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.