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Sports coverage

The traditional sports game story is dead!

When is the last time you waited for the morning newspaper to learn the final scores of last night’s sports action?

Do you anxiously wait for the thump of the newspaper on the front porch to learn if Eric Hosmer went 2-for-4 with three RBIs, or how many strikeouts Adam Wainwright threw in the Cardinals’ most recent victory?

Didn’t think so.

With the advent Twitter, live blogging, dedicated apps for every major and minor sports league, score alerts on smart phones and Apple watches, the traditional sports game coverage story – “the gamer” – is dead.

The final score, the leaders on the stat sheet and sometimes even player and coach reaction is reported in the seconds and minutes after the game. The Twitter feed has become the sports fan’s best friend instead of the random stranger sitting on┬áthe next barstool.

This does not mean sports reporting is no longer an integral part of the newspaper or newsroom. It does mean sports editors and reporters need to think differently about the content they create, and the stories they tell.

If your newspaper is still publishing the majority of its sports page with 25-inch play-by-play game stories then it might be time for a content remodel. And this sports page remodel will work at a metro daily with a circulation of 200,000 along with at a small-town weekly with 2,000 copies hitting the street.

I know what you’re thinking: “But how I am going to get all of the names of athletes in the paper? Those names sell papers to the parents and relatives in the market. That’s revenue, especially in small markets.”

You are right. And I am not suggesting to not report the game’s highlights.

I am proposing a way to do it differently.

You have access to the coaches, players and stadiums that Joe Fan does not, so use it: What can a sports reporter provide that fans can’t get on their own? Access. Your coverage should provide Joe Fan access to the players, coaches and team. Go heavy with “notebook” type coverage about players who are trending up and down, and why. Talk to players more, and report what they think about their game or the team’s performance. You have the chance every day to interview the coach — use that access to provide insight to the team and its performance. Fans can’t go up to the coach and players and ask them questions about a certain play, but you can. So do it.

Focus on the big play, moment: Instead of providing a play-by-play recap of the Friday night game, focus on the one big play that changed the game, or possibly the player that hit the winning shot, returned from injury to make a difference in the game, or a player who had a special moment that can’t be found in the box score.

Deliver stats, recaps in an alternative format: In baseball, do a breakout “how they scored” box that provides the play-by-play recap, and allows you to get those all-important names in the paper. For football, break down the scoring by quarters; hockey by periods; soccer by halves. You get the picture. This content should be featured in a graphic format with the analysis or feature post-game coverage.

Three stars of the game: Another great way to get names in the paper outside of 25-inch copy is a breakout “Three Stars” box to highlight three players who made a difference on the stat sheet or with a big play. Use mug shots of the athletes to add a little visual pop.

Look ahead, not back: This coverage model is especially true for weekly newspapers. While providing coverage of the past week’s action in alternative format such as graphic boxes and features, consider focusing the majority of your efforts previewing the coming week’s big games. And, as always, use your website throughout the week after publication days to report final scores, and game highlights right after the game to provide that “daily coverage” from a weekly print publication.

Those are just five examples of thinking differently when reporting and editing your sports coverage.

By moving away from the traditional 25-inch game story and incorporating some of these new elements, you might just hit a home run with your readers.

By Rick Rogers

Community journalism and newspapers are a passion of Rick Rogers.
H is currently serving as a regional manager for TownNews.com, the No. 1 content-management-system provider for newspapers in the United States. Prior to joining TownNews.com, Rogers worked as an editor, publisher and executive for community newspapers in Southwest Missouri and Texas, most recently with GateHouse Media and its Texas community properties. You can email him at [email protected].