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Covering pro athletes from your coverage area

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by MNgremlin, May 9, 2020.

  1. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    Our shop is a year or two out from unfamiliar territory. There's a high probability we're about to have former prep athletes from the local town playing in the NFL. We're a smallish daily shop. Outside of preps and the local D2, we don't physically cover things on a bigger stage than that unless there's a strong local connection. So most pro stuff we get is from the AP. College stuff too, either run AP copy if there is any or we run SID press releases.

    So how do we change course once the kid is in the pros? I'm assuming we will start to run AP copy from all of his new team's games alongside the AP copy from the local pro team. How often is the right amount to run a bylined feature/profile on him? Once a season? When big things happen? During the offseason? Any other suggestions?
  2. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    We're like you, a smallish shop that covers a lot of those same things. We've had a handful of guys make it to the NFL over the years, ranging from players who washed out in training camp to one very recognizable star.
    For now, I'd suggest getting on good terms with them. Not saying suck up to them, but make sure they know who you are, you have their phone number (and their agent's number when the time comes; the player's number will probably change at some point), and your calls get returned. If you can get on good terms with the family, that helps a lot, too. It'll be a big asset as they're rising up through the draft process and the early stages of their career.
    Having them know who you are also helps a ton down the road when you have to go through an NFL team's PR department. In the case of our star player, I know we got at least one phone interview not many other outlets got -- anywhere -- because he likes talking to the hometown paper. I think we're on a list of approved outlets or something. So at some point in their rookie season, try to reach out to their NFL team as well. It never hurts for them to recognize your name or at least the paper's name.

    As far as frequency of stories, it depends a bit on their role with the team. I'd say definitely do one story pre-draft, another post-draft, and maybe one before or during training camp. Then handle it as events warrant. At some point you're just reworking the same basic material, so try to keep the features current and relevant. You also don't want to run three stories a week on the guy if they're a backup running back playing as a gunner on special teams.
    Thinking back with our star player, we had a couple of bylined stories on him when he was a non-descript rookie trying to break into the lineup; a ton when he finally did something noteworthy; and then have averaged one or two a year since then. He does a youth football camp here every July, so that's an easy time for us to work a couple of different preseason story angles on him.

    Once the season starts, adding their team's AP gamers to your coverage isn't a bad idea. Try to splice in their stats if they're not mentioned, no matter how mundane they are. If there's a photo of them, use it. Scour the press conference transcripts (and even other papers, as long as you give proper attribution) for extra quotes you can add to the AP story.
    During the week keep an eye out for any news, stories and photos on the AP wire. There might be preview stories he's quoted in or notebook items that you can play up a bit, like if your guy plays cornerback and there's a story about the secondary or defense.

    I'd also suggest reaching out to their NFL team's PR department for a photo or two when you do a feature. Most teams are happy to send you a couple, and then you can stash away the ones you don't use for future stories. Same with any AP photos you might come across, if your paper has a good subscription plan.

    One thing I will say about NFL PR departments is that they are, by and large, very accessible and accommodating -- surprisingly so, really. Whenever we've had to reach out to do a feature on our local players we've never had much of a problem going through them to set up phone interviews even though we're nowhere near most of their markets. Our star player was on a team on the other side of the country and they always gave us the time of day or, the one time it just wasn't logistically possible to set something up, sent us some transcripts and such to help get the job done. So don't be afraid to reach out to them from time to time if you need something on your guys.
    PaperDoll and PaperClip529 like this.
  3. SoloFlyer

    SoloFlyer Well-Known Member

    Batman had a lot of good advice. I'll only add that it is very much an individual basis.

    Some guys give out their number, their agent's number, their mom's number, and even reach out occasionally on their own.

    Some will dodge interviews like they're dodging tackles, no matter how much ink you gave them back in high school.

    Also, be mindful of schedules. If your guy is a potential cut risk in camp, don't wait to do the feature just before cut day, when his mind is going to be preoccupied.

    Same with mid-season requests. Unless something unexpected happens that would require a quick turnaround, put the request in at least a week ahead of time. It gives everyone more time to create availability to do a phoner.
    PaperDoll, Batman and PaperClip529 like this.
  4. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    What those guys said, and pray he doesnt get drafted by the Patriots
  5. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    Lol ... our star player did play for them, and I can't say enough good things about their PR staff.
    We're a small paper on the other side of the country. They had no reason to help us at all. And yet they always came through for me when it came to setting up interviews, including a couple during Super Bowl week.
  6. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    This is a good point. At some point -- and it usually happens pretty quickly -- access is no longer as easy as picking up the phone and calling them. I think a lot of guys change their numbers for security reasons once they make a roster, as well. When you do phoners with them you'll get a lot of, "Hello, this is Jim Jones with the Atlanta Falcons. Here's Bill Smith," as the PR guy passes off the phone.

    You really do need to plan ahead and be patient, and be realistic. Most teams take care of the beat guys and national media first, and then filter down to the others as time permits. So if your guy is the starting quarterback, his time is obviously going to be stretched a lot thinner than if he's an offensive lineman or a safety. If they don't get to you, it's probably nothing personal. From my experience, though, most NFL PR folks will at least keep you in the loop about whether your request is feasible or not.
    Be realistic about your request, too. Setting up a 5-10 minute phone interview early in the week with a random starter and e-mailing a couple of action pictures is not too hard to accommodate. A 30-minute sit-down interview on Thursday or Friday with the starting quarterback or running back probably is not happening unless your outlet is ponying up some broadcast rights fees.
  7. JimmyHoward33

    JimmyHoward33 Well-Known Member

    we had a udfa who was afraid to give us quotes about signing.

    In fairness to the Patriots that could’ve been the kid being afraid of their reputation rather than instructions, but jesus yeah 3 quotes from a 4th preseason game fodder guy really would’ve stopped them from getting to the afc title game that year
    Batman likes this.
  8. HanSenSE

    HanSenSE Well-Known Member

    What everyone else said and I'll add a couple more;

    1) PR folks can be your best friend in this case. We had one football player who was moved into the starting lineup at USC the weekend before their opener, so left a note with the other writer to set up an interview, fearing we'd get big timed. We weren't. When a boxer signed with Top Rank, I was placed on the good hands of Lee Samuels, the best in the business. UFC was always helpful (until he got busted for steroids).

    2) Save every photo you see him in to a desktop file or wherever you store photos. Did a feature on UFC, asked for photos and was referred to Getty. With our budget, I had our shooters dig up a photo when he was still fighting at the local casino.
    Last edited: May 9, 2020
    JimmyHoward33 and PaperDoll like this.
  9. MeanGreenATO

    MeanGreenATO Active Member

    There's a massive benefit of being from someone's hometown paper. They'll always be fond of the outlet that first wrote about them so it's worth maintaining that relationship. Could end up in a Barry Sanders-Tulsa World situation.
    stix, Batman and HanSenSE like this.
  10. PaperDoll

    PaperDoll Well-Known Member

    We're very small, and have gotten quite a bit of phone access -- and credentials for our guys' trips close to home -- by being consistent and persistent.

    Right now, it's about establishing a positive relationship with the athlete and his family. Get all the contact information you can for as many people as you can. That will help you in the weeks, months, and even years to come.

    It's amazing how much easier it is to have requests approved when the player involved says, "Oh yeah, I know that guy/paper." And even NFL starters will call if Grandma tells him to. :D

    Also, you'd probably love to do everything yourself, but if your paper is part of a broader network, there's no shame in asking for help from colleagues who are geographically closer to the team -- or who travel regularly and might cross paths with him. Especially during preseason, they might do that hometown feature for you. If you set things up in advance, it's possible to get an extra quote sent your way to help rewrite a wire story.
    HanSenSE, PaperClip529 and Batman like this.
  11. PaperClip529

    PaperClip529 Active Member

    It doesn't matter how old they are, Grandma (and her friends) loves seeing her baby's name in the newspaper.
    PaperDoll likes this.
  12. Dog8Cats

    Dog8Cats Active Member

    A lot of good information already.

    If circumstances demand it, the timing is right, you have the budget and there's a reporter you trust is worth the freelance money you'd be spending on him or her, you could ask someone geographically closer to the team to write a full-blown feature on the guy. I know that's a lot of ifs. If you go this course, make sure the freelancer spells out for the player that he is writing for the player's hometown paper - not his/her usual outlet.

    Don't forget about other sources - position coach is the first one that comes to mind. Trying to get five minutes with him might be tougher than getting 20 minutes with the player.

    If you happen to see your player mentioned in some substantive way in an outlet that covers the team, it might be worth trying to mine that mention for more than what's right there. Contact the writer and try to get more information about the player and his situation - could be the foundation of stories down the line.

    It might be worthwhile to become a regular reader of dang near every outlet that covers your guy's team. Some mention of an injury to a player at his position (assuming your guy starts as a backup) could have big ramifications for his playing time.

    Try to monitor the return on investment of all of this. I assume you see the numbers on page views, time spent on page, etc., for your stories. If a preseason analysis of how the guy might be the fifth or sixth defensive back in the coming season doesn't draw the audience that a story does about how local fans gather at one sports bar now to watch this guy's team, adapt and move on.
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