Metrics don’t lie — local sports coverage is always important, but never more than during the high school football season. And while community papers have traditionally done the most thorough job covering high school sporting events in each community, having a plan in place to map out consistent coverage is becoming more vital.
During a recent installment of the GateHouse Media Professional Development Series, a trio of sports staffers weighed in with strategies to make sure your high school sports coverage is comprehensive throughout the week, even if your staff size isn’t what it once was.
The weekly plan
Make sure your publication is prepared for a weekly rotation of features. For example, for “non-revenue” sports (cross-country, soccer, etc.), ask your staff to come up with what they think will be the eight most influential players in your region. Then send three questions to the athletic directors (or coaches) of those players, looking for a 100-word response to each question. Ask for a headshot, and voila! You have a standing feature that will offer depth throughout the season.
Get the questions out early, and use these in the normal rhythm of the sports calendar. So if cross-country meets run on Wednesday night, use this as your Wednesday morning prep staple, possibly with a note about the night’s meets.
Here’s a good example for those who have five sports, even in just a one-person sports department.
The Independence Examiner runs a series of daily features down their sports rail, including an area game to attend, a star of the day, and a quote of the day. These pieces are consistent and often include a headshot of an athlete. They’re also easily transferable to the web, and often make great social media posts.
And the features have resonated. Longtime Examiner sports reporter Bill Althaus told a story about a now 27-year-old major league pitcher who longed to make the paper while still in high school.
“Kids want to be the quote of the day. Nick Tepesch, who just joined the Kansas City Royals, is the most quiet kid on the planet, and he was the quote of the day his senior year at Blue Springs High School. He came up to me and said one of his goals was to be the quote of the day in the Examiner,” Althaus said. “He’s the last guy on the planet you’d think would even think about something like that.”
With the daily grind bogging you down, how do you maintain some focus on big-picture sports stories? The Wilmington StarNews keeps a three-month running list in the office of big stories that everyone is doing so they’re on the same page. Spears uses a big whiteboard in the corner to make sure the story ideas are always visible.
“It seems to give us a sense of ‘hey, look what we’re doing,’ when it comes to the rest of the room and reiterates my idea that we are not the toy department,” Spears said. “Enterprise is as important as daily coverage – big features, explanatory reporting, investigative when necessary.”
How do they do it? At the beginning of every calendar year, Spears asks each writer for five stories they want to do this year, big, medium or small – and why. This includes one “home run ball” story that could win an award at the state or national level.
Here’s a recent story the StarNews printed about a local field that many had believed would bring increased revenue to the city.
Season previews, wrap-ups
The Canton Repository uses a number of alternative story formats to tackle things like season previews, tournaments, and postseason awards.
For example, in advance of the state track meet, the paper highlighted five things to know about the upcoming event.
Chris Beaven is the Repository’s sports editor, and he said this approach frees up time for reporters. In the case of the track advance shown here, Beaven said the writer needed about two hours to prepare this piece. If that same reporter would have gone out to multiple practices and written features, the package would have taken a few shifts.
“In this case, our writer, who’s covered track for a long time, he could break down the meet pretty easily for the broadest base of readers to be interested,” Beaven said. “The only time (ASFs) haven’t worked is if we lacked art or the design person doesn’t know what we wanted to do. But those are the only roadblocks.
“We’ve done them for a variety of things. We’ve yet to really find an approach where it doesn’t work.”