Social media Sports coverage

Playoffs are around the corner: Here are some ideas for improving your sports coverage

With the high school football playoffs almost on us and prep basketball about to tip off, now is about as good a time as any to consider again about how to beef up your online sports readership.

And while it may seem sometimes you’re having to rob Peter to pay Paul when it comes to developing your online presence or preserving your established print product, here are some digital strategies that with the resources you probably already have can help you make inroads to both. Think of it as having your cake and eating it, too.

Reinvent your game coverage

First thing, consider using your social media coverage as your mainstay on game night. Weeknights or weekends, your readers are going to be coming and going, and whether they’re at the game, on the road, or partying down, you can keep them engaged with your social media coverage of the games. Some suggestions:

  • ●Don’t do play by play. If they’re at the game, they saw it. If they’re at home, they may be listening to radio. If they’re partying or waiting on their spouse to finish paying the tab somewhere, PxP may not grab their attention.
  • ●Do think analysis and context: Give them what they can’t always get from watching live or listening, much less waiting in line somewhere. Make your observations significant. Think of your role as that of a radio analyst, and give them what your competitor may not be able to: if the girls’ point guard just made a nifty pass for an assist, or the receiver had to outleap a defender to snag a pass, tell your reader “Lindsay Baskins’ threads a pass to Ashley Robbins for a layup. Lady Tartars up 42-30 at 2:13 in the 1st QTR,” or “’Dillas’ Ray Renfro outleaps a defender for a 15-yard gain to the Wampus Cat 10-yd line, ‘Dillas up 10-7 late in the third.” Or tell us the coach is getting heated, stamping her foot or throwing his towel after having to bench a player for foul trouble or a holding penalty negates a gain. That’s detail the broadcast may miss, and it’s stuff many radio competitors won’t or can’t deliver anyway in a stream. Make it worthwhile for your reader to follow.
  • ●Do get the greatest saturation by combining some social media platforms. Most of your readers have Facebook; fewer use Twitter, but those that do will likely rely more on it that Facebook. And you can do both simultaneously by combining your accounts so that what you post to Twitter pops up in your Facebook posts. A tip: choose the Twitter-dominant route so that your posts will be short and sweet, and there are likely other social media combinations you can explore. Here’s a how-to link for posting Twitter to Facebook:
  • ●Do have the final score ready immediately at game’s end, along with some context – “The ‘Dillas 27-24 win over Itasca puts them at 10-1 and headed to the first round of playoffs against Cairo or Attapulgus on Nov. 12.” You might even mention – briefly- who the star player was, but that’s all you need. Click “send,” head for sidelines or locker room for post-game interviews, and then head to the house to cool your heels. Yes, take a break. Here’s why:
  • ●Don’t worry about publishing a late-night or next-day story online. Readers who haven’t listened can go online and find the score, your summary, and the important stuff in your social media thread. And tell them to be looking for additional coverage

The game story: Out with the old, in with the new

For most weekly, twice-weekly or bi-weekly newspapers, your publication cycle won’t dovetail smoothly with traditional game story coverage.  Worst case scenario, your paper hits the news racks or the front lawn smack dab in the middle and you’re faced with the prospect of publishing an account that’s days old when its hot off the presses. That’s still a must read for parents and grandparents but the interest from many of your readers will be fading. So what’s a body to do? Ask a staff that’s already stretched thin to write multiple accounts? That doesn’t go over so well, so here’s a modest proposal:

  • ●Take a features approach to your published game story, and hold its posting until the evening before or the day of distribution. After you post the social media accounts, let them stand as your first-day coverage for those catching up.
  • ●Focus your print coverage on a features approach that includes players’ and coaches’ reactions, how they’ll incorporate what they did or didn’t accomplish into the next contest, or, if the season’s over, how they reflect on how it’s all come down.
  • ●Do think features, not news, with alternative ledes that tease the reader and play down the time lag between the timing of the event and your coverage of it.
  • ●Use your previous social media coverage as a tool in constructing your story. In it you’ve already got a timeline of sorts. Once you work the most significant pics or stats from the previous game into developing story, you’ve summarized what happened a few days ago and also offered readers a fresh slant. If you’re fortunate, you’ll have the opportunity to use that approach for a great advance story for the upcoming contest.
  • ●Make that story your sports centerpiece and post it online to coincide with the print edition. You can generate additional buzz by posting it the evening before distribution.
  • ●Do make sure you continue to promote that coverage through your social media and house ads in the paper.

Old news can be good news

If you’ve got a digital whiz in your shop, you can use your old digital files to your advantage by hyperlinking to previous coverage that allows readers to pursue their interests and beef up your readership.

  • ●If you’re telling a story about the season’s highs and lows, provide hyperlinks that allow readers who missed the earlier stories to pursue them.
  • ●If the ‘Dillas’ Renfro, who earlier outleaped that defender for the 15-yard gain, has been highlighted in previous games, give digital readers a link to that story and embed the link in his name, which should be highlighted: “Renfro outleaped a defender for a 15-yeard gain late in the third to keep the Dillas’ drive alive.” If you’re talking playoff prospects, and the ‘Dillas have already played Attapulgus, give readers their rein to revisit that game: “The ‘Dillas 27-24 win over Itasca puts them at 10-1 and headed to the first round of playoffs against Cairo or Attapulgus, which they defeated earlier in the season, on Nov. 12.”
  • ●Be sure, if their opponent has been determined by press time, to update the story, but that extra reporting should be minimal.

In the end, you’ve got limited resources but greater expectations by contemporary readers, particularly younger ones you want to engage for the long haul, and many of whom expect or will appreciate timely and convenient coverage. These strategies will require some newspapers to re-think and alter their traditional approaches, and one size definitely doesn’t fit all. But these are steps that can help you attract emerging audiences with the resources you already have on hand.




A thank-you to community newspapers

This blog post was adapted from remarks the author made at the midwinter meeting of the Texas Press Association in Frisco in January 2014.

Thank you for missing dinner two nights recently because you were attending a county commission or school board meeting. You were there so you could inform thousands of readers who didn't want to be bothered.

You did. And you do. Week after week. Thank you.

Or maybe you were at a Relay for Life meeting where, in addition to reporting on all those volunteers, you probably also coordinated your own volunteer team. Thank you for contributing to the fabric of your community.

Thank you for making three telephone calls over several hours just to be sure the little girl who won a blue ribbon at the horse show spells "Christie" with a "c" and an "ie" instead of a "k" and two e's — or any other of about 20 variations for how Christie can be spelled.

Accuracy matters. It matters to Christie’s mama and daddy. It matters to all our readers. And it matters to you. Thank you.

Thank you for offering space to friends of a cancer victim washing cars to raise money to buy gas to get that lady to chemotherapy treatments. Your coverage made the difference between raising $1,500 instead of only $150. Thank you.

Thank you for being the greatest link — and the strongest protection — between your readers and those with the power to tax and govern — and the few who abuse that power. Thank you for speaking truth to power. Newspapers are often the only ones to do that.

Thank you for being the first transcribers of the only history your communities may ever record. Words and photos we preserve today are the priceless artifacts of lives treasured for generations to come.

Thank you for providing a low-cost, effective and reliable connection between hundreds of sometimes struggling small businesses and the buying public. You are a vital link between buyer and seller and an invested partner in the success of friends and neighbors. Thank you for working hard to help them succeed.

The late Robert Woodruff, longtime CEO of Coca-Cola, said: "You can have anything you want in life if you help enough other people get what they want." This is what great community newspapers do. Thank you for that commitment.

Thank you for being veterans in the war against secrecy and lies and greed. It takes little courage to write about a stranger among thousands or millions in a metropolitan city, but it takes tremendous dignity, daring and fortitude to write about the woman who sits in the next pew with you at church or the man who sits across from you at Rotary. You do it week after week with sensitivity and caring and fairness and accuracy. Thank you for that.

Have newspapers suffered in recent years? Of course! Community newspapers are a direct reflection — a mirror — of the economy of the towns and cities we serve. The economic crash that sent stocks and development plummeting affected every business we serve — and our newspapers reflect that. Communities are hurting and when our towns are injured, newspapers bleed. There is nothing wrong with America’s community newspapers that an overall improvement in our nation’s economy will not fix.

Thank you for not blindly following doomsayers who say newspapers' best days are behind them. But what do they not say?  Television viewership is being splintered into hundreds of channels — with far more of them focused on promoting sex and silliness than vital information that makes our families stronger, our values deeper, our home lives happier.

In Blackshear, Ga., and thousands of small communities just like it across America, community newspapers were “social media” before social media was cool! We’ve been connecting friends and neighbors and telling about who ate with who as far back as when country correspondents wrote about Mr. and Mrs. Jones "motoring" over to the next town last Sunday to have dinner. There's really not much new under the sun but we’ve told people about it all — for decades.

In my little town, if you want a Big Mac, there's only one place to get it: McDonald's. They have the franchise. You want a Whopper? There's only one place to get it: Burger King. They have the franchise. If you're in Blackshear, Ga., and you want local news there's only one place to get it: The Blackshear Times. We have the franchise. It's ours to lose. And we're not giving it up. It’s the same way in your town and thousands of others all over our nation. I know you’re not giving up your franchise as the place to find local news and information, either.

Warren Buffet said: “In towns and cities where there is a strong sense of community, there is no more important institution than the local paper.” Welcome to our world, Mr. Buffett. It’s reassuring to have you here.

Newspapers are a mirror of our communities, but you cannot see a reflection in the dark. Newspapers have to provide the light. It is hard for a community to rise above the quality and commitment of its local newspaper. Good newspapers build strong communities.

In America we talk about the value and dignity of every individual. Nowhere are those ideals better displayed than in America’s community newspapers. We start at birth! Every child born should have his or her announcement plus a photo in the newspaper. That child’s first and succeeding birthdays are often marked in our newspaper.

We love to publish pictures of children’s first day of school. Through the years we document reading achievement, math competitions, steer shows, athletic victories and countless other milestones of life. Graduation is a big deal in every community. Our documentation of the value of each individual life goes on and on — through engagement, marriage, more births, anniversaries, job promotions.  You name it and we travel life’s path right with the people who surround us, all the way to the grave — and even beyond, with Memorials!

Who cares more about the success, prosperity and happiness of people in your community than you? Nobody!

Are people going to stop loving high school football in Granbury? No!  Are people going to stop caring whether their taxes go up or down in El Dorado? No! Are people going to stop wanting to see children's names on the honor roll in Decatur? No!  Are people going to stop wondering who is going bankrupt or buying building permits in Port Aransas? No!

We believe people will always want to know about their taxes and what their governments are doing.

We believe people will always want to see children’s names and faces publicized for their triumphs and tributes.

We believe there will always be a desire for accountability in government!

We believe in the critical need for accuracy and fairness as demonstrated by professional journalists.

We believe in newspapers!

Thank you for being a part of this great and valuable industry.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Newswriting Reporting

Sometimes the direct quotes in my stories look dull when they hit the paper. How can I come up with better quotes?

It’s always frustrating to read direct quotes from local officials that really don’t add much to the stories, such as when a local city or county official, trying his or her best to stay on point, is asked for reaction to a local measure that just passed and says, “We think this is in the best financial interests of our residents.” Or when a local craftsman, whose initiative and talent have produced murals that have spruced up some unattractive downtown buildings says, “I’m proud of all the community support we’ve received.” Or when the star or coach of the high school team says of a big win, “We just had to come together as team.”

Sure, these folks made those statements, and surely they’re accurate, but just as surely these lines don’t add much to the reader’s understanding of the issue. They don’t add insight to the story, and they don’t move the story along.

And moving the story along is what direct quotes are intended to do. Direct quotations are supposed to enlighten and entertain the audience and illuminate the issue being covered, not to mention indicating a sufficient probe into the situation at hand.

Sometimes, though, a reporter can settle for the first words that come out of the source’s mouth. One of the reasons for these types of accurate but non-meaningful direct quotes is that too often the reporters ask open-ended questions that fail to direct the nature of the response. The question posed might be, “What’s your reaction to the vote?” Or, “How do you feel now that the project’s completed?” Or, “Tell me what this victory means.” By asking this question, the reporter has left it up to the source to come up with a meaningful sound bite, and, depending on the source’s political position or articulateness or experience with news media, the results can be politically-correct or drab or, in the case of the coach or ballplayer, clichéd from too many nights of ESPN SportsCenter.

If the direct quotes illustrated so far are indicative of the best one’s available, it either means the reporter had a tin ear, didn’t have ample time or didn’t engage the source in a meaningful interview. And sometimes, in the latter situation, it’s because the reporter might not have been knowledgeable enough or confident enough or comfortable enough to ask more challenging questions.

Let’s take the first example, the local official who has touted the fiscal wisdom of the government’s vote, and let’s say it was to cut back on operating hours of the local library.

And let’s say the reporter is knowledgeable and confident enough but hoped to get a meaningful response from the open-ended question. Well, that obviously didn’t work, so here’s a follow-up, a close-ended question that more narrowly defines the range in which the official can respond: “How does the money saved justify the inconvenience to library patrons?” And if the source replies, “Well, it was a tough call.” Now, you’ve got something to work with, and to that the reporter could follow up with, “How was it a tough call?” And let’s say the response there is, “We know we’ve got a lot of elderly residents and working-class parents who’ll find it harder to get there on the reduced hours, but we had to make cuts somewhere.” Now your direct quote reads:

“It was a touch call,” Jones said. “We’ve got a lot of elderly residents and working-class parents who’ll find it harder to get there on the reduced hours, but we had to make cuts somewhere.”

And now you’ve got a direct quote with some meat to it, that comes from an official source and registers with readers who may support the measure and those who oppose it. And you’ve gotten some insight into how the local government works, which isn’t always the case when relying purely on what’s said at the governmental meetings. And, if there’s not much time for the interview, that’s the line of questioning that ought to kick-start the conversation instead of the open-ended question.

The same goes for the local artist. Instead of asking for his reaction, ask why he or she was motivated to undertake such an endeavor or how the project will benefit the community. Those questions will prompt some soul-searching by the artist that should provide insight to the readers. And if the answer is that “so many people have volunteered their time and money, it makes this project all the more rewarding,” then voila!

And the coach? Ask how the team, as initially described, came together. A simple “tell me how they did it” should kick-start that line of questioning. And if the reporter noticed that the team was more selective on pitches or made more passes before attempting to score, ask the coach how those actions contributed to the win. Bottom line, ask probing questions that prod the source to give more meaningful answers that will have meaning.

And the more questions that are asked that push for meaningful answers, the more follow-up questions should leap out at the reporter. And that translates into more interesting copy for your readers.

Remember, some of these sources may have a vested interest in staying as non-committal as possible, or they may not know exactly what it is the newspaper is looking for, or they may live in a world where the cliché is crystal clear to them but babble to your readers.

The key for the reporter is to engage them in conversation, to be inquisitive, and to be interested in finding out and understanding how and why your community thinks and acts like it does. Try it, and you’ll like it.

Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Reporting

Our reporters have difficulty getting public officials to return phone calls about controversial issues. How can we prod those officials into being more responsive?

For starters, make the officials accountable for not talking to the newspaper. If the county commissioner’s role is part of a larger story, report that he or she would not return phone calls or would not discuss the issue, make sure to place that fact where readers would otherwise expect the official’s response to be. Placing it at the end of the story only trivializes the official’s failure to act responsibly.

And, remember that sometimes, that official’s failure to respond might change the complexion of your story to the extent that that failure now becomes the news peg.

And if a pattern emerges, you’ve got a great opportunity to use the opinion page as leverage. But make sure it’s clear that the official’s failure to respond isn’t a sore point with your newspaper — that sounds like whining — but is a failure to meet his or her responsibility to the general public. Make sure you’re readers know that it’s them, and not you, getting the short end of the stick.

In the meantime, here’s what your reporters can do to strengthen their own case with the official and readers, in case you do have to play hardball.

  • Make sure they’ve done their research before they start asking questions. They ought to be just about as knowledgable on the subject as the official.
  • Make sure they call as far in advance as possible
  • And make sure they make numerous good faith efforts.
  • And, if it’s a last-minute or breaking story, and it’s reasonable that an official might not have time to reply before your deadline, soften the blow, you might write that “the mayor couldn’t be reached at press time” rather than “the mayor did not return phone calls.” Both may be accurate, but only one will fairly depict the context of the situation.
Ask an Expert Questions and Answers Newswriting

Civic organization meetings are a staple of our newspaper, and they’re obviously interesting to the members of those organizations. But how can we make them more interesting to a wider range of readers?

The first rule of thumb is, don’t fall into the trap of writing the story in the same chronological order as items or issues appear on the agenda. If the organization always meets on the same date, it’s not relevant merely that they met, so the fact they “met” probably ought not to even be in the story. Nor should the fact that they “discussed” some issue. They always do discuss issues; that’s why they meet.

Your wider range of readers will probably want to know is what they thought about the issue or what decisions the members reached on an issue. And that ought to be in the first, or lead, paragraph. And the reporter must look objectively at the agenda or follow the meeting closely to best determine which issue, if there are several, is most important.

Most boards, whether they’re civic or governmental, see to list the most important or controversial items at the bottom of their agendas, which obviously means they’re the last to be discussed. Who knows why, but sometimes it seems it’s so casual attendees will have left the building before the hot stuff comes up, or maybe they think it signals that the issue isn’t so controversial if they’re not burning to address it before the pledge out of the way. But it also means that reporters who aren’t objectively covering the meeting can slip into writing chronologically. That means the meat of the story is buried, and it can guarantee that the story’s headline doesn’t draw attention to the controversial issue.

On the other hand, you want to attract readers, so make sure that main or controversial issue is the main focus in the lead and that there’s a headline drawn from that lead, when readers get to the story.