Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘sports’

The future of sports coverage

In sports on 26 Oct 2017 at 2:49 pm

In a recent New York Times piece, Alex Mather and Adam Hansmann left no doubt what they are seeking to accomplish at The Athletic. They want to stomp living hell out of newspaper sports sections.

I say, good on them. Best wishes.

My earliest memories of a newspaper revolve around reading Jim Murray columns in the Los Angeles Times. In the early 1990s, I waited impatiently for Tuesday’s USA Today, throwing away all but the sports section so I could focus on the week’s baseball stats and my fantasy team. That was about the time, I made my living writing sports for newspapers. Tonight, I will gladly cover a high school football game. Sports are never far from my heart.

Ideally, I would prefer the local newspapers cover sports the way they once did. Failing that, competition is good and coverage even better. And it’s great to see someone paying talented sports writers what they deserve for being the local experts on what is often the most interesting part of the town.

Two other thoughts about The Athletic and the threat it represents. It’s one thing to make a bet with other people’s money that you can attract enough paid subscribers in Toronto. It’s something else entirely to do so in Benson, Ariz. I don’t see even a hint that The Athletic envisions taking over the kind of granular coverage that is our bread and butter. … Read the rest of this entry »


Quality for subscribers

In journalism on 27 Jul 2017 at 2:07 pm

If you are looking for encouragement in the 2017 media landscape, look no further than the subscriber model. There is reason to believe, 20 years into our little internet experiment, that readers will pay for quality journalism.

Well, some will. What becomes of the rest of us remains to be seen.

The latest good news comes in the form of “The Athletic,” which must be the worst name for a journalistic enterprise in the last decade or so. It is the spawn of the Y Combinator. It is a Silicon Valley start-up engine that often leads to big funding for good projects. (Reddit, Wufoo and Airbnb are just a few of the companies that emerged from the incubator.)

The Athletic promises premium sports coverage for the discriminating sports fan… meaning someone with the means to pay for it. So far, it’s opened bureaus in Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and Toronto with more to come. The start-up enterprise has raised lots of money and is poaching some of the best sportswriters in the country to cover stuff. The sites are beautiful. The Athletic wants $39.99 a year for access. …

I have always thought the best model would be the free model. We reach as many people as possible with fine journalism and advertisers feel obliged to pay for those eyeballs. Such a model has the distinct advantage of being democratic. You want as many people as possible to have the benefit of your work.

I was slow to see the benefit of paywalls. I hate the idea that good information is only available to the privileged. Besides, stopping potential readers with a paywall invites them to search for other news outlets and that can reduce a brand that was once ubiquitous. … Read the rest of this entry »

‘A black overachiever’

In Uncategorized on 13 Jul 2017 at 2:18 pm

It is with great trepidation that I choose to write about writing about race. I understand this is a tinderbox topic and that it’s very easy to veer off the page and turn a critique of adjectives and nouns into accusations of racism and worse.

But I’m going to broach the topic anyway, because words matter.

Recently, I had occasion to write a Wick columnist — not an employee, mind you, but a contributor — who had referred to someone as “a black overachiever.” The term was meant as a compliment and the subject was a national public figure. I don’t think the writer intended anything mean-spirited by coupling those words, but it struck me wrong. So I wrote him a note, a bit of it reprinted here:

By any standard, XXXX is an achiever. He is a resounding voice respected by many for his intellect. But by modifying achievement with his “blackness” you A) create the impression that it’s somehow surprising that a black man could overachieve, B) suggest that he is only an overachiever when you consider his race, and C) overemphasize his race entirely. I’m guessing you would appreciate what he said regardless of his race.

To me the test is this: Would you ever write the words “white overachiever?” Would you say, for instance, that Bill Gates is a white overachiever?

To his credit, the columnist wrote me back and admitted that he makes that mistake from time to time. He took the criticism in the spirit that it was intended, even if he didn’t agree with me entirely.

Fair enough.

But he also defended the construction. He said he might refer to a “white overachiever,” for example, in professional sports, because he thinks black folks have a genetic predisposition toward athletics. Which is a whole ’nother topic, as they say. (Whatever the arguments there might be concerning physiology, you would have to take into consideration socio-economic factors, cultural mores, discrimination that precludes success in other avenues and myriad other considerations to have an intelligent conversation about that…) … Read the rest of this entry »

The seven-paragraph sports story

In sports on 13 Apr 2017 at 12:44 pm

Here’s another revelation from our regular editor conference calls: A template for sports stories.

Several of us were discussing how to report sports in the modern era. Most people who care about the games know the result from friends on social media or phone alerts before we get the story online or in print. The day of the regular sports gamer has pretty much come and gone.

Jonathan Clark at the Nogales International shared an ingenious invention that is essentially a sports game story format. It’s a recognition that these things can be pretty rote (in fact, there are now computer programs using machine learning to write high school gamers in the blink of an eye) and that some of us are using inexperienced sports reporters who didn’t grow up at the ballpark.

The format is really a seven-paragraph template designed to get a reporter in and out of the story in a matter of minutes. It could be really helpful when all you know about a game is what a coach tells you on the phone. Simply ask him questions that would fill in the format.

So here it is. It’s not gospel. There is no rule that a quote come in the third paragraph. You can change it. Move up the stuff about upcoming games or format that into a box. Just recognize that it’s a good idea, one that you might manipulate for city council meetings or anything that requires a novice to cover something for the first time. Read on to see the format: Read the rest of this entry »

The Undefeated

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

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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 3 Dec 2015 at 2:54 pm

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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 20 Nov 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 1 Oct 2015 at 12:39 pm

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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 24 Apr 2014 at 4:45 pm

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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 11 Apr 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 »