reminders to today's security
experts. [Aug. 20, 2002]
"Ghosts of Mississippi" Forty
years ago a courageous college president defied a court order barring
Mississippi State from integrated competition and sent his team to face
black players in the NCAA tournament. [March 10, 2003]
-- Meg Martin, Naughton Fellow, Poynter
Friday, April 14, 2006
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER CODGER
How do you get a pro athlete excited about talking to you? Ask him about his barber.
Or his iPod. Or what she was thinking as she ran for the breakaway.
Or, better yet, forget about the pro athlete. Write the definitive history of the athletic cup instead.
the best sports stories don't even appear on the sports page. Sometimes
you can't find them at the stadium or in the pressbox. Sometimes
they're getting their hair cut across the street, swimming laps at the
beach or hanging around the local batting cages.
The secret to finding and telling those offbeat stories? Ask Jeff Klinkenberg, bard of Real Florida for the St. Petersburg Times. All it takes, he said, is a little visual cleansing.
Remove the scales from your eyes. These stories are just
out there. But there are no public relations people involved, no
professional athletes involved.
Go to the local batting cages and
find the guy who the regulars talk about. Check out the
rock-scissors-paper tournament nearby. Get into the head of the player
who's perfecting her jump shot.
"It's the 10th hour and you've
swam [2.5] miles, you've biked  miles and you've run 23 miles.
What are you thinking?" he asks the triathlete.
He talked about Earl Morrall, the last of the NFL flat-tops, and his barber, Michael Composto.
About Joakim Noah, front man of the Florida Gators basketball team, and his feral curls.
About Carl Crawford and the on-field logistics of a triple.
He doesn't forget to think like the guy keeping score in the stands: "I look at the world of sports through the eyes of an old codger."
And Klinkenberg's got a radar for passion. That's where you'll find the folks who are the most fun to write about, he said.
So, how can you discover your inner codger?
Look at the sports world though the eyes of a child. Be guided by your curiosity.
- Write about the eccentric who has built "Boston Gardens" in his garage, where he plays Nerf-ball basketball.
- Write about the local king of the amusement-park batting cage.
- At the football stadium, somebody fires a cannon every time the home team scores. Write about the cannon person.
- Look for stories at the county fair -- maybe the boy who gets dunked in a tank of water by a baseball.
Remove the scales from your eyes. Good stories are everywhere you look.
- At NASCAR events, chefs compete to feed their crews the best food.
- At the ballpark, the music critic takes note of the "at bat" songs broadcast for every player and writes a column about it.
- Write about the blind broadcaster.
- An all-star has an eccentric hairdo. Who does his or her hair?
Look at the world of sports through the eyes of a codger
- Why don't baseball fans keep scorecards any more?
- Babe Ruth lived here?
- Where did Bob Gibson sleep during Jim Crow?
-- Meg Martin, Naugton Fellow, Poynter
Friday, April 14, 2006
CHANNELING SCREAMIN' STEPHEN
We should all be a little bit more like Stephen A. Smith.
Hear me out.
He personifies what should be a concern
for the sportswriting community. If you do good things, if you make
people read your stuff, if you make people pay attention to you, new
multi-media opportunities are gonna come your way. And those
opportunities are probably gonna look like this: Write less. Make more.
Good for you. Bad for the state of the written word.
Stephen's breakout session Thursday afternoon, though, he was what he
was: loud, OK, but also engaging and entertaining. You want to listen to him. He makes you.
Newspapers these days? Not so much.
So maybe there's a lesson here.
Stephen said after the session that he gained an
audience and has grown that audience mainly by being straight-up and
true. The reader or viewer -- the consumer -- needs to know who you
are, where you're coming from, where you're getting your information
and what you believe. No matter what you think of "Screamin'" Stephen
A., and everyone's got an opinion, of course, I took that as his way of saying transparency is a good thing.
Know your stuff.
Let your audience know how you know it.
Then disseminate it with the utmost authority --
and if that means having a take, having a personality, shoot, so be it.
All the better.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
THE MOVING PROFILE
Thoughts on "Beyond the cartoon athlete: writing sports profiles in three dimensions" with Michelle Hiskey:
Not only does your subject have to be doing something in a profile, but he/she has to be going somewhere.
has to be a progression. Even if he/she did something that you didn't
see and he/she has to recall the whole thing for you. Otherwise, it's
nothing more than a really wordy Q&A session. Might as well put
that in a graphic -- at least it'll look appealing.
isn't just a story about a person, either. What's a game story if not a
profile of the game you just watched? An enterprise piece if not a
profile of an issue?
Thursday, April 13, 2006
A collection of wisdom from Teri Thompson, editor for the sports investigative team at the New York Daily News, who led a session called "Going Deep: Strategies for enterprise and investigative reporting":
Curiosity might have killed the cat, but at least it asked the question: "Find out the answers to all types of questions -- not just who scored the touchdowns."
Just do it: "Go to the police department or courthouse and just begin your search."
Patience, patience, patience: "Working sources is a huge part of this, and many times, it is painstakingly slow."
What are you waiting for? "If you have a tip, the first thing you should do is start reporting it."
Take a head-first plunge: "Go there and begin reporting. Throw yourself into it."
Persistence: "Just keep going back."
posted by Meg Martin
Wednesday, April 13, 2006
TURN THE PAPER GLOSSY
John Rawlings of The Sporting News and Sports Illustrated's Sandy Rosenbush led a session on "Bringing a Magazine Sensibility to the Daily Paper"
Daily newspaper work can be just as bold and deep as the stories you read in the glossies. All it takes is a fresh approach.
- Identify the story and the approach.
- Know your subject.
- Grab the reader's attention.
- Be fair, but don't be neutral.
- Go for access.
- Take a chance!
- Do something different.
(For a printable version, click here.)
Thursday, April 13, 2006
YOUR BEST WORK: STAY IMMERSED IN SIMPLICITY, SIGNIFICANCE... AND THE SUPERMARKET
Simplicity, significance and supermarkets. That's all you need to know to create your best work.
Just ask the Orlando Sentinel's Jemele Hill, The Associated Press' Amy Sancetta and USA Today's
Christine Brennan. They chatted with each other and Poynter's Kelly
McBride this morning about the virtues of good work. Here's what they
- Use simple, declarative sentences. Their power is might. You'll like it. But, more importantly, the reader will like it. People tend to speak in short sentences. It's natural.
- Keep it tight. Long-winded storytellers cause the big sleep.
- Leave out the stuff that doesn't advance the story. It's not even gravy.
- Quit earlier rather than later -- in hopes that the reader will leave the story wanting more.
Don't just make a good picture, make a significant picture.
For instance: "If
I'm covering a Super Bowl, I don't want [just any] picture at the end
when the Patriots win -- I don't just want a picture of the players jubilating. I want Brady jubilating."
But Amy's work, moderator Kelly was quick to point
out, has cross-craft applications. It works for writers just as well as
it works for visual journalists.
The goals are the same, Amy added. Photojournalists just carry more stuff.
Think like the guy -- or the woman -- in the supermarket.
That is, answer the question your readers want to know.
like your readers. Think like a fan or an interested observer -- not
the wacky ones who are screaming at the coach on a radio show -- but
the people who are reading you. And [don't] always give them what they
wantï¿½ but be smart about [it] and anticipate; be a couple days ahead."
Thursday, April 13, 2006
Thursday, April 13, 2006
DEATH TO THE GAME STORY?
The town-hall session
Wednesday evening got me thinking: Who's gonna be the first shot-caller
bold enough to kill game stories as we know them? Some say that's crazy
talk. Their reasons why that would never EVER work usually boil down to
this: But we've always done it THIS way, boo-hoo, wah-wah. But
sports has the best chance of any part of the paper to get wild and
start blowing stuff up to adjust specifically to the changing habits of
consumers of news.
folks watched the game last night on TV, or maybe they missed it but
logged onto ESPN.com later, or maybe they caught highlights on
"SportsCenter" or local news -- if they didn't do any of these things,
though, chances are really, really good they're not going to be
clamoring for a 22-inch gamer in this morning's paper anyway. This is
not a plea for the death of game coverage. Just do it
differently. With graphics, photos, charts, bullet points -- whatever.
Anything but an I-was-at-the-game-you-already-know-about narrative.
Sports sections have a huge opportunity to be the trailblazers in the
industry-mandated shift in newspaper presentation. Non-sports reporters
have more things they have to do. Put it this way: AP isn't at
County Commission. Coverage of that is more a public service than it is
compelling for the most part. This should allow sports
reporters to shun the obligatory and hunt the new, the offbeat, the
inventive and fresh. So who's gonna have the guts?
MAKING MAMA PROUD
Sure, Mom always said to treat people the way they want to be treated.
But, for a moment, forget it.
How about treating folks the way they want to be treated? Roy calls it The Platinum Rule -- more valuable than gold.
Some of the visual journalists in the room offered
some insights to their writing counterparts: What do writers need to
know about helping photojournalists do their best work?
Just remember that we're all journalists, we're all doing the same job and we all have the same goal, one photojournalist said.
Writers and photojournalists have to be equally
informed. Writers, seek out your visual colleagues and find out what
they're doing. Photojournalists should do the same. If you get a tip,
pick up the phone and give them a call. That goes both ways. Share
stories, share quotes and share coverage plans. (And don't forget to
share cell phone numbers.)
Mom would be proud.
Thursday, April 13, 2006
NAVIGATING THE JOURNEY
someone who is in the generation behind John Schulian's and appreciate
his take on his journey through this business. What I'll remember:
- Sometimes you have to gamble -- you have to take a risk to see if you can do something else
- Sometimes your phone doesnï¿½t ring. Do something else.
- No matter if you work for Hollywood or Hack City Tribune, find a way to organize that works for you.
Even Gay Talese did it in Esquire's "best magazine story of all time" about Frank Sinatra.
SERVING THE SPORTS WRITING AND EDITING COMMUNITY, ONE ENTRY AT A TIME
ran into this blog as I searched for old-school sports stories
yesterday. I don't know who the blogger is -- he or she is identified
only as "SWE_Blogger," but it's called Sports Writing and Editing, and looks to be a great resource for -- yes -- sports writers and editors.
COVER THE RIPPLES, SUMMON THE LEGENDS AND ADJUST YOUR CLOCKS
sports writer's challenge: Write a next-day story about something -- a
game, an Olympic event, a tournament -- your audience has already seen
The solution: Well,
I'm pretty sure every journalist has got his or her own answer for
that. But one that especially struck me tonight was the idea of
answering the why in the who, the what, the where, the when and the how that journalists cover on a daily basis.
But how can sports journalists do that?
Adopt Sally Jenkins' mantra throughout this "town-hall meeting": Learn to write the p.m. story for an a.m. medium.
It's writing about last night's story ahead. It's
projecting the story a day ahead, and yet digging a little deeper in
the locker room with the people you're writing about... I just think we
have to be a little more creative and look back at what we do best.
means paying attention to the work of the sportswriting legends -- a
common theme at this summit, it turns out -- and figuring out what they
did right so it can be applied to sports writing now.
Seems like the perfect time for some inspirational writers who have come up so far:
- Grantland Rice (With a link to what is perhaps his most famous piece, unofficially referred to as "The Four Horsemen," on a Notre Dame fan blog called "The Rock.")
- Dan Jenkins (Yes, he's Sally's dad.)
intimacy, Jenkins said, that was one of the hallmarks of the sort of
writing that the above men were famous for. Their work had the ability
to draw readers in -- to the event, to the athlete and even to
That's the ultimate in sports writing," she said,
"When you explain to the viewer and the reader why you're feeling what
you're feeling about what just happened... and that's what a great
sports writer can do that no other medium can duplicate."
It's also something that sets sports writing apart from its broadcast counterparts, she said.
Whitlock talked about the sporting event as if it were a rock being
dropped in water: "It creates ripples. And a good writer covers all the
ripples. You've got to cover the ripples... That's what TV and radio
don't do as well."
In short, summon the legends.
Cover the ripples.
And think night when it's really day.
have to become p.m. writers on an a.m. schedule," Jenkins said. "I
think that, as our synapses get more accustomed to this medium [the
Internet] that we're working ... I think sometimes you're most
quick-firing responses are your most creative... Sometimes deadlines
almost push you into creativity. I think we have to embrace it, because
I think that's the deal."
SPORTS PHOTOJOURNALISM: UNFRAMED
any given day, on any field of play, there are numerous high-action
encounters and collisions. And the peak moments captured by
photojournalists for the viewing world to reflect upon are decisive and
In a heartbeat, they represent the competitive
tenacity of the athletic pursuits, the thrill of victory and, yes, the
agony of defeat.
So much goes into the documentation of sports photographic coverage worthy of being called excellent or, better still, great or iconic that
is outside of the frame. The new "auto- everything" world has surely
increased the number of technically sharper and clearer -- but
meaningless -- photographs.
For the 12 participants and
seven faculty members in the photojournalism component of the Sports
Journalism Summit, the issues of why and how we cover
sports was put to task in four days of gymnastics-of-the-mind-like
training. All without any competitive photographic coverage -- only
And yet, there has been tremendous growth and value placed on topics such as:
- Improving planning, communication and teamwork between writers and photographers to build stronger reporting partnerships in the field.
- Sharpening our ability to spot visual potential in sports coverage and to explore the power of dramatic sports photography.
- Building meaningful relationships as a strategy for gaining better access.
- Being more reflective and responsible with our ethical conduct and decision-making.
- Having more fun and enjoying the privileged role given to us.
conversations have been about F-shops, shutter speeds and focal lengths
-- technical matters. There has been a little bit of that, but even a
trip to the St. Pete Times Forum to study remote-camera coverage ended
on the familiar note: access is all about relationships.
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
LATEST FROM THE SPORTS SUMMIT: THINK LIKE A PHOTOGRAPHER
The secret to detailed writing: think like a photographer.
And, oh yeah, it is still all about people. (Seems to be something of a theme...)
We just ended a session with Tom French, Roy Peter
Clark and Kenny Irby: what writers and photographers can learn from
We looked at iconic sports images: Muhammad Ali
taunting Sonny Liston. Babe Ruth's final appearance at Yankee Stadium.
Mary Decker's 1984 Olympics fall.
Different sports, different stories, different
eras. But they conveyed the same emotion, same humanity and same
timelessness that good writing and good images share.
The strategies they share:
Sequencing. Choose details to create an effect. Pull together the unpredictable angles to tell the real story.
Working hard for access. Take advantage of surprises and opportunities. Pictures like the famous Ali triumph are the reward for unpredictability.
Zig when everyone else is zagging. Take the unpredictable position and find the vantage point that tells the story the most powerfully.
writer should use his (or her) notebook as a camera and focus on the
faces he (or she) sees. "That's the heart of the story right there,"
Journalists, we heard, should all embrace the
opportunity, the challenge and the advantage of collaborating across
craft. Understand the language of your colleagues across the newsroom
and translate it to your own craft. But, Kenny warned, there's danger
in duplication. Colleagues' work should should complement one another, not echo.
said: "The best thing to do as a writer is to take an interest in all
the associated crafts. As we move continually into new media, those
crafts are not only going to be design and photojournalism, but also
the use of natural sound and use of video more often It really helps
you develop your craft if you can speak about those crafts without an
accent. That's a powerful mode of learning for a reporter."
FOUR TIPS FROM A WRITER WHO KNOWS: JOHN SCHULIAN
John Schulian learned one of his greatest lessons
about sports writing when Muhammad Ali rubbed his thumb and forefinger
together in front of his face.
It sounded like a cricket. And it snapped Schulian
out of a trance he had sunken into. He was sitting on a couch next to
the world's greatest in Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, listening to him
tell the same story he had told 45 minutes before. Schulian had
been trying to see the world through Ali's eyes. Think how he thought.
And he had stopped listening.
Until Ali rubbed his fingers together.
"Pay attention, white boy."
Some of the best sports writing advice he'd ever gotten.
Schulian is almost two decades removed from
regular sports writing, but he has the enthusiasm of a kid who's just
written his first column for a major paper.
about chasing your dreams," he said. "That's what being young and being
in this business is about: about being young and chasing your dreams."
So he did. He started on the copy desk at the Salt Lake Tribune (where, he said, "I do believe I was the only guy on the desk who wasn't in A.A."), and eventually moved to places like the Chicago Sun-Times, Sports Illustrated and The Washington Post.
Now he writes scripts. Books. And the occasional feature for Sports Illustrated.
But from the start, the goals for his newspaper
columns were simple. And they translated to his work in television and
- Pursue good writing, no matter what. "More than anything
else, I wanted my column to be a good piece of writing," the best piece
of writing in the newspaper that day, he said.
- Emphasize story. It seems simple, he said, but it's often
forgotten across the pages of the newspaper. Beginning, middle and end.
"Sometimes I already knew how the piece was going to end before I had
the lede," he said.
- Be influenced by great writers: W.C. Heinz. Jimmy Cannon. Gay Talese. Jimmy Breslin. Dan Jenkins.
- Scenes, dialogue, character. All great ways to tell stories,
even in columns. And columns don't have to be in the first person,
either. Readers know, he said, that the guy in the mug shot is the guy
who wrote the column. And the words in the column are clearly his
And an emphasis on people: "Anybody who's written about sports knows it's not about the games, it's about the people."
Technically, it's helpful to write a "beat sheet"
of a story, he said. That's TV talk for an outline. It helped him stay
on track when he wrote scripts for "L.A. Law," and it's what Gay Talese
used in his famous "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" Esquire piece. They work.
"A One-Way Ticket to Obscurity," by John Schulian
"Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," by Gay Talese
Wednesday, April 12, 2006
SPORTS JOURNALISM SUMMIT: THE CONFLUENCE
photographers have left for a field trip. For the first time in three
days, their computers are still and the visual journalism lab is empty.
The halls of Poynter soak in a few precious moments of silence. For now.
a few hours, the photographers will return and the sportswriters will
invade. About 130 of them. They'll all converge this afternoon in the
largest, most ambitious discussion of sports journalism Poynter has
Sports journalists don't often get the same
kind of attention that their news and feature counterparts find in the
world of journalistic training. And some who might want to attend
cannot be squeezed in or had coverage commitments.
So to make this event accessible to as many people as possible, we
will be blogging it, in a manner of speaking, from now until the
writers leave on Friday. We'll add content, pictures, links and quotes
over the next three days. Things we hear in the halls and tips we find
in the sessions.
I'll kick it all off
this afternoon, writing from the first converged session, "From Ali to
Xena: Hanging on to the life of a sportswriter," with John Schulian. He's a sports columnist and a television producer who's written several books and just happens to be the creator of "Xena, Warrior Princess."
have also asked a handful of participants to contribute their
impressions of the event as they experience it. They'll be attending a
number of the simultaneous sessions. Check back to see what
they've posted, and feel free to continue the conversation in our
Coming attractions include:
- Tom French of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times will chat with conference organizers, Poynter's Roy Peter Clark and Kenny Irby about what writers and photographers can learn from each other.
- Buddy Martin will moderate a conversation with a dozen other
sportswriters and editors about "The rich athlete and the poor
sportswriter: a story of frustration and alienation."
- Amy Sancetta of the Associated Press and USA Today's Christine Brennan will join the Orlando Sentinel's Jemele Hill to offer tips on getting their best work into print.
Click here for the rest of the lineup. We'll hear from the likes of Sandy Rosenbush and Alex Wolff of Sports Illustrated, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith and Woody Paige, John Rawlings and Dave Kindred of The Sporting News, Teri Thompson of the New York Daily News, The Kansas City (Mo.) Star's Jason Whitlock, The Washington Post's Sally Jenkins, Kevin Kerrane of the University of Delaware, Tom Jolly of The New York Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's Michelle Hiskey and more.
will talk about everything from covering race and sports to how
sportswriters must reinvent themselves in the modern world of
newspapers, radio, television, the Internet and magazines.
But first, a peek into how the conference came together from co-director Roy Peter Clark:
It all started at a reunion with an old St. Petersburg Times
editor, Buddy Martin... It occurred to us that maybe sports journalists
weren't getting the kind of attention that they needed... so we hatched
a plan and we presented it to the Associated Press Sports Editors.
From there, Roy said, interest spread. Support came pouring in from places like ESPN, The Sporting News,
Sports Illustrated, The New York Times, the St. Petersburg Times and
Poynter's own faculty and staff, fueled largely by the enthusiasm of
dean Keith Woods and program assistant Jennette Smith.
than 150 applications made their way to Poynter's mailboxes (of both
the virtual and the physical variety). The Sports Journalism Summit
will be the first Poynter conference dedicated to sports writing since
the Institute moved to its current location in 1985, and the biggest
on-site seminar the Institute has ever hosted.
It's historic. It's new. And it's huge. Stay tuned.
-- Meg Martin, Naughton Fellow, The Poynter Institute
Wednesday, April 12, 2006