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?


Doyle said...

I think you have hit upon an important point. Many journalists, young and otherwise, seem to never have heard the expression, "less is more." The noteworthy stories do not stand out when there is a "noteworthy" story every day. If there are so many players suffering through tragedies that it would create an endless string of stories, this is a story in and of itself - and it is one story which can replace the rest. But that would make a lot of writers' jobs harder, as they would have to make up the difference with more varied stories.

If you look at the new breed of community sports blogs it also becomes apparent that this mentality has filtered down to the average joes, who now regurgitate it (with the best of intentions) onto the pages of sites like crunksports. This is not to say there are no good writers to be found (there are some great ones), but as in any field the great ones are not the majority.

Keep up the good work, and I'll keep reading.

This comment has been removed by the author.

I had never seen crunksports before. It's certainly diverse in its topics, isn't it?

Thanks for reading, and I fully intend to be much more regular in updating this blog. So thanks.

rknil said...

Most sports stories suffer from formulaic writing.

Other notes:

* John McIntyre is a foof who needs to get gone.

* Way to mislead who-knows-how-many people with that thread about ties in the NFL. Once again, we see that sportswriters CANNOT get time references right. Instead of confirming information, they go off the top of their head and are wrong. So -- tell us again why it's bad to have people correcting these too-frequent mistakes. So your errors stay concealed?


RKNIL: Not sure what you're talking about. The thread about the tie messing up some papers' NFL standings? Not picking up on your reference/presumed criticism at all.

As for McIntyre, for my money, we're running out of "foofs" who keep the language honest in publications, and I hope we keep as many as we can for as long as possible.

You needn't worry, though; soon, they'll almost all be gone.

rknil said...

Are you the same guy who was ripping the people who dare to mention there are (avert your eyes) MISTAKES that get into the paper?

If so, then I find it bad for your cause that you are posting erroneous information at a sports site. After all, the last OT game before Sunday was in 2002, not 2004.

And if so, I also find it unusual that you are now saying it's good to have people who keep the "language honest." Or are you one of the folks with tender egos who enjoy copy editors as long as they're cowering under their desks?

The idea that CEs should be stupid/quiet up until it's necessary for them to be smart/vigilant has gone a long way toward destroying morale and desks. And Johnny M. has bent over backward to protect that idea. As long as nothing changes, he's a legend in his own mind.

We'll all be better off when Johnny and his contemporaries slither out the door for the last time. We need innovators, not dinosaurs.


Well, as far as getting the year wrong on an message board post, guilty as charged. Sorry. It wasn't exactly for publication for consumers.

I have no idea what the hell else you're talking about.

As far as McIntyre is concerned, I don't know him personally. I saw some good things in the link I provided.

And I've always believed in completely engaged copy editors, not the cowering types you describe. But I've always believed in both keeping the language honest while giving broad leeway to writers: It is, after all, their name on a story.

I really wonder if you must be confusing me with somebody else, because I really don't get the hostility. And rereading your first comment, you apparently somehow think I'm a writer who doesn't believe in editing.

I've been an editor fulltime, with almost no writing, since 1985 or so. But I also am glad I have writing experience as well. It was something to build on.

I believe in strong editing, but not leaving fingerprints. Nothing you can say will change that philosophy.

rknil said...


My reference is to someone posting as SF_Express at and blasting anyone who dares to question the numerous factual errors that appear in newspapers on a daily basis.

If that's not you, then my apologies. But the point remains the same.

Also, regarding the "cowering" comment: It reads pretty clearly to me, but I'll try to spell it out for you. Too many newspapers want their copy editors to hide like little mice and simply put the paper out without a word. But at the same time, they're expected to screen out the mistakes. As soon as resolving one of these requires some sort of communication, then line editors and writers alike get their tiny panties in a bunch because some CE "dared" to alter their prose.

It's a terrible method that should have been eradicated from newsrooms a long time ago. If line editors and writers aren't professional or mature enough to do their jobs, then they shouldn't have those jobs. If they can't get the facts right, and they refuse to cooperate with people who are trying to get them right, then they shouldn't have those jobs.

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