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beginning stringer problems

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Smallpotatoes, Oct 5, 2006.

  1. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    As a cost-cutting move, my chain of weeklies does not want us to have two stringers or one staffer and a stringer at the same football game.
    In the past, we'd have two guys at the game, one would file a story for one paper; one would file one for the other.
    I understand that it's a waste of money, but I've been burned a few times when I've asked a stringer to get something that would be useable in both papers (names of kids from both teams, stats for both teams, quotes from both coaches, etc.) and even after stressing that I needed that, I'd get the story without any names or other info on the team that the stringer didn't regularly cover. These people are just so hard-wired into covering their team that the other team is just a bunch of guys wearing different uniforms. Then after the fact, after you've gotten the story and realize that it's completely ususable for one paper: "Oh, you wanted me to get information on both teams?"
    Then you have to make phone calls and track down the information the stringer was supposed to get. That happened to me once and I was unable to reach the coach after I got the useless story. What could I do then?
    It's like when you go into a restaraunt, order something that is prepared differently than the way it's usually prepared and because the cook is so used to preparing it the usual way, you get it the usual way. That happens an awful lot, doesn't it?
    Until this edict from the EIC, I've always felt that I'd rather spend the extra money than try to overcome human nature.
    Any advice on how to overcome human nature in this case? And why is it so difficult to overcome something when it's hard-wired into somebody?
    I suppose I could fire the stringer when that happens (at least more than once), but it's not like people are lined up waiting to write for my papers.
  2. KP

    KP Active Member

    Tell the EIC to open the piggy bank. Problem solved.
  3. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    My stringers typically get both ends and have been good about that, but now we're into district play and I have to shuffle because stringers are crossing paths.

    One of them this week wanted to cover his (1-3) team, and I quote, "because his son was playing in the band." Sorry, but our sister paper is on the case. He could either cover what we needed or take the week off. He relented.
  4. slappy4428

    slappy4428 Active Member

    Band parents pay attention to football?
  5. sartrean

    sartrean Member

    I've always told stringers upon hiring them that when they cover a game, they are to get quotes from both coaches, and I mention that the best gamers have quotes from both coaches and a player or two. And I usually give them the 20-minute version of journalism 101, explaining that this isn't just about going to the game, but it's work and should be treated as such.

    I get them to pick two teams they'd like to cover, and then I assign them those teams maybe every other week. On off weeks or when that team is out of town, I give the stringer a choice of two or three games in the area to cover, so I kind of put it back on them.

    So when they're not covering their regular team, I usually send them an email with some info about the two teams playing, such as coach telephone numbers, I attach a roster if I have one, provide team records, highlight who key players are, and usually add my little prediction of what the game will be like. Something like: Team A really sucks and should be a blowout, so give me a 10 inch recap with quotes from both coaches.

    If a stringer fails to get the appropriate info, then I get it after the fact (when possible), and then I rewrite the stringer's story from the box score and put my name on it. I don't tell the stringer I've done this, and when the paper comes out and they notice they are not in it, I usually get the call.

    I then re-explain that they did not do what they were supposed to do, and therefore I couldn't run the story. I re-explain to them that this is not fun and games, but real work and I could get reprimanded for running with such a one-sided gamer.

    Then they ask if they're going to get paid, and I have to say hell no, you idiot. You didn't do your job.

    Stringers are a breed of their own, that's for sure. I've had very reliable stringers fail all of the sudden every once in a while. I usually let that go. Who knows what happened. Some stringers complain that losing coaches are hard to deal with, and I respond "welcome to my friggin world, dumbass. If I can get coaches to talk to me, then you can too."

    One stringer I had said people tracked him down about some mistake he made like Kid A recovered a fumble, not Kid B and the stringer was surprised that parents take it that seriously. And I say, yeah, that's why I told you way back when that this isn't a bunch of fun and games, but it's serious shit.

    Don't even get me started on photography stringers. When you find a good one of those, you're very nice to them forever. If that stringer screws up once, you bite your tongue because photographers are hard to come by.

    I remember one guy who had some good photography equipment, sent me game photos on time and all, but didn't write captions. I even told the guy before the fact that if he didn't want to write the cutline, just write Team A #33 or etc. and I'd figure it out. This jackass couldn't even do that. So he calls me when the paper comes out, "hey man, how come you didn't use any of those photos I sent in?"

    "Well, dumbass, since you asked, I can't print photos when I don't know who the hell the kid is in the picture. I can't see their jersey number and I'm not going to guess."

    "Will I still get paid?" -- priceless!
  6. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    You have to find stringers that want to write stories for the paper, not publicize their favorite team.

    Two writers at a high school game -- unless its for the state title or something -- does seem like an unaffordable luxury these days.

    Tell them what you need and hold them to it. Treat them like grownups and they'll likely do what you want.
  7. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    Unfortunately, I have to take what I can get. It's not as if there are people lined up around the block wanting to write for the paper. And even when there's somebody who does want to write, there's no guarantee he'll be able to fill whatever needs I have. Most of the people who come to me wanting to write want to cover a specific team or sport and when you ask him to cover something else, suddenly he's not available.
    I can tell some of these people exactly what I need with a particular assignment in such a way that it's not subject to any misinterpretation, but sometimes the way peoples' minds work those instructions can be futile.
    Fucking human nature.
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    I'm with you there, smallp.

    It's always a struggle. When you find someone good just treat 'em like gold.
  9. Dan Hickling

    Dan Hickling Member

    or Fool's Gold
  10. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    There's not enough bandwith on the internet to carry all my great stringer stories, but here's a few.

    1.) Working at a 45K circulation paper as the interim SE, I had a stringer in the middle of nowhere who covered outlying schools in our coverage area. Never very reliable, not very good; I think he was the SE at a weekly. Anyway, he's covering our minor league baseball team up in BFE and the game goes into extra innings. He calls and tells me it's in extra innings. I talk to the press guys, they give me an extra 15-20 minutes. I call him back, tell him to file a story as soon as it's over. Call me when it's over, and I'll know to be looking for your story in a couple minutes. He calls back 10 minutes later, and I'm like great, top off your story with the fresh stuff and get it to me. No quotes. Don't get cute. Just give me an AP-style first-lead gamer. 10 minutes go by. Then another 10. Then another 10. I've blown my real deadline and my new deadline, so I pop in an AP story and get it out. Forty-five minutes later his gamer comes in, 25 inches, full of quotes from the manager and three players. The final two months I was there, I wouldn't even return his calls. We had a big prep basketball tournament, and I covered the early games at 9 a.m. just so I wouldn't have to hire that stiff.

    2.) While working at an 8K daily as the SE, I had a stringer go to a basketball game, try to do stats, come back with a notebook of stats and handed it to me. "All done boss," she said. I stopped and said, "Wait, you have to write the story? Didn't you want to be a stringer?" She pauses, looks at me and says, "Oh, you mean like type up the stats and stuff."

    3.) When helping hire a stringer at a 15K paper four hours away from Atlanta, he asked if he could cover the Braves for us. I told him we didn't cover the Braves, because we had the Associated Press covering it. He said he saw that, but he figured since the Braves were such a beloved team in the area, he could write about some local angles. I asked what local angles involved our town and the Braves, and he said, "Well, there are a lot of fans. We could interview one after every game."

    4.) At the paper I'm at now, we're a niche prep publication that prints every other week. A lot of our stories are written off phoners. We had a stringer -- who also worked at a private school as a teacher, cross country coach, assistant basketball coach and soccer coach. Typically reliable, I sent him an e-mail once a week about deadlines, stories that he was to write, etc... The day before deadline, in which he was supposed to write 15 short stories, he e-mails me at like 11 p.m.. "Hey, when's deadline?" Umm tomorrow. "Oh, I better get started."

    5.) The grand prize winner is actually my best friend. While in college, I started writing for the now defunct VarsityOnline.com. It was a prep sports site that lasted like a year. A buddy of mine was a student in the Upstate majoring in broadcast journalism. I told him about the site I was freelancing for, and he said he's be more than happy to give writing a try. So he goes and covers a big high school football game in town. I cover my game in the Columbia area. I file my story and I'm on the way out to meet some friends when the editor of the online site calls. "What the fuck is your friend thinking?" he asks. I have no idea what he's talking about, and he e-mails me my buddy's story. No quotes. No total stats. Just basically writes a play-by-play account of the entire game. But he doesn't print anybody's name. "The game started with a bang as No. 24 for Northwestern returned the kickoff for 24 yards. On the next play, Northwestern's No. 12 threw a 5-yard pass to No. 7." And he did this for every play of the game. It was the last sports story he ever wrote. For good reason.
  11. Stupid

    Stupid Member

    We sent one to a recent D-I college football game. He's a local radio broadcaster for HS football games and certainly a historian of sorts. But I knew there was going to be trouble when I told him 600 words max and he called me before emailing his story, saying he had it down to 1,300 words.

    His lede was 103 words and one sentence. His original story was about 45 inches and contained one 10-word quote. I managed to whack it down to 20 inches and, aside from not having any quotes of substance, ended up being a good story.

    He's covering another game tonight. Wish me luck.
  12. playthrough

    playthrough Moderator Staff Member

    Prospective football stringers at my old shop had to shadow me for a game before we'd set them free on their own assignment. Two stories:

    -- Young female in college goes to game with me, we're on the sidelines. Big lineman is standing near us, shoes covered with tape. She says "wow, he's playing with two broken ankles?" That, in addition to having to explain the concept of downs, didn't earn her any future work.

    -- Old fella follows me for a half, then asks if he can go home at halftime. Fine by me, he seemed to understand everything. Well, he went home and died.
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