CRAWFORD | Back from vacation with a recheck of sports writing fundamentals
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Coaches love to return to fundamentals. Give them a week-long break without a basketball game or a couple of weeks off for a bye in football and they go right back to the basics. It’s a good practice for the rest of us.
I don’t take many vacations. When I do, I try to do a quick review of things before I come back. This time, it’s made easier because I ran across a document I found in Rick Bozich’s Courier-Journal office while we were packing our bags just over three years ago. He had decades of accumulated stuff. I only had six or seven years. Occasionally he’d waffle on whether to toss something and I’d grab it. One thing he gave me was a typewritten list of sports writing suggestions handed out by former Courier-Journal sports editor Dave Kindred.
Now, Kindred is a guy I have always admired. I wrote to him once that not a week went by at the newspaper when I didn’t think of him, because hardly a week went by when some angry reader would write, “You’re no Kindred.” I always promptly replied, “On that, we can agree.” He continues to write for Golf Digest and various other ventures, while living in Southern Illinois and covering the local girls' high school basketball team, among other things, for the love of it.
These tips that I found were written for newspaper sports reporters, but they’re good advice for anyone looking to advance in the field of journalism. Thankfully, he updated this list several years back with even more “Do’s and Don’ts.” There wasn’t much need to advise, “Do not let your press-box neighbor even think of setting a freakin’ Coke next to your laptop” in the mid 1970s, when the original tips were produced. That updated list, from 2009, is published here.
A little while later, he put out even more in a list here. Of course, the original list is printed in the pictures to the right. Click on them for larger versions.
These three collections, if read and committed to memory, ought to be worth at least three credit hours in any journalism school in the country.
Among other things, I’m amazed at how the business changed, in reading these three lists. One deals openly with engaging readers on social media, studying story comments (I almost never do) and never trusting spell-check (I absolutely never do).
In the original, the best advice is up top. I’d recommend it to anyone writing for the web or print.
“Tell the story. Write it as you’d tell it to somebody.”
Bob Greene, former columnist for the Chicago Tribune, said that he remembered his newspaper colleagues showing up at the bar after work to tell everyone about this great story they’d written. His goal was to write as if he were telling it to the people at the bar. In my experience, there's no point in getting too flowery. I take the writing seriously, but try to keep the brush strokes small and subtle if I can.
Another. “Ask yourself, ‘What makes this event different?’ Then answer the question in your story. At a Western Kentucky football game this year, a Nashville stripper showed up on the sidelines. Forget the game. Get her name, her measurements and her thoughts on Pete Rozelle.”
Or this: “Let’s treat sports as the pursuit of excellence, and let’s acknowledge that an athlete can pursue excellence -- and yet fail. That is no crime; it is a nice thing. Losers are people too.”
Amid the updated pieces of advice he gave, several I’d like to repeat.
“Remember, the 1,317th interview of your career may be the first for a young athlete. Treat him like a champ.”
Then there’s this one, which has changed a bit since I’ve gotten into the television business, but still represents my journalistic instinct: “No need to prove you’re the smartest guy in the room by asking the best questions at a press conference. That generally proves you’re the most foolish because you’re giving the competition a road map to your story. Stop the coach or the star later in the hallway, or just talk to everyone else. Write-arounds are great because the subject’s quotes don’t get in the writer’s way.”
I guess that’s enough. Thanks Mr. Kindred. I think I’m ready to get back into the game.
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