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Finding the right balance

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Crimson Tide, Feb 8, 2007.

  1. Crimson Tide

    Crimson Tide Member

    So, what's the proper mix of gamers, previews, features and news stories?

    I'm trying to figure out what that is, but I'm getting mixed messages from my bosses.

    On one hand, when the ME transfered me to full-time writer, he said he wanted more features, more news stories, less gamers (read: don't go to the 2-19 girls 1A basketball game just because we haven't covered them this season). If anything, one feature per week, a news story and cover the city school as a beat (maybe three gamers per week and a weekly sidebar/notes). An 80-inch roundup of all the other scores is fine with him. Simple enough, fine with me.

    Okay, enter new SE a few weeks later, hot off his 5K p.m. daily. His style is a gamer every night, and plan coverage around getting every single team in each season (30 high schools with a boys and girls team each). He doesn't want one writer covering a school beat. He also doesn't like for us to leave the office unless we're going to a game. The exact opposite of what the ME said.

    So, what's the balance? I've been given a mandate by the ME, yet he's still hands-off enough that the SE is running it like a small-town newspaper. I know I should probably get everyone in the same room to discuss this, but my development isn't a concern. They just want the copy cranked out for better or worse.
  2. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    I'll never understand the mentality that it is even possible to please everyone. It's not. We need to quit trying that strategy -- it always devolves into knee-jerk responses to every complaint, which doesn't help us and doesn't serve our readers.

    You've got 30 high schools to cover. Trying to please everyone (by covering them all at least once a season) is going to fail. Doesn't matter what season -- football, basketball, spring sports -- it can't be done.

    If you want to please everyone, set up a weekly honor roll. Keep a list of which names you use, and which schools. Try to diversify it, and include every school.

    As for stories, you want to diversify those, too. A weekly feature, a weekly profile, 1-2 weekly notebooks and a couple gamers -- plus as much breaking news as you can get; the more the better -- is a pretty good preps beat for most papers under 50K.

    Not much you can do if your SE is dead-set on one idea. But keep suggesting different ideas, and see if he'll listen. Keep trying different ideas. Work with him. You might persuade him, you might not. But don't hesitate to try.
  3. Idaho

    Idaho Active Member


    1. It is a small town paper.

    2. Tell your SE and ME you have been giving conflicting messages about what to write. Tell them what you think the two messages are and ask them to pow-wow and give you a clear direction so you don't end up doing one thing and not the other, or doing neither because you're trying to do both.
  4. Cosmo

    Cosmo Well-Known Member

    You're not to leave the office unless you're going to a game? How in the heck are you supposed to, I don't know, find news and interview people then? Do everything over the phone. Yeah, that's good.
  5. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    Agree with Idaho. The ME can be hands-off as he wants, but he's got to understand that conflicting messages hurt the product and reflect poorly on them. If he wants to defer to the SE on this, then that's your mandate. If he thinks the SE is wrong, he can overrule him and that's your mandate.

    I was stuck in a pissing match between an SE and an ME at one of my stops. I never knew what was expected of me, and left me even more depressed than my default setting of profoundly depressed.

    One time the ME told me to cover something, but not to tell the SE I was doing it -- apparently as some test of SE's news judgement, I don't know. The SE was apparently about to get canned, though we had all heard that before. Anyhow, said event was some 80 miles away but it involved a handful of local high school athletes, so I went down there for three days to hit all the games (I had family down there). At around 11 p.m. on the first night, I check my answering machine between innings, and lo and behold, it's the SE telling me I have to do desk tomorrow. We're a PM, keep in mind, so that would require my leaving the game when it ended, driving two hours, getting home around 2-3 a.m., then waking up at 6 to go to the office. I called him, told him what I was doing, and he was all "oh, right, I know that." And the desk shift wasn't mentioned again.

    Neither are there anymore, though the SE inexplicably keeps getting jobs in the business. Goes to show you it's not what you know, it's how to make what you know look. And he had that. And that was it.

    Back to point: Get this hammered out between SE and ME yester-fucking-day. Otherwise you're going to be stuck between two magnets.
  6. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

    I hark back to the thread over the future of newspapers.

    If you can find enough good feature stories (and write them well) people will enjoy a sports section more than if they're reading a gamer on a 2-19 girls basketball team. A majority doesn't give a shit when that team loses by 30 points, but if there's a good feature angle on a kid, you'll get both die-hard sports fans and people who flip through the section to stop and read the story.
  7. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    A gratuitous two-page foldout with a hot cheerleader on a daily basis is always good place to start.
  8. zeke12

    zeke12 Guest

    I'd be balancing my laptop on my knees right now as I touched up my resume and scanned jjobs.com.
  9. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

  10. Crimson Tide

    Crimson Tide Member

    Well, I brought this up because I'm looking for my own answers. This has been discussed at length over the past six months, but neither will iron anything out. To me, that doesn't mean a schedule of certain stories per week, but an idea of our priorities. It's not a pissing match or anything between them. They just don't communicate with each other, which has left me hanging.

    The last few weeks have consisted of me looking at the upcoming schedule, my list of story ideas (about a dozen that could fill the Sunday front from now 'til May) and come Monday it's "here's what I'm doing this week, see you later" before it can be shot down. I'm putting the practice of "if you want it done right ..." into play here.

    Which brings me to another question: what do you think of first-person stories? The other writer and I were thinking of having the hitting coach of the local college baseball team throw us in the batting cage and coach us. The guy has an impressive resume which includes USA/Olympic team back in the 80s (something like that).

    And to answer Cosmo's question, yes. Unless he was at a 4 p.m. 8-man football game, he's written all of his bylined stories from phone interviews. Features, player profiles, columns, etc. He doesn't mind us driving an hour for a 1A girls basketball game, but not for feature work. I know, it's fucked up.
  11. dawgpounddiehard

    dawgpounddiehard Active Member

    First person stories? I would approach with caution. Sure reading "Paper Lion" by Plimpton or if anyone remembers SI's Tom Verducci and the time he spent with the Blue Jays... but that is in rare instance.

    No offense, I don't know if I want to read about you trying to relive your Little League days... I'd much rather read about the guy and his stories from the USA/Olympic team back in the 80s.
  12. cranberry

    cranberry Well-Known Member

    First-person stories from some of the athletes you cover might be interesting. Probably need heavy editing but the athlete's perspective is usually a little different and compelling.
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