Sunday, December 28, 2008

2009 sports calendar

It's no big deal, but it might be a reasonably helpful tool for people wondering what's where and when in 2009.

AP Sports Calendar.

Friday, December 26, 2008

A provocative idea

Mark Cuban writes that perhaps it's time for professional sports to subsidize beat writers at newspapers so those papers aren't forced to cut back on coverage. I'm way oversimplifying a long blog post for brevity's sake, so check it out for yourself.

Predictably, a thread has sprung up on this topic, and there's a poster calling himself mcuban in there. From what I've read and been told, it certainly could be him.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Remembering Mike Kahn

I don't have a lot more in me than to post the thread about this terribly sad news. He was a really good man, a great father and an absolute pioneer in this business, although I don't think he'll ever be given enough credit for how big of a role he played in the development of Internet sports journalism.

He didn't tell that many people how sick he was -- or, more to the point according to John McGrath (see below), the word didn't spread that far outside the Pacific Northwest -- so this was a great shock. I can only wish the best for his family, and that he gets the credit for who he was.

Here's one remembrance.

Here's another.

Several people, including John Clayton and Bart Wright, on the Seahawks site.

By John McGrath.

By Ian Browne.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bill Conlin on sports writing

This one doesn't need much comment, I don't think. Mr. Conlin is generally pretty grumpy, but there's a pleasingly wistful tone to this piece about the state of sports writing.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Robert Jelenic dies at 58

There's a post on concerning his passing, and fairly enough, they have asked for respect with regard to his death from cancer. I won't comment here, either. Instead, I'll let Alan Mutter describe what the problem was with Journal Register Co. in this April blog post, which has plenty of links to other stories and an extraordinary comment thread at the end.

On the lighter side ...

Somebody mentioned Roy Blount Jr. on the message board thread concerning quotes. Here's an oldie-but-goodie that's one of my favorite pieces about sports writing, ever:

This piece appeared in the November 1976
Esquire, the first of a year or so's worth of sports columns I did for that magazine. As we used to say in Georgia, Best, Schmest; but I loved writing this piece because in it I broke out of family-magazine sportswriting into the world of available language.
Roy Blount, Jr.


How to Sportswrite Good

Esquire • November 1976

I read with pleasure nearly every form of sportswriting, from Tug McGraw's Scroogie comic strip to Ebony Fisherman, a black angling column in the New Pittsburgh Courier. Scroogie once showed a manager sitting in his dugout reflecting: "I can't believe it! It's too good to be true!! All I do is sit on my hands for nine innings and we plaster Pittsburgh nine-one!!! [Pause] Just think what we could do if I sat on my fists."

I scour the Sporting News for great passages, like this one from a story about an Oriole bat boy who had hooks instead of fingers: "He is going to major in mathematics. I could have told him that it's hard to become good in mathematics when you don't have any fingers to count on, and I'm sure he would have gotten a sincere laugh out of it." Sportswriting is like country music: It is sometimes very good, and sometimes when it is really bad it is even better. And it can be largely silly and genuinely worth something at the same time.

But I don't want to read any tomes about sports. That is what two recent books -- Sports in America, by James Michener, and The Joy of Sport, by Michael Novak—look like to me: tomes. Well, I would read a tome about some particular aspect of sports -- The Dribble in America or The Joy of Batting Orders. I would cherish a nice snappy treatment that knocked sports, in essence, right into the creek, as old SCLC campaigner Hosea Williams did incidentally on a recent BBC-TV special, when he criticized the city of Atlanta for allotting tax money to a golf course: "Damn some grass to knock a ball on when there are people in the streets robbing for food."

But I don't want to read anything in which somebody steps back and takes a long view of Sport as Something It is High Time We Faced Up to the Big Picture and Tiny Epiphanies of, or, Why We Like to Watch People Spring Through the Air and Land in a Heap. Hasn't everybody always down through the ages liked to watch people spring through the air and land in a heap? I'd rather read The Wit and Wisdom of Herman Hickman or Among the Brownies: The Ordeal of Ned Carver.

A while back, there was even a flurry of writing -- in Esquire, More, the Los Angeles Times and probably Playgirl and Presbyterian Life -- about sportswriting. Writing about sportswriting seemed an odd exercise, like going worm fishing to catch worms, but I enjoyed it when it didn't get too abstract. Sportswriters have interesting day-to-day problems. Consider Ted Colton, then of the Mckeesport, Pennsylvania, Daily News, being chased through the Three Rivers Stadium parking lot by a whole irate Steeler fan club, led by a man in a gorilla suit, for picking Cleveland to take the AFC Central. Or Pete Axthelm of Newsweek, stepping glumly into the Pittsburgh locker room after last year's Super Bowl, surveying the jubilance and saying, "I can't stand to look at a team that hasn't beaten the spread and thinks it's won."

I don't guess anyone is going to make a movie about an intrepid pair of sportswriters. In sports novels sportswriters are always wimps or drunks or sneaks or hacks, or all four. In life they are often abject straight men. A writer asked Alex Johnson, then with the Cincinnati Reds, "Alex, you hit only two homers all last year, and this season you already have seven. What's the difference?" And Alex answered, "Five." Once Bill Bradley's sole response to a reporter who asked him why the Knicks had fined him one hundred dollars was, "You have a stupid job."

But when Henry Aaron dumped strawberries on Frank Hyland of the Atlanta Journal for something Hyland wrote, Hyland got letters of support "from every redneck in the country. One even wanted me to run for President," Hyland told me one spring training, when I found myself talking with, at the same time, him and Pat Livingston of the Pittsburgh Press, whom Mean Joe Greene once spat on. For his part, Livingston said that a guy in a Pittsburgh bar who was dying of cancer anyway offered to shoot Greene for him, but Livingston said no.

I am trying to conceive of a big movie action scene in which sportswriters would be central. I mean one where the sportswriters wouldn't have spit, or strawberries all over them. Sportswriters can be good vigorous drinking arguers. "Stop calling me an asshole!" I remember one scribe yelling to another at the height of a group debate during dinner (paid for by the team we were covering) in a fancy San Francisco restaurant. "I'm on your side and you're calling me an asshole!"

In his new book, Michael Novak proposes that "newspaper and magazine writers, regaining their faith in words, should describe the contests on the field as if no one watched television. ... The human spirit needs words, needs the irony, the subtlety, and the bite of words, and above all the capacity of words to go beneath surfaces, their power to pull aside veils and uncover unsuspected dimensions of human striving. Many regions of athletic experience have scarcely been explored."

Right. But I wonder whether Novak has any real sense of the linguistic problems sportswriters are up against. When athletes speak most naturally about what they do, they tend to use graphic, anatomical language. "I'm gonna be right up in his noseholes," said Joe Frazier. "That pitch I threw, the muscle stay back, the bone keep going," Luis Tiant said, explaining how something snapped in his arm. Athletes can even slap a quick metaphor on you. The Redskins' Larry Brown, asked which runners he has modeled himself on, said: "I've watched Kelly. He was an out-of-sight runner. I can't have the moves that Kelly has. I can't create the moves that Sayers made. I have my own style. I want to be my own man. When I was a kid I used to watch Jimmy Brown and all I can say is if you got a loaded gun, you fire it."

Now you might say that such quotes are a boon to the sportswriter. (And don't you think Norman Mailer would have loved saying what Brown said, substituting Hemingway for Jimmy Brown?) The only trouble is this: How are you going to write vividly enough in between the good quotes to keep your column from looking like a couple of pearls set in a hunk of pot metal?

More often, the problem with players' language is that, in Gertrude Stein's phrase, it is inaccrochable. I once worked for a newspaper whose World War II correspondent sent in a dispatch about a sailor who ran out onto the deck of his aircraft carrier, shook his fist at the strafing planes overhead and yelled, "You fucking Japs!" Only the correspondent knew the paper wouldn't print that, so he changed it to "You damn Japs!" Which the copydesk changed to "You darn Japs!" Sportswriters have similar translation problems. For instance, Sports Illustrated prints a great deal of lively athletic language. Its They Said It column is the best running collection of quotes in any publication of any kind that I know of. But it is also a family magazine, which once changed "crap" in a story of mine to "baloney." In a family magazine you can't print what SI's Ron Fimrite says he once heard a ballplayer in batting practice exclaim: "I couldn't hit my mother-fucking grandmother!"

Sometimes players' language is not only unquotable but sort of otherworldly. Players can make a football game, for instance, sound like a struggle between two grand corporate rumps and their crewmen: "When it comes down to it, we flat got our ass in gear and moved the ball on their ass. Chops was yelling at 'em in the line, 'Just keep on throwing all that quick-popping shit at our ass -- we're gonna bury your ass.' Once we got our ass jacked up and started corning, it was their ass. We hit our ass off out there, didn't we?"

But players' language is standard English compared to coaches'. One afternoon in the University of Tennessee football press box I realized that I could hear every word that a UT coach, in the next booth over, was saying to his colleagues on the field via headphones. Here is roughly how the fourth quarter went:

"He can't bite down too hard on the tight end till he finds out what Z is doing. You see what I mean?

"Okay now break on three watch the screen. You got tango? Watch the screen, watch the screen.

"SCREEN! All right. Holler down there and tell Carmichael. ... Aw, we missed three.

"Seven-five holes! Seven-five holes!

"Tango, tango, c'mon, Ed, watch the slip screen. Slip screen . . . power.

"Tell the comers to funnel and flow away, and watch the Y. And you watch Z now.

"Off. All right, they in man again.

"Watch the option, watch the option. Sprint draw! Sprint draw! Watch out now, watch out, God dang it. Oh no! Great play.

"Tell that backside end to crank up. Tell them backers to crank it now! Crank it!

"Watta ya got? Bluff the side coverage, Mo. Bluff the side coverage, Mo.

"Tell that Watts to get in there on that guy! God dog. Ahrrghlk.

"Pow'r one! Pow'r one! Gonna be the Pitt sweep. Gonna be the Pitt sweep, Guarantee you!


"You got to really come out there and collision that tight end coming down there. . . . Number two, tell Jerry four coverage, get them people cranked up.

"Let's go defense. Forty-four tango! All right, what they got? Forty-four tango?

"All right, let's go. Power.

"Watch the pass, now, watch the pass. Holler at 'em, 'Pass!' Pass! Holler, 'Pass!!'

"Either pass or Pitt sweep ... pow'r. ...
"Let's go, offense. Stick it in 'em! Give 'em hell! Aw.

"Let's go, defense. Loosen off. Loosen off. Tell the tango end to loosen off some. Loosen off the tango end! Loosen off, Art! Tell Poole to get the curl!


"Tell Wheeler to walk off a little bit, as the tango end.

"Allright! [Great rumble arises, partition shakes.] Give 'em hell!

"Aw. Well, hell, I don't care—we got the damn ball I don't care if they put it back to the damn four, now. Give 'em hell, Carruthers. Woooooeee."\

So there it was. I had the whole inside story. But what was my lead going to say? "Outlined against a gray November sky, the Vols edged the Commodores yesterday as Mo bluffed the side coverage, the tango loosened off and the comers funneled and flowed away?"

Oh, I could go on and on about the word problems of a sportswriter. For instance, when players adopt coaches' language, you get remarks like, "That revenge factor is sweet" (Glenn Doughty, Baltimore Colts) and, "Then that injury factor happened" (Norm Snead, passim). It is little wonder that sportswriters tend to lose perspective themselves and blurt out expressions like "doffed his erstwhile nonentity" to mean "became famous."

But maybe coaches are right, and it is best to look at problems positively, to regard them as opportunities. Sometimes I look at a piece of sportswriting and think. ...

Well, one afternoon I looked at these two paragraphs:

"'I know I've got two games tomorrow and milestones aren't going to be much help,' Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates said.

"'When you're playing you just have to grind it out,'" he added.

And I thought, "You can't grind it out with milestones," and for a moment a whole world opened up, of worn-out sports imagery recast: a graduating receiver hauling in the sheepskin, down linemen made of duck feathers, a New York Knick condemned by a witch doctor's curse to a lifetime of moving within the ball ...

Well, I don't know. But the sports pages and the comic sections are the only places in a newspaper where you can still fool around verbally. Maybe someone will take advantage of this freedom and transform sportswriting into a wild macaronic poetry, in which different frames of mind entangle across metaphysical lines of scrimmage. On the other hand, maybe sports headline writers will straighten up just a bit and stop writing headlines like LEUKEMIA THROWS DUSTER AT TWINS' THOMPSON.

People shouldn't sell sportswriters short, anyway. "Regaining their faith in words," indeed! We do have a certain pride, a sense of calling. There is the story about a scribe who showed up in the press box after a game too drunk to write even if he had seen anything that had happened. Firmly within the tradition of old-time sportswriting, he appealed to another scribe to let him copy the story he had just filed.

"Well, I don't know," the sober scribe said.

"Come on," pleaded the drunk scribe.

"But I hate to ..."

"Come on, please."

The sober scribe said oh, okay, and handed over a carbon of his story. The drunk scribe cranked paper into his typewriter and started copying. He got through three paragraphs before he stopped and looked off into the distance.

"To think," he sighed, "that I would be reduced ... to copying shit like this."

Cutting deeply

It's been another three weeks since my last post, which isn't exactly in keeping with my stated goal of posting more regularly. It remains my intention, but I need to make good on it.

I still care a lot about this business, and while I'm online, that certainly includes print. I'm proud that I've been able to adapt to new ideas and technology at my age, but in my heart, I'll remain an ink-stained wretch until I'm gone.

Anybody who loves what we do is horrified over what's going on right now, and you have to wonder: As the talented veterans are being axed nationwide pretty much simply because they're that -- talented veterans -- what about the next generation? Two issues, and I know this is eight-miles-through-snowdrifts-to-school stuff: 1) Are they going to care as much about diligent, accurate and thorough reporting, well-crafted writing and the stylebook as those before them and 2) giving them the benefit of the doubt, if they do, who's going to be around to teach them?

I can't help but think that a lot of the people who got me started in the right directions when I was coming up wouldn't even be around for me if the current conditions had existed in the late '70s and early '80s.

And the other question that must be asked, although it makes me cringe: With language shortcuts increasing as people e-mail and text more, does some of this really matter? As long as the factual accuracy is there and the message gets across to a new generation of readers/users, is being anal about language and style a thing of the past?

I don't think so personally. But just asking.

My thoughts and wishes are with all of those going through these terrible times.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A good person to listen to

It's not sports-centric, but Sara Quinn of Poynter interviews veteran Baltimore Sun editor John McIntyre, longtime director of the copy desk there, and publishes it here. What's cool about that link is that it has a lot of links to other writing and editing resources.

And McIntyre himself blogs here, and he has some valuable advice to the copy editors still remaining at America's newspapers (and, presumably, websites).

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Death of a story theme

I like my local paper a lot. Despite all they've been through in these terribly difficult times, they still put out the best paper they can under the circumstances, and that's pretty damn good.

But -- and I was going to write this even before a TV themed thread on the board concerning the same thing -- writers and editors, and not just at this paper but everywhere, really need to start being more circumspect about writing stories about team members who recently lost loved ones but are somehow muddling through.

Since summer, the local paper has sent an avalanche of college and pro football stories with this basic theme my way. And frankly, they're simply tiresome at this point, and I'm not sure who's served.

It's not that the losses aren't tragic, or that they don't affect the story subject. If a college football player loses his mother or a deeply loved childhood friend in August, it's going to have a profound effect on his life through the fall.

But every story is the same:

Player is having (or expecting to have) a good season, but things just aren't quite the same without (fill in loved one) here.

The player either used to call her before and after every game, or the relative isn't sitting in the same old seat in Section A.

Player has a tattoo with the person's name, or has the name written on his shoes or wristbands, or says a prayer about the person in the locker room before every kickoff.

Then background, how the player is doing or hopes to do, the appropriate quotes. All grinding to one of several typical endings, with a tag something like:

"But he'll never forget."

If you haven't read that story a few times this fall, feel free to comment below.

These have always been a staple of our business, but lately there seems to be a spike even beyond the norm.

So writers and editors, next time a "good story" about somebody losing a loved one but somehow going on with life comes in a phone call or from an SID or a reporter proposes it, think twice: Is this story really going to be something that can be told any differently than ever other one of it its kind. And if not, but if you think it's worth mentioning, how about a notebook item?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Looking for discussion points

OK, first of all, I know I've been terrible about putting anything worth returning to on this site for, oh, about 10 months, until Tuesday.

My intention is to start posting regularly here. I'm going to have to get my feet settled to decide how much criticism of actual writing I'm going to do here. I'm certainly not going to pick on young writers at small papers or anything like that. But I think I have gained some notions about sportswriting (and editing sportswriting) over 31-plus years in the business. So I'm going to write about what I know and see where it leads me.

As I note on my new signature on my profile (sf_express), feel free to PM me there with a writing or editing issue you'd like to talk about. Or comment here, or e-mail me at the link to your right.

Do I have any more wisdom than a lot of people in my position? Nope. But I like talking about writing, so let's start doing some of that here.

Please scroll down for a few posts I've done in the past few days. Obviously, four in two days will move everything down quickly. And comment away.

Really nice column, chance to make an elementary point

Joe Posnanski writes a really nice piece connecting the election of Barack Obama to Posnanski's relationship with Negro league player Buck O'Neil. It's posted on the message board, and one of the posters rightfully praises the last paragraph. Here are the last three:

He could not get enough. He spoke in classrooms and chatted with people at ballgames and went up to complete strangers in restaurants and at airports, and he believed in this America. It isn't perfect, of course, nothing close to perfect, and there's always a lot to do. Buck said that plenty. But, more, much more, he said: "Look how far we've come. Look how much we've grown. Look how much closer we are."

"How old are you?" he asked me once along the road. I told him.

"Just think," he said. "You will live long enough to see a black president."

OK, this should be an elementary point, but it's all too often missed by writers, particularly younger ones. Forgive me if it's elementary to you.

The last paragraph is great. But would it be as great if written like this?

"Just think. You will live long enough to see a black president," he said.

The answer, of course, is no. Ending a story or column on attribution just leaves it flat. Kills the mood.

I rarely deal in absolutes when it comes to writing, but this is close for me. Never end a story on attribution. Even something as short as this:

"And that," he said, "is that."

Follow stories on Twitter

It's a work in progress, but is putting some of its stories up in a Twitter feed. Not institutional yet, just kind of experimenting. But you can f0llow some updates here.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Oldie but goodie expanded ... respectively yours

OK, I've railed against the continued, to me extraneous, use of the word "respectively" in sports stories before:

"Jones and Smith finished with 17 and 15 points, respectively."

My argument is that readers aren't dumb, and from that construction, it's clear who scored what without the word. Every now and then you run across a case where it's needed; not in 99.9 percent of them.

Now there's another one that's driving me more nuts, in a sports writing sense.

"Jones and Smith led their respective teams to bowl games in 2007."

This is a 100 percent deal: What possible use does the word "respective" have in that construction. Answer: None.

Who else's team would they have led to bowl games?

But I'm seeing it all the time. I'd give another example, but that one says it all. And we should look to eradicate that completely unnecessary construction in 2009.

Time for change, and all that.

Speaking of change, I truly intend to start writing regularly here again after a number of false starts. So if you happen by here and see this, give me a look every now and then.

Happy election day.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Style resources for journalists

Here are some style resources for journalists, online or otherwise.


The classic writing stylebook: Elements of Style

Associated Press: Ask the Editor

The Slot: Bill Walsh, Copy Chief, Washington Post national desk
The Slot Blog
The Slot: Sharp Points

Bob Baker's News Thinking (a couple of examples of style discussions):
One posted just today is here
Hyphen madness
Capitalization crisis

Wikipedia on:
Style guides

An example of a Website style guide

Monday, January 07, 2008

A(nother) thought on Roger Clemens

I just sent (basically) this e-mail to our baseball writer. I'm having a bit of a hard time with this, although right now it's a hypothetical hard time, because as noted below, a lot might still happen:

Here's my thought on Clemens, but I don't know how much more can be said. Although the boss and I just had a spirited discussion about it, so I guess ...

Let's say that he retires, and five years from now, the only person who has ever connected Roger Clemens to steroids is McNamee. No paper, no checks, no admissions (obviously), nobody else says, "Yeah, he did that." Nothing. Just one guy saying it, and a lot of others saying, "Well, look at him. It's obvious."

Clemens goes before Congress and through several civil suits, and every time he testifies, he categorically denies that he did steroids. Not even a hint of a crack in his story. And not another shred of proof.

How can people justify not voting him into the Hall on the first ballot?

Some say, "Well, why would McNamee lie?" I don't know. Why are there serial killers, or why do people streak across football fields or indulge in any other sociopathic behavior? Maybe he wanted 15 minutes of fame, and fingering the most famous guy he was connected with was the way he did it.

Bottom line: People would keep the greatest pitcher of his generation out of the Hall of Fame based on ONE PERSON saying something and a feeling. And that seems wrong to me.

Now, as (my boss) correctly notes, there's five years between now and then, and a lot of time to sort things out. And yes, I believe Clemens did steroids. And just so we're clear, I'm not a Clemens fan, have never been a fan of a single team he has been connected with. So it's not about that.

But if we're sitting here five years from now with exactly the same amount of proof we have today, then that's going to be a hell of a dilemma. Or, more to the point, should be.