Student guest post: Writing about sports when the world is standing still

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the 10th of those posts. Brian Keyes is a junior journalism and history major at UNC-Chapel Hill, and he is an assistant sports editor on The Daily Tar Heel. He splits his time between writing sports stories for the newspaper and reporting general news for the Carolina Connection radio show.

Nearly every day for the past six or seven years, I have spent a good portion of every day thinking about sports.

I talk about them, I watch them, I read about the history of the many sports the world has been infatuated with at one time or another and I think more than any rational person should about sports’ place in the world. As a reporter and now assistant editor on the sports desk of The Daily Tar Heel, my obsession has only been fed.

And now there are no more sports. This would be fine, and the suspension of major sports (and all major gatherings) is a necessary step during this ever-worsening global health crisis that I am happy to take, except for the fact that it is my job to write about sports, read about sports and assist others in write about sports here at UNC.

So now I sit in the small living room of my Chapel Hill apartment, wondering what it is exactly that I’m supposed to do? What are my fellow editors and the writers we’re in charge of supposed to do at this moment when our jobs have seemingly been rendered meaningless?

In brighter days, I like to joke when I tell people that I study journalism that I’m not involved in “real” journalism, just sports. Obviously, I don’t actually believe that, but I like to think the self-deprecating humor helps me to keep things in perspective. Win or lose, it’s still just sports. LSU winning the national championship in football will not decide whether people can afford to pay their rents next month, the Washington Nationals winning the World Series does not suddenly mean my hometown is suddenly given the rights of a state and full representation in our national government.

I think everyone saw the entire sports media industry struggle with that fact as the information started coming in that everything would be shutting down, not just moving on without fans. And then there came the more existential question: What good are sports, and by extension sports reporters, when the world is ending?

I think that I’m wrong, though, about sports not mattering. As a rabid fan of one sports team in particular, the Washington Wizards, I should know better, because sports do matter to me. And to a lot of other people as well. They matter because we all collectively decide they do.

And what we love most is the people who play sports. We fall in love with LeBron James or Sabrina Ionescu or Alessia Russo as we watch them perform athletic miracles on a field or a court, and then we care about them. About what they think about, who they are, and what they do when we’re not watching them. We don’t stop caring just because they aren’t on our TVs anymore, and we don’t stop caring just because their seasons have been put on hold.

Recognizing this is the key for us, and me, to figure out exactly what it is we’re going to do now. We’re going to keep reporting on the athletes people care about. Everyone, including athletes, is going to be deeply affected by COVID-19, and people are going to care what happens to them.

But even more than that, now is the perfect time to look at all the people who surround sports and see how their lives are going to be upended. The coverage of which professional sports teams are taking care of their part-time employees while games are postponed is a perfect example.

As sportswriters, we write about people and their emotions, and right now there are plenty of emotions to go around. At The Daily Tar Heel, some of our writers have already started to chronicle the disappointment of the UNC teams that have had their spring seasons canceled. Beyond that, we’ve started to look forward to next season’s sports, with football, women’s soccer and yes, the eventual return of UNC basketball.

The future seems big and scary right now, but I’m optimistic that my job will still have a place in it. We just have to make sure we keep giving people something to care about when this is all over.

Q&A with Perryn Keys of The Advocate newspaper

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Perryn Keys is executive sports editor at The Advocate newspaper, based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. In this interview, conducted by email, Keys discusses his role in the sports department, the process of story editing and headline writing, and the Advocate’s coverage of LSU’s championship season in college football.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. Well, if I ever get a typical day, I’ll let you know. I know plenty of people say this, but every day is different around here. It really is.

I’ve been in this job for about a year, and we’ve spent so much of the past 12 months in day-to-day survival mode. So many big stories.

I mean, it started with the no-call in the Saints-Rams NFC championship. Then we had Anthony Davis’ trade demand; the sweeping change in the Pelicans front office; LSU suspended basketball coach Will Wade amid the FBI wiretap scandal; LSU athletic director Joe Alleva was pushed out; LSU hired his replacement … and that was just the first five months of 2019.

And then The Advocate acquired the Times-Picayune. Obviously, that was an enormous transition. It took up any spare moment we might’ve had, and we barely had any to begin with. We haven’t even discussed the Saints’ 13-3 season, Zion Williamson, a fair amount of staff turnover and the once-in-a-lifetime year LSU just had.

So I’m really just now starting to feel like I can settle in. A typical day starts early in the morning with a handful of emails, checking in with writers and trying to plan long term. That’s often before I even get into the office, which is about 2 or 3 p.m., and I’ll typically leave at around midnight.

At some point, when this all settles down, I’m hoping to make this job into more of a noon-to-9 routine. But there’s never enough time.

Q. How do editing and headline writing work at The Advocate?

A. Our desk staff is not as large it once was, as is the case with most news organizations. So again, this is an overused term, but what we do amounts to organized chaos.

Our writers and editors all work on short-term and long-term story budgets via Google Docs. We have our daily budget, and for our print product, we’ll have a designated desk chief put together a plan, deciding what goes where. From there, we’ll divvy up line-editing, headline-writing and layout duties.

Everyone has a hand in everything. Thank God we’ve got great people on our desk.

We have three editions that go into three markets — New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Lafayette — and they are all unique and different. That means our desk people are flipping out stories and redesigning pages on the fly. It’s only because of their dedication and expertise that we can pull it off.

Thankfully, we have writers who are going to get the basics correct 99% of the time. During the day, we often trust them to post breaking news before anyone can give it a look. Obviously, we refine and edit as we go, but in this age, we have to get news out there ASAP. Consumers aren’t going to wait for us; they’ll go someplace else.

If the writers have concerns about posting something before one of us sees it, they’ll give us a heads-up. Otherwise, editors will go behind the writers and fix typos, commas, etc. — and obviously if there’s a serious question about a fact, or about a phrase, we’ll fix and update.

The thing that has amazed me over the past year is how cooperative our young writers are with each other. We have writers who are 26 and 23 covering LSU, writers who are 28 and 24 covering the Saints.

It used to be pretty rare that writers so young would have the keys to a big-time beat, but it’s a different day — and the fact is, these writers can handle it. Better yet, they work together and support each other. Often, if one of them is working hard on a long-form feature or a touchy story, that writer will submit his/her story to a peer first, then turn in the first draft to the editors.

I wish I’d been smart enough to think of that as a young writer. But they want to get it right, and they cheer each other on. I’m so thankful that we have people on staff like that; it makes our jobs soooo much easier.

As for headlines … obviously, web headlines work differently than print headlines, so you’ll have a different set of ideas and rules for both formats. Writers come up with the first versions for web headlines, and if the digital team has a better idea, they’ll rework them.

When it comes to the “big” headlines for the big events, we go old school and new school. We have a giant, easel-style whiteboard behind my desk, and everyone calls out suggestions. We write ’em all down and debate which one works best.

But we also turn to social media. For an LSU or Saints win — especially a big one, when we know everyone is watching — I’ll tweet out a simple phrase toward the end of the game: WE’RE TAKING HEADLINE SUGGESTIONS.

We get tons of responses. Every so often, you’ll get a stunner. We’ll use it and acknowledge the winner on social media. And on most nights, we tweet out images of our front pages, along with a link to subscribe.

Q. LSU’s run to the national championship in football is obviously a huge story for your readers. How did you prepare and carry out a coverage plan for the season, including the title game?

A. It was just not possible to overdo this story, or this season. People in Louisiana will talk about this season for decades to come. They plan their whole lives around LSU football, and we’ve got the web traffic and single-copy sales to prove it.

But in some ways, planning for this season was the same as planning for any football season. The weeks are very regimented, and you don’t typically have a lot of stuff coming in live and late — until Saturday night, when the actual game happens.

We throw all our resources at LSU and the Saints. Prep football is huge here, and we have tons of other state colleges with strong followings, so we go to great lengths to service all of it. But the digital data confirms what we’ve always suspected: LSU and the Saints are far and away our bread and butter. We have up to four full-timers on LSU football, and once we get into the season, each of the writers knows his/her role.

But it’s all collaborative. We try to think ahead about what we need each day — and certainly for the biggest games, we’ll get together way in advance and map out the entire week. The Alabama week is like that every year. This season, plenty of games were like that: Texas, Auburn, Florida, the SEC championship, obviously the playoffs.

Joe Burrow’s run to the Heisman Trophy was every bit as big, too, and we treated that entire week like a game week. The Saturday night ceremony was essentially like a game night: Plan everything as best you can, then execute on the fly as best you can.

This year, we knew in real time we were producing print sections that will have a long, long shelf life. We have sold tens of thousands of poster reproductions of the sports covers following the Alabama game, the Heisman ceremony, the national championship, etc. That’s a feeling you don’t get much anymore. It puts a lot of pressure on our designers and desk people, but it’s also a lot of fun in the end.

We take a lot of pride in our Saturday advance coverage, which consists of a six-, eight- or 10-page print section dedicated solely to LSU and college football. (This is separate from the “regular” sports section, which includes high school football, NBA, major leagues, etc.) Some of this stuff, like keys to the game or our staff predictions, will digitally publish Thursday or Friday, as those stories generate lots of “I’m bored at my job” web traffic.

We did two special sections for the national championship game: one Sunday (the day before the game) and another Monday (the day of). Between the semifinal and the championship game, we brainstormed all the things we wanted/needed to have as part of our coverage. (Thankfully, sports editors from across the country are all too supportive — they’ll gladly let you “borrow” some ideas they’ve used before.) Also, we’ve got some super-talented writers and designers. You can’t produce great content without both.

When the time came, we used the old whiteboard to draw up thumbnails of those special sections, as well as the day-after game coverage in print.

As for the national championship game, we had another tremendous advantage: The game was in New Orleans. That allowed us to send more than 15 people (writers, photographers, editors, runners, etc) into the stadium — something that would not have been possible if the game had been in, say, Indianapolis. Because of that, none of the writers had to juggle more than one assignment on deadline. A huge, huge advantage. Even with the game running so late, we were able to post multiple stories quickly and put out a dynamite print product.

The moment LSU had clinched the national championship, our digital team had multiple posts ready to go, trumpeting all of our coverage — and, of course, how readers could buy poster pages, commemorative books, subscriptions and so forth. Again, this was absolutely the biggest thing for our readers in years, and every department in our company had a hand in making sure we gave them their money’s worth.

Q. What advice do you have for college students interested in sports journalism?

A. Reach out to someone who’s already in the business. Whether it’s a writer you respect, an editor you’ve never met, a recent retiree — someone, anyone. One of us will respond. Promise.

In just the past two or three weeks, two students emailed me (more than once) asking for advice. I still haven’t gotten back to him yet. I know what that feels like. But I will eventually get back to them, and most of us will at least take a few minutes to talk.

My path was a little different. People who know me aren’t at all surprised I’m doing what I do — but in college, I was an advertising major. I was almost all the way out of school before I decided I wanted to take a stab at this profession, and I always felt that put me at a disadvantage.

But more importantly, I did not have the self-confidence to walk up to a professional and introduce myself or ask for advice. That was really hard. If I had one thing to do over, that’d be the thing: Get yourself in front of the people who might hire you one day.

In this industry, there were always too many people for the number of available jobs. Now it’s even harder than it was before. So here’s what that means: Even if you really are the best, most talented person who’s up for a job, you might still slip through the cracks. One way to combat that is to not wait for a job posting. You want someone to think about you before it comes open.

Finally, for God’s sake, don’t listen to me. Our business has much smarter, much more accomplished individuals. Right now, the Associated Press Sports Editors organization wants more student members. It can open up some doors that you maybe didn’t know were there.

Q&A with Bret Strelow, sports communicator at Appalachian State

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Bret Strelow, right, at the New Orleans Bowl in December 2018. Appalachian State beat Middle Tennessee, 45-13.

Bret Strelow is director for strategic communications in the department of athletics at Appalachian State University. He previously worked as a sportswriter at several newspapers in North Carolina. In this interview, conducted by email, Strelow discusses his job at App State and his transition from news to public relations.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. My title says I’m a director of strategic communications, so I should probably be better at communicating what I do for a living, right? Essentially, for the App State Athletics Department, I play a big role in planning and producing information that is communicated both externally to the public and internally.

That includes but is not limited to working with our athletics department administrators on bigger-picture matters (construction projects, proposals to various boards at the state or campus level), our fundraising arm (the Yosef Club on fundraising initiatives, membership drives, ticket/parking/benefit updates for members), our ticket office (season-ticket releases, etc.), our marketing department (department-wide and sport-specific promotions), our facilities personnel (for event planning), our Learfield IMG College employees (on sponsored content and events) and certainly, last, but not least, our coaches and student-athletes in terms of game operation (staffing of and running stats for home events) as well as coverage of their games/accomplishments on our web site, social media and through press releases, publication design/editing and maintaining/updating their team web pages.

That part involves written content, graphics, photography, working with our video production team (for creative content and live streams) and media relations for newspapers, television stations, radio stations and other outlets that are covering App State independently.

The best answer I can give about a typical day is that every time you begin a day with a plan for what you want to work on, very quickly new, unexpected things jump on your to-do list where prioritizing the most urgent or important items is vital. With requests from administrators, coaches, the Yosef Club, ticketing, our marketing department and other entities all coming in, that can be a delicate balance to strike of what to tackle first, but we are all working together with the hope that our efforts serve a greater good for the university as a whole.

I typically am in the office Monday-Friday starting around 8 or 9 a.m. and am working until at least 5 p.m. each day, often longer in the office or at home in the evenings, and definitely longer when there are night games on the schedule. Obviously, in sports, that means working a lot of weekend days and nights, and in certain seasons, it’s working every day of the week.

In football season, for instance, a Monday would focus heavily on game notes for the next weekend’s game and the content for the souvenir game program if it’s a home game, as well as setting up/covering a coach’s press availability. In the past, our Tuesdays and Wednesdays involved open practices for the media at the end of days in which you’re doing a lot of other work from 9-4. Each day you’re trying to produce football-related content, and in the case of a road game, you’re probably traveling on a Friday.

Later in the week is when you’re dealing with credential/parking requests and press box set-up with your game notes, or creating/printing the big flipcards that have info on both teams. My (often frustrating) relationship with printers has increased exponentially since switching from newspapers to the SID side.

Game day involves being there several hours early and working several hours after the game on recaps/photo galleries/stat submissions to your website, the NCAA, your conference. By Sunday morning, there are awards submissions, and often work must begin on game notes/game program items Sunday in order to have a shot at finishing it Monday given the nature of having weekday meetings and other responsibilities.

At App State, we have five or six people available to handle 20 varsity sports, so my sport-specific responsibilities have been being a primary SID or contact for football in the fall (I’m actually No. 2 behind my boss, but football requires a lot), wrestling in the winter and baseball in the spring. Baseball plays more than 50 games a year, often on Tuesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, so it’s handling those game events in addition to the regular Monday-Friday office schedule.

I promise this will be my longest answer. I do type words for a living.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work for the Appalachian State sports website?

A. For most of the day-to-day, sport-specific writing (game previews, recaps, notes), the person in charge of his or her sport basically self-edits, because there’s just not time for everyone to read over everyone else’s work. Given my background as a sports writer, I am the most involved in our department in checking over some of those other stories for typos/clarity. Additionally, my boss (the head of our six-person staff) and I are definitely involved in the editing of bigger stories for each sport, like a coach hiring, and the two of us write a lot of the content for bigger-picture matters involving the athletics department and personnel.

Headline writing is done mostly with the space confines of the website template in mind so that it’s not too long but still includes the most important, search-triggering info of who and what. With so many stories on our site, naming by sport instead of school or as some combo of the two can be a bit tricky so as not to be redundant with everything including App State but still reading in a smooth way.

Q. You covered Appalachian State as a sportswriter for the Winston-Salem Journal and the Fayetteville Observer. What was it like to move from reporting on the school’s sports programs to working for them?

A. The changes are more subtle than drastic, but there are differences. With my football coverage, I probably do try to write in more of a “beat writer” way than most SIDs with creative, detailed ledes and more color. And working in features for our site and game program is one of the reasons I’m in this role at all — to beef up our storytelling.

On the flip side, certainly I’m focusing on the positives, and I also write with an idea of what the coaches value. Football game stories tend to focus on the scoring and offense, for instance, but making sure to give a good defensive performance its due and include defensive items high in a story are things I’ve learned quickly based on how my story is perceived by the people with whom I work on a daily basis. And if a team I’m covering suffers a one-sided loss, that’s going to be a pretty short, matter-of-fact recap.

Q. It’s “talking season” in college football. What is the word on the Mountaineers this year?

A. It should be an exciting year. App State is coming off an 11-2 season in which it won its third straight conference title and improved to 4-0 in FBS bowl games.

The Mountaineers lost only one offensive starter and four defensive starters from the 2018 team, but there are plenty of new faces at the top and among the staff with head coach Eliah Drinkwitz replacing Scott Satterfield. How the new-look staff comes together with a talented, accomplished foundation, both in terms of personnel and program identity, is the question we’ll figure out an answer to as the 2019 team develops its own identity with a system that is, in some ways, different for everyone.

Is that a good enough PR answer? With a Sun Belt schedule that includes road games against some of the better teams in the league, plus a nonconference schedule that includes two Power Five opponents in North Carolina and South Carolina, there are definitely reasons to dream big but proceed with an awareness that past success doesn’t guarantee anything this year.

Visit the App State athletics website and follow Bret Strelow on Twitter.

A cool homepage

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Many news organizations use a homepage template, consisting of a main story with a photo surrounded by lists of headlines and smaller images. These designs are efficient, but they can make it difficult to emphasize a big story.

Last week, The News & Observer broke the mold of its homepage. The Carolina Hurricanes had clinched a position in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in 10 years.

This big news deserved bigger play. The N&O’s news judgment reflected that, with a larger image and all-caps headline.

Andrew Roman, audience growth producer at the N&O, explained how this cool homepage came together:

The N&O and other McClatchy papers in the Carolinas had an intricate deep homepage banner last fall during hurricane season that linked to multiple stories and displayed weather radar. A couple weeks ago, we decided we wanted to do something similar, but more simple, to honor local basketball teams that made this year’s Final Four. Since that didn’t happen, the opportunity arose to give a different momentous sports event the same treatment. I was working the night the Canes clinched a playoff spot; I made the call to use the banner, selected a suitable staff photo and wrote the display text.

Good luck to the Canes (and the journalists who cover them) on this playoff run. Take warning!

Q&A with C Jackson Cowart of BetChicago

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C Jackson Cowart is a writer and editor at BetChicago, a sports website. He previously worked at the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, New York. In this interview, conducted by email, Cowart discusses his work at BetChicago and his experience in journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. He also makes predictions for the NCAA tournaments in men’s and women’s basketball.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day at BetChicago like?

A. BetChicago is a content site focused on betting, fantasy and Chicago sports news, so it really opens the door for me and the rest of the team to take swings at what we think are interesting. We have some usual daily bits — basketball previews, future previews every Monday, etc. — but once those are covered, the rest of the day is autonomous and pretty creative. You hardly run out of ideas to write when sports and betting are concerned.

I’ve reported a story on how sportsbooks are adjusting to NBA teams tanking, dove into the championship merits of UNC and Gonzaga, looked into a potential scandal involving a fan reffing his favorite team (shocker: it was the SEC). I even spent an entire morning breaking down Gladys Knight’s singing career … just to project whether she’d go OVER/UNDER the expected time for the national anthem (she went OVER, as I’d suspected).

When it’s not a daily preview or breaking news, I try to gauge public interest and think, “Hey, if I were a sports fan or bettor, what would I want to read?” Of course, I’m both. So it helps keep things fresh on a daily basis.

Q. How do story editing and headline writing work at the site?

A. The entire BetChicago editorial team brings experience from previous media stops, which helps the workflow for all of us when posting stories to the site.

Usually the original writer will produce the entire story package — headline, text, photo, caption, SEO keywords, meta data — and then another writer on shift will come behind them and double-check their work, offer feedback, etc. We bounce ideas off each other on the best way to approach certain headlines, angles or photos, too, so you have control over how your story is presented without ever feeling like you’re on an island with it.

It’s a really effective system in part because the team is incredibly communicative (S/O to Slack) and we get along really well, so betting banter and trash-talking each others’ teams help ease the stress when we’re grinding out content. And because we all bring a solid foundation for editing, I know I’ve got a strong set of eyes on my work before it hits the public.

Q. You are a 2018 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill. What skills and concepts that you learned there do you use in your job today? What new things have you learned?

A. Oh, man, I use what I learned in Chapel Hill basically every day. The writing is obvious; I found my writing voice in Carroll Hall, and effective sports betting content greatly benefits from having a casual and engaging tone.

But the nature of BetChicago (online, autonomous) really puts the onus on the writer to own their story from top to bottom, and the multimedia training at UNC allowed me to take the reins here from day one and feel comfortable with SEO practices, basic HTML, research must-dos — basically everything I need to publish a story and not worry about crashing the site or getting sued.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned in my final months at UNC and the almost-year since graduation is how much goes into effective social media promotion. You don’t realize when you graduate just how many opportunities you’ll have to play the role of “corporate Twitter account,” but I’ve had access to and tweeted from the main account of basically every company I’ve written for in the past three years. It’s a lot of pressure, and there are no real set guidelines for it other than “don’t tweet something offensive and embarrass the company.”

So learning how to mesh my own voice with what I think sounds somewhat funny and engaging coming from a faceless corporate logo is a unique daily challenge. And when you do it right, it’s pretty rewarding, too.

Q. March Madness is approaching. Who are you betting on, figuratively speaking, to make the Final Four in the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball tournaments?

A. So what you’re really asking is will UNC make the Final Four? I wrote about this last week (shameless plug), but I really think the Tar Heels have everything it takes to play foil to heavy favorite Duke, so I’ll pencil them into the men’s semifinal.

A healthy Zion means the Blue Devils make it, too, and Gonzaga looks more like its 2017 title contender than past flameouts. I’m enamored with this Texas Tech team, so if the Raiders don’t lose in the first weekend to some three-point shooting upstart, I think they reach Minneapolis, too.

On the women’s side, Baylor has been exceptional all year against a tough slate and should reach Tampa with ease. Notre Dame (yes, the one that UNC beat) has willed itself through the nation’s toughest schedule and will be ready come tourney time.

Good luck betting against UConn to make the final weekend, and give me Oregon to crash the party of usual suspects. Once a Duck, always a Duck.

Follow C. Jackson Cowart on Twitter and read his stories at the BetChicago website.

Student guest post: the NBA’s headline surplus problem

Students in MEJO 557, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this site this semester. This is the seventh of those posts. Jack Gallop is a UNC-Chapel Hill senior from Wilmington, North Carolina. After graduation, he plans to start a career in comedy and screenwriting. Gallop also plans to become better at writing third-person descriptions of himself.

It’s all too rare in the world of the NBA that the main headline, or talking point for hoops fans, is something that transpired on the court. In today’s NBA, the headlines are riddled with trade requests, locker room issues or players’ dads telling the media which teams they want their son to play for — and I’m not just talking about the infamous LaVar Ball.

Another dad recently drew some buzz after revealing a team he doesn’t want his son to play for. If you’re a sports fan or live anywhere within 100 miles of New Orleans, you’ve heard the ridiculous amount of coverage on Anthony Davis’ trade request from the New Orleans Pelicans. It has reached new heights of ridicule.

Anthony Davis Sr., Davis’ father, revealed in the wake of his son’s trade speculation that he does not want his son to play for the Boston Celtics. His reasoning was because of the Celtics’ cold-hearted treatment of former franchise player Isaiah Thomas.

LaVar Ball, the outspoken father of the Los Angeles Lakers’ Lonzo Ball, has made countless headlines ranging from his criticisms of the Lakers coaches to his support (or lack thereof) for which team his son should be suit up for.

Journalism aside, why are grown men (Davis, 25, and Ball, 21) allowing their dads to affect their professional lives? I certainly respect my dad’s opinion, but I’d have to intervene if he began to publicly diminish my professors or say I should transfer to another university. Thanks for staying in your lane, Dad.

Does the NBA have too much news?

All jokes aside, the on-court NBA product is as entertaining as ever. It’s high-quality, fun-to-watch basketball, with statistical storylines being produced night in and night out. However, the on-court phenomenons become secondary to the reporting of aforementioned things such as trade requests or locker room issues.

The NBA has been wildly successful in their mission to make the league star-driven. But has the news coverage now confused these players, who are basketball stars, with celebrities?

In journalism, it’s easy to forget the initial reason for reporting. For example, the reason that Anthony Davis’ father’s comments are a story roots from Anthony Davis being a transcendent basketball player. The idea of that seems so far in the rear-view because the tremendous amount of news flow regarding players’ trade demands, trade scenarios, superstars teaming up and more.

The solution is up to the editors. Editors must adjust their news judgment so that one individual (see Anthony Davis) is not dominating headlines; rather, headlines involve statistical stories — which there is no shortage of. This may include James Harden’s scoring tear or the Lakers’ percentage chance to make the playoffs.

Enough is enough with the trade speculation. Commissioner of the NBA Adam Silver came up with a solution to reduce trade news, and this was for players and front office’s to handle trade requests behind closed doors. Once again, Silver gets it right.

One thing is certain: The NBA is fortunate that its popularity has caused a surplus of news stories each and every day during its regular season.

Is too much news possible?

This leads me to the big-picture journalistic question: is there such thing as a surplus of news? Is it important that the public know Anthony Davis’ dad doesn’t want him to play for the Celtics? Perhaps it isn’t a question of ‘is there too much news?’ but a question of ‘if people care, is it automatically news?’

The answer to the question is no — meaning I’ll just have to deal with the NBA’s ridiculous amount of trade news and headlines.

There is no such thing as too much, or too little, news. How much news transpires in a certain amount of time is uncontrollable. If there were a shooting every day in America for a week straight, each day would have to be riddled with large amounts of news. On a lighter note, the same applies to the NBA and its drama. If Anthony Davis requests a trade, his father makes a comment and he gets into a fistfight with a teammate in the locker room, (the latter being fictional), then all of that must be reported.

Strong news judgment recognizes that those stories about Davis should be considered newsworthy because they affect people; this may include season-ticket holders, fans, or even team-affiliated businesses — perhaps all with financial implications. If there is information in the world affecting people, it must be reported. So, all in all, I’ll have to suck it up through coverage of superstar athletes’ ongoing off-court drama.

Student guest post: Is sports reporting turning into tabloid journalism?

Students in MEJO 457, Advanced Editing, are writing guest posts for this blog this semester. This is the second of those posts. Travis Butler is a senior from Wilmington, North Carolina, who is majoring in journalism. He is an avid sports fan that hopes to have a career in sports writing and he can line-for-line quote most Will Ferrell movies. 

As an avid sports fan, I think I’ve finally had it with the TMZ-style reporting continuously used by ESPN and Bleacher Report. It’s almost as if sports media entities have begun to focus exclusively on whatever can get the most clicks, the most views or the most social media presence.

Obviously, ratings are absolutely crucial for sports networks, and gaining as many viewers as possible is key. However, both ESPN and Bleacher Report have become notorious for reporting on pointless behind-the-scenes drama to garner more clicks and more buzz on social media.

Quality reporting on the actual sporting event has dramatically decreased. Whenever I scroll through social media, I see articles and videos about the game itself, but it’s largely sports clickbait on my newsfeed.

I think online editors need to do a better job of vetting what gets posted and what doesn’t. I don’t want to know about players interacting on Twitter, getting in trouble with their spouses on Snapchat or criticizing one another on Instagram.

Most of my friends feel the same way. We want to know about how many points someone scored, if the game was well-coached and if the officiating was up to par. Legit sports fans want the details about things that actually affect the game.

Here are the headlines for two recent ESPN articles:

While these are not as bad as a lot that I’ve seen, they’re still TMZ-type articles. The former is about two NBA players getting into a Twitter argument. The latter is about Tom Brady’s father’s opinion of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

Real sports fans care about neither. I don’t care that two solid players are arguing via social media. And I certainly don’t care what a quarterback’s dad has to say about anything.

ESPN just knows that people will click on drama or anything related to Deflategate.

Here are the headlines for two recent Bleacher Report articles:

Again, no one cares about a whiny football player defending another whiny player from the “unfair media.” Okay, maybe that is interesting but it’s still a drama story and not a sports one.

And personally, I believe that locker room drama like what is going on with the Bulls should be kept in-house. It should not be reported on as heavily as it is these days because it’s all just speculation.

Digital sports editors need to be better. They need to stop succumbing to tabloid journalism and clickbait and focus on the things that matter: the sports themselves.

I shouldn’t scroll down Facebook and see my newsfeed flooded with articles that, at first glance, look like they were written by TMZ reporters. Sports reporters need to go back to the basics:

  • Actually asking athletes about the game and their team.
  • Not spreading locker room rumors and drama.
  • Appealing to their core audience (actual fans) and not a broad social media audience.

Q&A with Grace Raynor, sportswriter at the Post and Courier

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The front page of the Post and Courier the day after Clemson won the national championship on a last-second touchdown.

Grace Raynor is a sportswriter at the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina. She is a 2015 graduate of the journalism school at UNC-Chapel Hill, and she was sports editor at The Daily Tar Heel during her time in college. In this interview, conducted by email, Raynor discusses sports journalism, her experience covering a national championship football game and her use of social media as part of her job.

Q. Describe your job at the Post and Courier. What is your typical day like?

A. I joined the Post and Courier’s sports staff in March as a general assignment reporter. What’s cool about being a GA sports reporter is that every day is different. There would be some days I’d cover high school football, others I’d cover minor league baseball and even some when I’d head out to the water and write sailing articles.

My favorite part about being GA is the ability to write the off-the-wall stuff. Once I wrote about a 70-year old pole vaulter, and another time I wrote about a couple that are judo partners together. My role is helping out in any capacity with the day-to-day stuff and then finding stories or enterprise on my own that I find interesting and want to tackle.

This week is a little unconventional in that I’m actually about to take on a new role at the P&C as our Clemson beat writer, meaning I’ll be making the move to the Upstate soon. In that capacity I’ll cover Clemson football, men’s basketball and baseball for the P&C — so the day-to-day grind is about to change!

Q. You recently covered Clemson’s victory in the college football playoff. What was it like to cover the championship game?

A. Covering the national championship game was unlike any experience I’ve ever had before, both journalistically and personally.

From a journalistic standpoint, it was the ultimate adrenaline rush: It was an 8:17 p.m. kickoff; for print deadline purposes, my first story was due 15 minutes after the game ended, and then the game came down the literal last second. It was stressful at times when I had to adjust so quickly after that last touchdown, but also such a rush that it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Personally, it’s always been on my sports reporter bucket list to cover a national championship game. The way that one ended couldn’t have been more exciting.

Q. You’re active on Twitter. How does social media help or hinder your work?

A. Twitter is such a great tool to reach a large audience of people who are all interested in a common thing. With Clemson fans, Twitter is one of the first places they go to to get in-game information or postgame reactions, and so in that regard it’s very efficient and engaging. If there’s a quote or detail I want to get out there before my story is published, Twitter is the best way to do that.

I do think it can be a bit of a hindrance sometimes, though. I am guilty of sometimes spending so much time tweeting a postgame press conference or a locker room scene that I miss out on body language or eye contact or those little details that we miss when we’re on our phones. It’s definitely a give-and-take balance that I’m still learning.

Q. Covering college sports is challenging and rewarding. What advice do you have for students who are considering sportswriting as a career?

A. You’re so right in that regard that it’s both challenging and rewarding. I’m still learning myself the ins and outs of the sports journalism world, but my advice is this: Be patient.

After I graduated from UNC, I had an internship that lasted until October and then didn’t find a full-time job I liked until March. It took me almost six full months to land on my feet, and that’s OK!

Now, I’m so glad I waited on taking a job I knew I would be really passionate about, rather than just taking the first thing that was thrown my way. In those five months I continued to freelance so I had an income (definitely not advising not working here!) and then things fell into place.

I realize it’s annoying when people tell recent graduates that things will work out as they should. I used to hate hearing that. But it’s true. Stay patient, write things you’re passionate about and surround yourself with people who care about you. When it works out, it’s awesome.

Update: In February 2019, Raynor announced that she has taken a position at The Athletic, where she will continue to cover Clemson sports.

Q&A with Mike Sundheim, vice president of communications for the Carolina Hurricanes

canes-raleigh
The front page of The News & Observer from June 2006 when the Carolina Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup.

Mike Sundheim is vice president for communications and team services for the Carolina Hurricanes of the NHL. In this interview, conducted by email, he discusses his job, social media and the team’s outlook for the 2016-17 season.

Q. Describe your job. What is your typical day like?

A. One of the best sports books out there is Ken Dryden’s “The Game,” and one of my favorite parts is when he describes the rhythm of the season. Essentially, days of the week are irrelevant, and our lives are dictated by whether it is a game day or a practice day and whether we are home or on the road.

On a home game day, I arrive at work around 7:45 a.m. and leave about an hour after the game ends. During that time, I am responsible for media access after a morning practice, two hours prior to the game and five minutes after the game, as well as rights-holder interviews throughout the game.

Beyond handling media access, there’s plenty to do at my desk, from writing news releases or letters for executives to fielding media calls, monitoring social media and working with all of the other departments in the company regarding communication needs. A few years back I also took on team services, which includes handling hotels and bus companies for team travel as well as meeting the everyday personal and scheduling needs of the players and coaching staff.

I split the travel with my co-worker, Kyle Hanlin, so my quietest days in-season are typically when he is with the team on the road and I am home. But even those days can fill up quickly, taking care of everything I didn’t have time to deal with when the team was around.

Q. What role does social media play in your work?

A. When people ask what the biggest change to my job has been since I started, social media is a clear number one. Look at it this way, when I came on full-time in 2000, Mark Zuckerberg was a 16-year-old high school student. There was no social media, and the news cycle was much more structured.

Because of social media, everything is immediate. That affects how and when we send news releases, the ways in which major news is delivered and, more than anything else, our ability to turn off our work brains. I can be sitting at home playing with my kids at 8 p.m. and start getting texts about something a player tweeted or an impending personnel move. This job has always had a bit of an always-on-call element to it, but social media has significantly intensified that.

Q. During your time with the Hurricanes, the team has been to the Stanley Cup finals twice, winning in 2006. But Carolina has missed the playoffs the past several years. How do the ups and downs of sports affect what you do?

A. There is no doubt wins and losses affect those of us who work in sports, from general office morale to our company’s bottom line. When we won the Stanley Cup, we were playing in front of standing-room-only crowds, and I could hardly keep up with the flow of media requests for our players.

After seven consecutive non-playoff seasons, we have understandably smaller crowds and I spend more time pitching stories than fielding requests. Our major local newspaper didn’t travel a beat writer on the road last season.

When you’re winning, you can’t wait to get to the office, and when you’re losing, it is much more of a grind. The positive for us is that we feel like we are very close to turning a corner on the ice, and we are already seeing some positive business momentum based on that optimism.

Q. What advice do you have for students considering careers in sports communication?

A. Your classes are important, and there are plenty of things I learned at UNC that help me every day in my job. But I would not be where I am had I just gone to class, graduated with straight A’s and started looking for a job.I spent two and a half years at The Daily Tar Heel, which helped me in many ways including the development of my writing and my understanding of deadline pressure.

I then spent my junior and senior years working for the Hurricanes as an intern and UNC’s sports information department as a student assistant. It was in those positions that I learned how to actually do my job and gained the connections and experience to land full-time work after school.

The last time we had an open position — a part-time, hourly job that only paid about $15,000 for the season — we had more than 300 applicants in a few days before we closed it off. I wrote about the experience on my blog for our website, and pretty much everything I said in there still stands. I eliminated 75 percent of the resumes instantly because they had no sports experience.

Also, a lot of people hear “sports PR” or “sports publicity” and picture all of the glamorous aspects of traveling with a team and working with media. But most entry-level sports communications positions are heavily based in writing, working with statistics and preparing game notes. If you don’t love writing or you can’t truly geek out on sports stats, this isn’t the right career path for you.

Q. Let’s look ahead. How do the Hurricanes look going into the 2016-17 season?

A. This is the most excited I’ve felt about the future of our team in a long time. Ron Francis has done a phenomenal job of staying patient and rebuilding the right way — collecting prospects and draft picks and building from the defense forward.

Our defense last season included four players who were 23 years old or younger, including Noah Hanifin, who was just 18. The ages of our top seven scorers were 23, 27, 23, 21, 23, 24 and 25. And we have 10 picks in this year’s draft – seven of which are in the first three rounds. That gives us a ton of flexibility to either continue to collect prospects, or wheel some of those picks for players who can immediately jump into our lineup.

The idea isn’t just to compete for a year or two and then suffer another playoff drought. It’s to build an organization that is a factor in the playoffs every single year. That’s exactly what Ron is doing.

Students interested in internships with the Carolina Hurricanes can contact Sundheim via this page.

Q&A with Brooke Pryor, sports reporter at North State Journal

Brooke Pryor is a sportswriter at North State Journal, a new newspaper covering the state of North Carolina. A graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, Pryor previously worked at The Herald-Sun in Durham. In this interview, conducted by email, Pryor discusses her job, describes how editing and headline writing work at the NSJ, and offers advice to college students looking to go into sports journalism.

Q. Describe your job at North State Journal. What is your typical workweek like?

A. The best/worst thing about working for a newspaper, and a startup newspaper no less, is that there’s no pattern to my workweek. Most of the time I love variety in my job, but it can also be a little draining to be on call all the time.

My schedule at least starts the same every week when I send in a story budget to my editor Monday morning. He’ll usually shoot back an email green-lighting the good stuff and tells me to scrap anything else.

Then I get to work reporting on all the different stories. As I write this, I’m sitting in the Durham Bulls Athletic Park procrastinating on a story about Rays top prospect Blake Snell. I just finished talking to him, so I want to transcribe the interview and then start writing or at least formulate a lede and an angle.

Right now, the NSJ is a weekly paper, and our hard deadline to submit the pages to the printer is Friday at 6 p.m. Recently, I’ve been flooding the copy editors with stories Friday morning, but I can pretty much file throughout the week up until about noon on Friday.

During the weekends, at least in the spring, I’m usually at baseball games or other events, gathering more material for feature stories. With the weekly print schedule, I have to focus on the long game and spend most of my time working on long-term evergreen stories and personality profiles.

Q. How does editing and headline writing work at the NSJ?

A. Great question — and one that I didn’t know until I went to the office last week. Like pretty much any newspaper, the process to produce a (mostly) error-free paper is a long one.

When I finish a story, I send it to my sports editor, who copy-fits it for print and edits for content, length, accuracy, etc. Then, it gets placed on a page, and when the rest of the stories for the page are placed and copy-fit by our wonderful designer Cece Pascual (UNC and Daily Tar Heel alum, woo!), they are printed out and passed out among the staff gathered in the office.

We circulate the pages for three reads before the section editor goes back to Cece and shows her all of the necessary changes. Then the page is printed out one more time and goes through three more reads before the final edits are made and the page is sent to the printer.

Headline writing is a group effort and usually involves a bunch of people yelling ideas at a computer screen. It’s just as chaotic and riveting as it sounds.

Q. You previously worked at the Herald-Sun. What has it been like to move from an established publication like that to a startup?

A. A lot of my day-to-day work stuff has been the same, but I do get a lot of questions about what the NSJ is or who’s paying for it. Spoiler, in case you thought I would have an answer to the latter: I have no idea. There’s a bunch of rumors floating around, but I don’t pay attention to them because I’m grateful for the opportunity and I love working in such a creative environment.

Because we’re not established, we run into some administrative or copy flow issues that are second-nature at established papers. So we’re in the phase of figuring out the details that make newspapers work, like how to submit photo requests, who should what and when, etc.

One thing I’m interested to see is how much access I’ll get to different events when the college football season starts up. When I was working for an established newspaper, I got plenty of access and interviews and was never denied a credential. But that could change now that I’m working for a brand new paper. Luckily, since I’ve been around UNC/Triangle sports since my freshman year at UNC, I’ve made a lot of connections, and I hope that those will keep me in the loop around here.

Q. Many journalism students have an interest in sports. What advice do you have for those seeking a career in sports journalism?

A. I think the biggest and most helpful thing I’ve learned as a writer is to not be afraid to try something new.

If you’ve only ever watched and written about football and basketball, try covering women’s lacrosse or field hockey. Sports journalism is more than just covering the revenue stuff, and you’ll find that there are plenty, if not more, interesting storylines in the less mainstream stuff. You might not understand what’s going on, but challenge yourself to find a story in an unfamiliar environment. It’ll make you a stronger reporter and adding a variety of sports to your background will come in handy when you’re looking for jobs.

You’ll probably have to cover a lot of random stuff in your career and the more experience you have going into unfamiliar territory, the better. Talk to everyone you can at those events and look for the human angle. People love reading about other people, so even if you don’t understand all the logistics of the game or event you’ve just covered, you can find an interesting story just by asking questions and tapping into human emotion.

Follow Brooke Pryor on Twitter and read some of her stories on her website.

UPDATE: In August 2016, Pryor announced that she had accepted a job covering college football for The Oklahoman.