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Is deadline writing no longer good enough for BASW?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Alma, Oct 15, 2014.

  1. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Intriguing answer taken from a Q&A with Bob Ryan:


    "You know the Best American Sports Writing book, right? It's been around in one format or another since 1944. I spent hours and hours and hours and hours reading every available copy in the school library at Lawrenceville when I was there. It was a dream to get in the book someday, which I finally did a couple of times.

    I'm hanging my hat on this one. For years and years and the book was originally about deadline writing. It was all about covering events and there were a couple of pieces that were magazine pieces. It's evolved over the years and it's an entirely different book now. If you look at it every year, it is nothing but magazine pieces, newspaper takeouts in which people have all the time in the world to write what they want to write. The last story in that book that was a deadline story was written by yours truly in 2003. It was after the Aaron Boone home run after Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and the column I wrote made the book and every year, I pull my Don Shula 1972 Dolphins, and I open the book and go, 'Yesss!' I am the last person with a deadline story in that book. It may be the thing I'm proudest of. I think I have a pretty good chance of going to my grave having opened the metaphorical bottle of champagne every year."
  2. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    It's so easy to write takeouts!
  3. boundforboston

    boundforboston Well-Known Member

    The true question: Is deadline writing much better that newspaper takeouts or magazine stories?

    Also, I don't think there are many newspaper people who do just takeouts. Any idea on who those people may be?
  4. 3_Octave_Fart

    3_Octave_Fart Well-Known Member

    Deadline writing is a greater test of skill.
  5. SoloFlyer

    SoloFlyer Active Member

    Deadline writing is a greater test of writing skill and storytelling ability, whether it's in a gamer or column.

    Takeouts are a greatest test of research/reporting, story construction (not necessarily ability), and editing.

    You need quality reporting and construction in deadline writing, but it shines through more on takeouts. You need decent writing and storytelling in a lengthy feature, but it shines through the most when time is a premium. A takeout piece can pass through multiple hands, get multiple looks. With a good editor, even an average writer can bang out a well-written feature.

    The truly good writers take those features to a new level and shine on deadline.

    Also, I think Bob Ryan's point is a little off. The lack of deadline in BASW might be a reflection of the guest editors. JR Moehringer, for instance, chose not to include Dan Wetzel's post- Super Bowl piece on Tom Brady in 2013's edition. I think most of us here would admit that was one of the best columns in recent memory. It wasn't a hard deadline piece (no worries about getting it in by midnight to get it to the printer), but I recall Wetzel saying he had a soft deadline to get it up.

    This isn't a knock on Glenn Stout, but when was the last non-magazine writer chosen as guest editor?
    2013 - Moehringer, the very definition of a takeout/feature writer
    2012 - Michael Wilbon, who is more of a TV personality now and hasn't been on hard deadlines since leaving the Post
    2011 - Jane Leavy, feature writer
    2010 - Peter Gammons, talking head
    2009 - Leigh Montville, at the time a magazine writer. Recently returned to Globe as a part-time columnist
    2008 - William Nack, takeout specialist
    2007 - David Maraniss, takeout specialist
    2006 - Michael Lewis, focuses on books and occasional contributions
    2005 - Mike Lupica, columnist

    So you have to go back all the way to Lupica to find a guest editor who was working on a hard print deadline. And that's just one edition after Ryan's piece was in.

    I doubt the guest editor selection is the sole reason for a lack of deadline writing making BASW in the last 9 years, but I bet it's a solid contributor.
  6. jr/shotglass

    jr/shotglass Well-Known Member

    A skill that should continue to be rewarded.
  7. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    It's really comes down to need and opinion to say one is better than the other, doesn't it? If I have a newspaper or website that turns over copy at high rate and is highly read, a destination read in the late evening (after an event) or morning, then the MVP of my staff might be my best deadline writer. If I have a magazine, then a deadline writer is useless to me and I need someone who can write investigative pieces of takeouts that make my publication stand out in a sea of sports babble.

    Sometimes I think we get too wrapped up in saying "X is better than Y" here.

    As an institution, BASW has a lot of conflicts/flaws/frustrations but I'm not sure this is one of them. It's an anthology that's meant to sell books over the course of 12 months as much as it is a distinction of the year's best journalism. And ultimately the choice comes down to two people, and their tastes, biases, interests, etc. Accepting this is an important path to serenity. It wouldn't be a bad thing if this website, or somewhere else, made a list of the best newspaper writing each year, deadline included. But that does not mean a collection of that work would be sellable to a larger audience.
  8. boundforboston

    boundforboston Well-Known Member

    I tried doing a "Good writing of 2014" thread (http://www.sportsjournalists.com/forum/threads/98545/) that didn't really get much traction and was lacking in deadline stuff. Feel free to add to that.
  9. 3_Octave_Fart

    3_Octave_Fart Well-Known Member

    I don't mean to suggest one is subordinate to the other.
    Deadline writing requires planning, focus, an orderly mind and approach, economy of language and concision, among other things.
    That's just my opinion. I think the able deadline writer can take those skills to takeout, whereas the takeout writer might struggle on a tight clock.
  10. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    Deadline writing might be the hardest writing, but I'd be hard pressed to say it's the best. I don't think the book is judging on a curve.

    And I hope there's not a misconception that the pieces in there are writerley masturbation exercises. For example, I read one from last year's book recently about Curt Schilling's video game company going under, and another that was an expose of Lance Armstrong's LiveStrong foundation. Neither fit the stereotype of a writer writing for a writer. They were conversational, deeply reported pieces that required time to unfurl.
  11. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    I've seen it go both ways. I was a decent deadline writer (though there were times when I choked). I'm probably a little better, comparatively, as a feature writer (though there have been times when I've gagged there too). I've seen great daily writers struggle massively when asked to think big structurally, and ask the kind of questions that produce details that can become scenes, and I've seen big fancy takeout writers choke massively when they have 15 minutes to write 700 words of coherent copy.

    I do think, and I believe this passionately, that writing gamers and dailys helps considerably if you then move on to write takeouts. I see a lot of really bad longform stuff done by young people (poorly edited to boot) who do not write with discipline because they never had to learn to write that way. There are people writing 5,000 word personal essays who, swear to Christ, ought to be writing field hockey gamers. They'd be better in the long run.

    What I think makes long narratives hard is if you're going to take up a lot of someone's time, the payoff needs to be there. I read some long pieces, I slog to the end, and I'm pissed because I just burned 20 minutes on something that wasn't good. If I read an 800-word game story, I can finish and shrug my shoulders and not care if it was bad.

    Good longform is hard, and the reason it's hard is it needs a lot more reporting beyond what's going on in your diary or your head. If it's not reported with the same intensity as a great game story or investigative piece, I'm just not as interested as I once was. And truly great longform requires multiple drafts, a strong editor and a tempered ego. When longform is bad, or boring, or overcooked, it's usually, IMO, because one or more of those elements are missing.
  12. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    The payoff point is a good one. I think that it's something I'll consciously keep in mind from now on when I get a chance to write. I wrote a piece recently that was only in the 2,000-2,500-word range, so nothing like you have taken on, but it was still a narrative structure, and I very much knew from the time I sat down the ending I had to get it to. Did it work? I don't know. I got some nice emails from people. But I was conscious of what the reaader expects when he or she puts some time into a narrative - whether it's a movie, a longform piece, or an episode of "NCIS" - and that's half the battle.

    Lack of a payoff was one reason that I think a lot of us here didn't particularly love the SB Nation piece about the high school football game in Mississippi. (Not to pick on an individual writer or story.) It's also, going into the wayback machine, why people didn't like the Wright Thompson Elvis Grbac piece.
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