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Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by JLawson, Jul 11, 2007.

  1. JLawson

    JLawson Member

    I'm a sports intern and I did this feature story on only a few hours' notice. Please help with some constructive criticism.

    As the Angora Fire ravages South Lake Tahoe, destroying more than 200 buildings and sending thousands of people to flee from their homes, one group of 11- and 12-year-olds are trying to forget about the damage.

    The South Lake Tahoe Hooligans are pressing on, playing the game they love -- baseball.

    "It's a bit of a distraction being out here playing baseball," said Scott Morgan, manager of South Lake Tahoe. "Get our minds off our family members, our friends who have lost so much. It says a couple of things: We want to play some baseball and we want to represent Tahoe and say 'You can't keep Tahoe down.'"

    Morgan felt that everyone on the team was affected by the fire, but perhaps none more than Kris Hurwitz. His house was close to becoming a pile of ash and another victim of the Angora Fire that has already destroyed an estimated 229 homes and burned more than 3,100 acres.

    When the fire broke out on Sunday, Hurwitz was enjoying a clear day at his grandparents' home when he and his family started to smell smoke. It wasn't long after that fire trucks drove through his neighborhood announcing that everyone needed to evacuate. Most people tried to grab the possessions that they couldn't live without. The things Hurwitz couldn't live without were: two baseballs, three trophies, a pair of shorts and his baseball uniform.

    "First thing I thought was, 'Oh my God I need to get my baseball uniform," Hurwitz said. "I just got my pants and my sliding pants, but I didn't even think about my shirt or my socks."

    His team had just won its second game of the 2007 District 1 Tournament the day before and he was scheduled to play the quarterfinal game of the tournament on Wednesday in Reno.

    When he arrived to the tournament he showed up in a South Lake Tahoe baseball shirt and borrowed socks, but other than the media attention he and his team were getting, it was just a regular game of baseball.

    "It's nice because I've been stressing over my friends and family," Hurwitz said. "Just to take a break from it and play baseball, one of my favorite sports, it feels good."

    One family member that Hurwitz and his family were stressing over was his grandfather, who can't walk because of effects of diabetes and needs to be on IV medication.

    "He's not very ambulatory," said Katie Hurwitz, Kris' mother. "So getting him and all of his equipment and his medications and worrying about what this is going to do to his health, that's probably been the most stressful part."

    So baseball wasn't just a distraction for Hurwitz and his teammates, but it was a break for the families of these Little Leaguers who have been trying to remain calm during this emotional time.

    "We've been in three different hotels since Sunday," Hurwitz's mother said. "So coming down here and doing the game, we get a sense of normalcy out of it. It's like any other baseball day."

    The Hurwitz family did hear good news from a friend who works for the Douglas County Fire Department, the home that Hurwitz's grandparents bought 22 years ago and had built for them was still standing. The fire came up the ridge to just below their house, when the winds changed directions.

    "We were very relieved, we started crying," said Hurwitz's mother. "That was my parents dream house."
  2. Chad Conant

    Chad Conant Member

    I think the Hurwitz kid, with the situation wiith his grandfather, is your hook. You talk about these families using baseball to forget about real life for a while. This story is a pull to the rest of it.

    That being said, I hate youth sports stories in principle. But this stands up pretty well to me. Might be some fundamentals I'd work on, extra words here and there, but other than that, I definitely don't hate it.
  3. The Big Ragu

    The Big Ragu Moderator Staff Member

    JLawson, I rarely take stabs at these, so take what I offer with a grain of salt... This is a fine job by an intern. My main criticisms--and I think the piece is in decent shape to be cleaned up, so they are not harsh criticisms--are the use of the present tense in the lede and nutgraph. I'd take it to the past tense, which is what happens starting with the first quote anyhow. You can also tighten it up and rewrite in places. I did a little of it, but with more time, I might restructure things some. You also relied a great deal on the Hurwitz family. I don't know what time considerations you faced and if you have access to any other kids, but it would have made an even stronger story if you could have woven in an experience from another family and cut down a bit on the Hurwitzes. Overall, though, this is a fine job that has building blocks that can be refined to make it even better.

  4. Good job, really, especially on deadline. I appreciated your understated writing style and liked your selection of quotes.

    I don't have time to go line by line, but here is my primary suggestion: when you're writing anything, ask yourself, "What is this really about?" But then, after you've decided, ask yourself which of your quotes, which of your anecdotes, which of your observed "scenes" best drives home that grand theme. Try not to use anything other than "A" scenes, "A" anecdotes, "A" quotes - especially in your lede.

    So: you did a great thing here. This quote - "First thing I thought was, 'Oh my God I need to get my baseball uniform" - is IT. It's an A+ quote - as good a quote as you could possibly get. It captures the importance of the game to this kid better than your prose ever could. And, not only did you get that quote, you got him provide the extra detail - "two baseballs, three trophies, a pair of shorts and his baseball uniform" - that separates a good scene from a great one. Good good good.

    But thennn...you did a not-great thing: instead of leading with this story, which would have told the reader everything he needs to know, you led with...

    a) "The South Lake Tahoe Hooligans are pressing on, playing the game they love -- baseball," a boring cliched line we've all read dozens of versions of - after every hurricance, every athlete suicide, whatever - over the years; then proceeded to

    b) "It's a bit of a distraction being out here playing baseball," said Scott Morgan, manager of South Lake Tahoe. "Get our minds off our family members, our friends who have lost so much. It says a couple of things: We want to play some baseball and we want to represent Tahoe and say 'You can't keep Tahoe down.'"

    Not an awful quote, certainly, but certainly not one with the emotional or symbolic impact of your richly detailed Hurwitz story.

    So...lead with your best stuff! Re-arranged, in my opinion, the story could be excellent.
  5. friend of the friendless

    friend of the friendless Active Member

    Mr or Ms Lawson,

    Everything Sir Valiant said.

    That has to--has to--be your lead. The kid saving his baseball stuff. Scene, quote, whole shooting match. Make it his story.

    BTW Did his uniform smell of smoke? Could you see smoke from the field? Make it a sensory experience.

    On deadline, as an intern, pretty good job. If you were filing this at 11 p.m., I'd tell you to take the rest of the night off--after a last round of police-fire-ambulance checks.

    YHS, etc
  6. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    JLaw -

    As always, thanks for posting with us. And thanks as well to our commenters, all of whom have provided more than enough constructive criticism to set JLaw on the path to a better piece.

    Lead in scene whenever you can.

    Words to live by.

    It's one thing to read these suggestions, another thing entirely to act on them - so if you have time on a day off, JLaw, try rewriting the piece in the manner suggested. Feel free to post the results - or not - thereafter. Visit here any time.

    Mazel Tov.
  7. JLaw --

    As I've rec'd tremendous advice from JMac, DD, FofF, etc., I thought I'd dispense some, as well.

    First off, if you're going to focus so much on one kid, make him the lead. Maybe start it as a pyramid -- one person affected, team affected, city affected. I love the idea about starting with the kid saving his baseball stuff.

    Second -- I've learned this in part from the advice I've rec'd here, but try for a bit more scene-setting. I want to know where this kid lives, how many rooms, did he have to run down stairs, where was the family dog, everything.

    Third -- While this is a very good attempt for an intern, never think of yourself just as an intern. Think of yourself as damn Gay Talese, Gary Smith, etc. Go about your job as if every story you write has the potential for greatness. When I was sports editor of my college newspaper, I fired a kid because he repeatedly said, 'But I'm just a college sportswriter.' Bullshit.
    Sure, everyone needs to keep the ego in check (umm, sorry, still working on it), but don't qualify yourself. You have a solid foundation -- it ALWAYS starts with the interview, and you have good quotes -- so just keep at it.

    Good job dude.
  8. JLawson

    JLawson Member

    I want to say to everyone, thanks for the comments and I'm going to rewrite this in the next couple of days then repost it. When ever I get chance, a little busy covering fun things like bowling.
  9. I love goofy sports like that - sports with their own strange subcultures you don't often get to experience.

    One of my most fun reporting days came from one of my worst assignments - I had to go cover a sailing regatta nobody cared about. Wouldn't want to do it for a week, but it was fun being immersed in the world of sailing regattas for a day.

    Anyway. Good luck to you.
  10. TyWebb

    TyWebb Well-Known Member

    Good effort JLawson, especially for an intern on short notice.

    I agree with everyone above that painting the picture of the Hurwitz kid is an absolutely killer lede. I immediately wanted to move that to the top and really set the scene, with a nice tight nut graph to bring the reader in.

    Aside from the some tighter writing in places, which Ragu pointed out, I would try to talk to more kids' families. Obviously the Hurwitz angle is a great one, but on first read, this sounds like it is supposed to be about a team. Definitely work on getting at least a couple more players into it. That'll add some good length and dimension to the story.

    Great first effort though and keep it up.
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