1. Use sidebars to provide insight into the game
When covering games, it is helpful to think of the actual game story as the overall postgame package’s anchor. Everything else should build around that anchor. One way to do that is through the use of sidebars. This story type is a short news story or feature that stems from the game itself. At big games, reporters will work in teams with one reporter covering the main bar, or game story, and another reporter producing at least one sidebar. This is an ideal way to cover games as the reporters can devote all their attention to their part of the coverage, while also working together to collect quotes. In my classes at UT, I often assign students to cover a game in pairs, with one responsible for the game story, and one responsible for a sidebar. This is also especially useful when students are attending games for the first time, as working in teams can make the task less daunting.
The most important thing to remember about sidebars is that they should complement the game story and not repeat it. I like to tell my students that good reporters working on sidebars take something from the game and put a magnifying glass on it, in effect going in depth on something that the main bar may only briefly address, if at all. Thus, sidebars add additional perspective, context, assessment or analysis to the game, which reflects the ultimate goal of privileging the “how” and “why” journalistic questions (as addressed in day 1). Sidebars should connect to the game and often include basic information, such as the final score and/or key statistics. This information is usually in the nutgraf of the sidebar.
Example: Click on the following link to evaluate a game story and its related sidebar by Boston Globe sportswriter Fluto Shinzawa’s coverage of a hockey game between Boston and Edmonton. Read the game story first and then the sidebar. Notice how the sidebar includes a brief reference to the game – the piece includes the final score and some brief statistics – but puts the focus on Johnny Boychuk’s interesting story.
Finding sidebars is a project in preparation. Often, sidebar ideas come from knowing the team’s existing storylines. For instance, if a player has been injured the past three games and returns to lead the team to victory, the sidebar will be enhanced if the reporter knows the backstory of the severity of the injury, what that person’s absence meant to the team, etc. For example, read the first three grafs of the sidebar referenced above:
EDMONTON, Alberta — The way Johnny Boychuk gives the directions, he grew up right down the street from Rexall Place, a drive that might not take 10 minutes.
So naturally, last night was a big deal for the Edmonton native and the 100-plus guests he was expecting. It was the first time Boychuk had played an NHL game in his hometown rink. He recorded three shots in 22:20 of ice time in the Bruins’ 3-2 win.
“It’s just nice to be able to play in front of family and friends,’’ Boychuk said before the game. “Then be able to see them after the game.’’
This sidebar idea is dependent on the reporter thinking ahead and knowing that Boychuk’s return to Edmonton is a unique story, and worthy of a story. In generating sidebar ideas, it is also useful to think about key players in the game, key moments such as an interesting or unusual play, milestones such as a coach reaching a key number of wins, injuries and unique matchups.
Finally, when putting content online, be sure the main bar includes a link to the sidebar and vice versa. In addition, sidebars do not have to be written and may be in video or audio slideshow form.
Example: Click on the following link to a video of The Central Dauphin boys soccer team in Pennsylvania receiving their medals for winning the District 3 AAA soccer championship. At its core, this video captures the atmosphere and emotion after the team won the title, essentially providing a sidebar to the main game story:
2. Complementing the written story with audio links
In keeping with the goal of privileging the how and why journalistic questions in relation to game coverage, it is useful to give voice to key players and coaches, as they are the best sources to offer the kind of explanation and assessment that will get to the heart of those questions. In written sports game stories, quotes are often minimal. Reading a long blocky quote is a sign of lazy writing and a quick way to lose a reader’s interest. In the written story, quotes should be no more than 1-2 sentences maximum and should put the final exclamation mark on a given point. For example, consider the story below from Knoxville News-Sentinel writer Mike Strange on the University of Tennessee’s 2010 bowl football game. The first quote is short and punchy and finishes off the bigger point of a theme that had haunted the Vols all season – losing at the very end of games:
It ain’t over til it’s over. Nobody knows that better than Tennessee in 2010.
Derek Dooley’s first season at Tennessee ended on a sour note Thursday night, a heartbreaking 30-27 double-overtime loss to North Carolina in the Music City Bowl.
North Carolina’s Casey Barth kicked a 39-yard field goal after one second had been put back on the clock at the end of regulation to forge a 20-20 tie.
Then Barth won it with a 23-yard field goal in the second overtime after North Carolina had ended Tennessee’s possession with an interception.
Tennessee finishes 6-7 after losing a second game in which the opponent was allowed to run an extra play at the end of regulation time. The first was a 16-14 loss at LSU on Oct. 2.
The Vols appeared to have won this game 20-17 when the Tar Heels failed to get off a play at the Tennessee 18 as the clock ran out in the fourth quarter.
“I didn’t celebrate this time,” said Dooley. “I’d been there before.”
Officials reviewed the last play and put one second back on the clock, ruling Tar Heels quarterback T.J. Yates had spiked the ball before time expired.
Complementing the written story with audio clips is an effective way to let readers hear players and coaches describe events, feelings, plays, etc. in their own words. There are a couple considerations to make when uploading audio clips to enhance story coverage. First, similar to sidebars, audio clips should complement the story and not simply overlap it. There is no point to putting a quote in the text and uploading the audio version of that quote as well. However, if the coach continues to elaborate on a point that is already used in the story, a reporter may want to upload the whole comment. Second, any quotes (written in the story or uploaded as an audio file) should offer 1) explanation or 2) assessment. Doing so is the most effective way to answer the key journalistic questions essential to this type of coverage.
In order to produce audio clips, reporters must use digital audio recorders. Audio editing can be done in Audacity, a free audio editing software program.
3. Producing basic postgame video packages and images
Many online news websites complement their coverage with a basic postgame video package and/or image slideshows. This section will focus on video packages (see the workshop on photography for more information on still images.) Postgame video packages for online news websites are different than what is produced by sports broadcasters and is essentially much more basic. Still, with limited editing skills, the website can include a short piece that utilizes the power of online sports news delivery.
At its most basic level, the video package may include one or more interviews with graphics to identify who is speaking. All of this can be captured with a basic flipcam and edited in iMovie. As mentioned above, use soundbites that offer explanation or assessment to give readers the best insight into the game. Avoid quotes/soundbites that communicate facts. A football coach explaining how his team managed to force the opposition into several turnovers is much more interesting than hearing a coach recount the (factual) statistics themselves.
Reporters may want to capture some game footage to add to the package. I often tell students to consider the limits of their camera; if reporters are using a flipcam, capturing clear game footage may be difficult. But filming events like pre-game huddles/celebrations, fan shots or limited game action may still be possible and can provide some atmosphere/color to the piece. It is common for these basic postgame video packages to open with shots of game action or color and then cut to the interviews. Postgame video packages should always include the final score as some fans may only click on the video. It is also useful to provide a brief paragraph introducing and previewing the video package.
The key to multi-media coverage is thinking strategically about how each element complements the other; a video package should not simply repeat in moving picture form what is stated in the story. As is the case with audio clips, it is important to use video to expand or complement on points made in the written game story without overlap.
Example: Click on the following link for coverage of a recent Auburn-Georgia football game. The videos contain soundbites from two postgame interviews. Notice1) the graphics introducing who is interviewed; 2) the accompanying summaries/explanations of each video; and 3) the link to the main game story.
Finally, news websites are increasingly filming reporters offering some assessment of the game. In this type of coverage, reporters should work on demonstrating the depth of their reporting while staying focused on assessment and description. In this type of video element, avoid simply re-stating facts. For example, click on the following link to two print reporters for the Harrisburg Patriot-News discussing the Nov. 12 2011 Penn State-Nebraska football game, the first contest following the scandal at Penn State. Notice the description of atmosphere and color and interesting bits of information, such as the number of former players who returned for the game.
4. Assignments for students.
The following are two outlines of what I expect UT students to do at games. I can discuss some of the challenges and particulars during Tuesday’s online discussion.
Links for Day 2
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