Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘sports’

The Undefeated

In Online media on May 19, 2016 at 3:19 pm

Screen Shot 2016-05-19 at 3.04.04 PM

Have you seen this yet? To my mind, it’s not getting nearly enough attention.

I don’t know quite how to describe it, yet I know what it is. That’s because it’s so sure of itself, even in these first fledgling days. It’s an ESPN product and reads as if ESPN were published in gritty New Haven, Conn., rather than bucolic Bristol, Conn.

Editor Kevin Merida explains that his site is an unabashedly Afro-centric corner of the web. That’s not what interests me most, though lord knows we could use more diversity in American news sites. What interests me is the way Merida makes a daring promise:

At The Undefeated, every day will feature a surprise. Every day, some joy. And no day without swagger. We want The Undefeated to feel urgent, necessary, not dutiful.

Amen. He and his team have already given us poetry, rap, long-form journalism, video presentations and insights into sports and culture that you can’t find anywhere else. (One example of that different angle: While the rest of the sports reporting world is marveling at LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and their own undefeated run through the playoffs, The Undefeated is writing about James’ promise of education for many at-risk kids back in his native Akron, Ohio.)

I’m already hooked on The Undefeated. If you like it too, think about why you do. Is it because it’s providing a unique value proposition? Is it vital? Is it overflowing with quality and surprise? What can we take from that example? … Read the rest of this entry »

Kobe speaks!

In Online media on December 3, 2015 at 2:54 pm

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 1.30.29 PM

This week, Kobe Bryant announced his retirement from basketball. He’s 78 years old and has been playing in the NBA for 74 years. OK, it feels that way to me.

Kobe didn’t hold a press conference. No ink-stained wretch broke the news. He did it on his own terms in the form of a free-form verse posted to something called The Players Tribune. Here it is.

Robert Frost, he is not.

I may have already mentioned The Tribune. It is apparently the brainchild of former New York Yankee great Derek Jeter. (Although I’m a bit skeptical, quite frankly. Others on the payroll are former ESPN The Magazine, SI and sports marketing firms. It’s that last group that makes you wonder a bit about the point of the exercise generally. Is it an elegant information platform from which athletes can muse on their own terms, or an opportunity to control the message and present professional athletes in the best, most financially astute, light? Or both? In fact, Bryant himself is a major investor in the site, further muddying the integrity of the site as a news source.)

“It’s a trusted place, a place where (athletes) can speak freely and not have to worry about how their words are twisted and turned,” Jeter told the Hollywood Reporter.

Hey, wait a minute. Isn’t twisting and turning the words of those beleaguered and misunderstood ballplayers our job?! What Jeter leaves out is that paid guns take those stories from athletes’ sometimes less-than eloquent mouths and turn them into the kind of polished writing you see on that site. Don’t be fooled. David Ortiz does not write like John Cheever.

The Players Tribune is the continuation of a trend and perhaps the height of the art form at the moment. Athletes, politicians, celebrities, business titans – everyone who has our interest is increasingly interested in controlling the message. And today’s technology gives them the means of production. Obviously, Bryant and Jeter are no longer victims of our printing press. They can be publishing barons too. … Read the rest of this entry »

A wider definition of sports

In sports on November 20, 2015 at 9:00 am
Half Moon Bay High School's Anthony DeMartini turning on the jets. Photo: Tim Miller

Half Moon Bay High School’s Anthony DeMartini turning on the jets. Photo: Tim Miller

Hey, here’s a battle I’ve fought before: Can we expand the kinds of things we print in our sports sections?

This week I had the distinct pleasure of being part of Wick’s Budget Review Team. As each publisher would begin to discuss the 2016 budget, I made it a point to leaf through a couple editions of the newspaper in question. I saw an awful lot of thoughtful hard work. To restate the cliché, your newspaper is a daily (or weekly) miracle.

One thing I noticed again and again (including in my own Half Moon Bay Review) is what I consider an over-reliance on high school sports. I would say 90 percent or more of our locally generated sports coverage concerns high school sports and the great majority of those stories are gamers rather than features that illuminate the humanity of players, coaches and fans.

Why is that? When did we get the stone tablet decreeing that community newspapers shall cover high school games to the exclusion of all else?

You know the problem already. If you don’t have some tie to the school or team, you are turning the page. It is a rare sports fan who cares about a high school water polo game unless her teenager is in the pool. … Read the rest of this entry »

Women deserve better

In sports on October 1, 2015 at 12:39 pm

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 4.49.35 PM

Former attorney and current Sports Illustrated columnist Julie DiCaro wrote an extraordinary piece this week that begs some discussion. I’m about to link to it, but be aware, the post is the most profane, sexist, in some ways plain terrifying thing I’ve ever seen in a mainstream media post. And none of it is her fault.

OK, here it is.

As you can see, DiCaro has been the subject of incredible harassment. I would say it’s unbelievable, except, sadly, I believe it. I was a sportswriter covering national events 20 years ago. Way back then I witnessed vile, disgusting treatment of women in and around the game. Just one that I will never forget: I saw a back-up quarterback in the NFL offer one of his lesser appendages to a female sports reporter as a coat rack. Big laughs all around. And that was just for starters. There were fewer women in the field back then, but I have always admired their ability to ignore the distractions and do their jobs amid downright threatening behavior from grown men.

I would like to think things have changed, but social media seems to have pushed us back into the Paleolithic era. As DiCaro notes, the perceived anonymity of Twitter particularly and even our own comment platform seems to embolden cretins who are threatened by intelligent women with the temerity to speak about sports.

From the piece, here is Jemele Hill, who is half of he popular His and Hers show on ESPN: … Read the rest of this entry »

Sports is life

In sports on April 24, 2014 at 4:45 pm

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 5.08.48 PM

This week, in The Times Insider, New York Times sports editor Jason Stallman takes us behind the scenes and tells us why the best sports stories are not really about sports. (Incidentally, The Times Insider is a premium New York Times product that costs a little extra but delivers wonderful insight into the inner thoughts of some of the nation’s best journalists. This week it includes Opinion Page editor Juliet Lapidos demystifying the editorial pages and Trip Gabriel talking about how he attempted to penetrate what he considered a closed society to report on food stamps in Appalachia. Really interesting.)

Stallman says: “We start from a simple place. We want smart stories, deeply reported and well told. I know, I know, I just dazzled you with innovative thinking. Sorry it’s not more profound.”

But it is more than that. As he correctly notes, the best sports stories are only partly about sports. A story on a girl overcoming a knee injury incurred on a high school basketball court is really about the resilience of the human spirit. It may touch on gender politics, medical insurance and technology, and even family dynamics. I have always said that the score is the least interesting part of the game. Stallman and his crew are after the universal and the human stories that sometimes play out in a sports context. … Read the rest of this entry »

Make sports your toy department

In Ideas on April 11, 2014 at 8:52 am
What if you gave everyone on the high school baseball team your camera so they could take a selfie? What could you do with those photos?

What if you gave everyone on the high school baseball team your camera so they could take a selfie? What could you do with those photos?

I was interested to see what came out of a confab of sports reporters and editors at a New York meeting of the Online News Association. If this roundup is any indication, I’m a little disappointed.

Participants in the panel included folks from the New York Times, SB Nation and other digital concerns. They discussed the magnificent Snow Fall production that should win a Pulitzer, Oscar and a Tony award. It’s that cool. It’s also that far from something we can do by ourselves at the moment. It’s important to think big, but it’s also important to think doable.

The gathering did produce some important, small things, that we can all do. One of them is a reminder to read your edited product. Ask editors why they made the changes they made. Learn from the experience. They suggest we engage readers and not talk down to commenters. Those are good points.

When I worked in sports, we openly acknowledged that it was the toy department of the newspaper. No one ever died at a volleyball game I covered. Your tax bill didn’t hang in the balance of that Friday night football tilt. Sports are meant to be fun so we should have fun with our sports coverage and experiment a little. Here are some ideas: … Read the rest of this entry »

Do clothes make the woman?

In Ethics on July 11, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Screen Shot 2013-07-09 at 12.21.00 PM

This week, there was a minor media kerfuffle over the way Cade Mertz opened her profile of Google engineer Melody Meckfessel. Mertz began by telling readers what the engineer wears.

How do we feel about that? More to the point: Would that have been the opener if the subject had been male? I doubt it.

Take Hillary Clinton or Michelle Obama. You read about the pant suits or the bangs or some aspect of the way these women look far more often than you read about the appearance of their famous husbands. The same is true of athletes, celebrities — you name it.

I can think of one good – or understandable – reason for that. Men in business all dress the same, more or less. If the uniform on Wall Street is suit and power tie, the uniform in Silicon Valley is jeans and a hoodie. Men are conformists when it comes to wardrobe, and if they are not that seems fair game for your next profile. If President Barack Obama greets a head of state in a suit, it doesn’t merit mention. If he shows up in cargo shorts and a T-shirt, it’s the lede.

Women just seem to have more choices with respect to the clothes they wear, hence the temptation to make something out of the choices they make. We’re all looking for telling detail; sometimes the clothes make the man and the woman and when they do, they deserve a spot in your story. … Read the rest of this entry »

Expanding sports coverage

In sports on February 7, 2013 at 3:58 pm
On the day baseball Hall of Fame voters passed up this year's class, the New York Times sports front went blank too.

On the day baseball Hall of Fame voters passed up this year’s class, the New York Times sports front went blank too.

What is a sports story? Does the story of a basketball player’s tattoos count? How about an expose on head injuries caused by sport? If you were a sports reporter, would you even pitch a story about an avalanche?

Recently, we learned that Joe Sexton was leaving his post as sports editor of the New York Times for a spot with the online journalism outfit, ProPublica. I admit his name didn’t mean much to me, but I sure was aware of his work, work that included championing the stories mentioned above and many more like them.

Because editors commonly toil in the background, most of what I know about Sexton comes from this short profile by New York magazine’s Joe Hagan. I wanted to nod my head off as I read the piece.  “Do @#$#^ you’re not supposed to do,” Sexton told Hagen. And this gem: “The ways to have impact are to produce exclusive news, write memorable stories, and evince a sense of daring and fun,” says Sexton. “And if that formula fails, then we’re all in #$@#ing trouble.”

Those, my friends, are words to live by.

The Times sports section truly sees the forest for the trees. Sexton and his charges realize readers can find out who won the game in a million places. The Times unique value proposition, under Sexton, is to deliver something else: context, awe, curiosity … grandeur.

Want to see something inspiring? Take a look at “Snow Fall.” It may be the most audacious “sports” story ever written. It took forever to produce and a million man and woman hours. You decide for yourself whether it was worth it. You can be remembered for a thousand game stories or you can be remembered for your epic. … Read the rest of this entry »

Questioning Te’o’s questioners

In journalism on January 25, 2013 at 9:26 am

Picture 3

What is your takeaway on the strange turn in the story of Manti Te’o?

Many of you know him as the star linebacker and Heisman Trophy finalist for Notre Dame’s football team. He was one of the most publicized college athletes of the last year. The oft-told story of his success on the gridiron in the wake of tragedy was an inspiration.

Until we learned that part of that inspirational story was lie, or a misunderstanding … or something.

Last week we learned that his girlfriend, a young woman whom we had been told had died of leukemia, was a fictional character created by another man. At this writing, many fans are wondering whether the linebacker had been duped in an elaborate and cruel hoax or whether he was part of the ruse to win hearts during his run-up to the Heisman voting.

Neither of which are the right questions in my mind.

As a newspaper editor, I’m wondering why someone didn’t question the relationship earlier.

Take, for instance, the media in the San Francisco Bay Area. Te’o’s girlfriend was supposedly a Stanford graduate he had met after a game there. When televised reports noted her death, why didn’t the San Francisco Chronicle or even the Stanford Daily look into the tragedy as a localized story?

In South Bend, Ind., where Notre Dame football is second only to god, where were the enterprising reporters who might have thought it odd that Te’o never visited the love of his life as she lay dying in the hospital? … Read the rest of this entry »

View from the bleachers

In Online media on October 5, 2012 at 7:31 am

If you are a sports fan, you have probably stumbled onto The Bleacher Report. What you think of it is a matter of taste and the time you have to waste. It’s content is largely inane, mostly slideshows with eye-catching titles like “The NFL’s Most Marketable Players” and “25 Wardrobe Malfunctions in Sports.”

But there is no denying that The Bleacher Report attracts eyeballs. It is considered the third-most widely read sports site on the Internet. It achieves lofty numbers (including a reported 1.4 million views for a “story” called, “The 20 Most Boobtastic Athletes of All Time.”) There are an estimated 2,000 contributors churning out 800 posts a day and the site earns upward of $40 million a year from advertising.

All that comes from a very interesting story by Joe Eskenazi in SFWeekly. Eskenazi provides a primer in how the brains behind the Bleacher turn crap into cash. Make no mistake: it’s a sophisticated operation – and there may be some lessons in there for real journalists.

At the heart of things is a lot of thought given to search-engine optimization, or SEO. Producers know what will land stories high on Google and exploit those terms in headlines. While B/R uses SEO for rather crass purposes, there is no reason the rest of us can’t employ it for good. SEO is an art unto itself and I don’t pretend to understand it well. Google makes the rules and they change. But in the years to come, finding your way to the top of search engines – and creating a viral swirl on social networks – will be increasingly important for honest-to-goodness news outlets. … Read the rest of this entry »