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Letter from a parent that makes me want to quit on the spot, now.

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Brain of J, Jan 12, 2007.

  1. kingcreole

    kingcreole Active Member

    The thing that bothers me about this letter is it seems to have been written anonymously. Yeah, yeah, "Parents Group" is one thing. But if nobody signed the letter, these people are nothing but a bunch of chickenshit cowards. Nothing in this business pisses me off more than anonymous letters and phone calls that begin, "Um, Mr. Creole, um, do you mind if I don't tell you who I am?"

    Now, about the content, work on accuracy first. I went through a period of accuracy problems my first year, and I was down and out. My SE, a great person, took me out to lunch and told me to "Slow it down. You have time. Get the facts right first. Then go back and jazz it up."
  2. Nothing pisses me off more than anonymous complaints. You want to hunt these people down and say, "My name is on top of everything I write. Sometimes my picture is there too. If you have something to say to me, have the balls to let me know who you are."
    I agree with what everyone else has said. We've all had complaints with no validity from crazy parents that pissed us off. We also have all had complaints that had some validity. All you can do is do your best. That will never be enough for some crazy parents, but remember, you're not writing for little Johnny's scrap book. You are writing to inform the readers, most of whom are sane.
    If the sane ones are consistently criticizing you and you can't seem to improve in those areas, it might be time to try a different career.
    Until then, I wouldn't sweat what one looney tune had to say anonymously.
  3. outofplace

    outofplace Well-Known Member

    I think this is hitting home because you find yourself agreeing with them on some of the things in the letter. That means you can either fold up, quit and do something else or get better. If you love it, find a way to get better.

    And no, you cannot just focus one one aspect or another. Get better at everything. If you have to strip it down to basics for a while, fine, but eventually you've got to start making that lede work, too.

    I've been there, except for the picture thing. I was lucky enough to avoid that, which is good because I'm horrible with cameras. My first couple of months on my first job were a complete disaster. I got lost far too often. My writing needed work. I made too many mistakes.

    Then, shortly before my three-month review, the light went on. Probably just in time to save my job. Yes, there had been complaints about me, but that stuff eventually was put in the past. I was there for a while and by the time I left I had the respect of most of the people I dealt with in the community.

    Of course, a few people hated my guts. You're going to have that. Comes with the business. But if you do good work over time, people will come around.
  4. DyePack

    DyePack New Member

    Brain of J:

    It sounds as if you are overlooking the obvious solution: Better design.
  5. Mystery_Meat

    Mystery_Meat Guest

    The other thing to consider, and this is a depressing thought for a lot of the younger writers here (and maybe some of the established guys and dolls too), so be warned:

    Nobody cares about how good a high school sports story is.

    At least, the target audience doesn't. They just want to see a specific person's name somewhere in it, properly spelled and glorified. They're not going to notice if you belt out a lede that makes the Four Horsemen of Notre Dame look like "it was a tale of two halves", they won't appreciate the hours of research to compare some team's winning streak to one it had in 19-dickety-2, they probably won't spend a lot of time with it before they get to the name they're looking for, and no time after it.

    With that in mind, it's okay to revert to Storywriting 101 when doing a high school sports story if you're having trouble nailing down the basics. My guess is nobody who reads a field hockey gamer that begins "Jane Doe had two goals and an assist to lead Tinytown to a 4-1 win over West Engleberry on Thursday" will shake their fists at you when they see you the next time, but they might if you call her "Jean Roe".

    Disclaimer: This is NOT to say that you should be satisfied with appeasing the lowest common denominator and just be happy to rattle off a laundry list of names and call it a story. But if you're struggling, there's no shame in scaling back the stories -- just so long as you remind yourself that once you have your confidence back, you'll build on it and not let it atrophy in a sea of AP first-run ledes.
  6. lono

    lono Active Member

    Here's the deal: If you want to stay in the business, you need to get better at what you do. Developing a thicker skin wouldn't hurt, either, because there will always be people who want to put you down.

    But the immediate goal is to get better ASAP.

    If there's something(s) you don't understand about stats, ask your editor or a co-worker or one of us for help.

    If something happens at the game and you are unclear about it, ask the coach, the players, officials, etc.

    One tip is to ask a lot of questions to make sure you get it right. A lot of people are afraid to ask questions because they think asking questions will make them look stupid. Nothing could be further than the truth.

    What makes you look stupid is getting the story and/or the stats wrong. Asking questions shows you care about getting it right. Learn the sports you cover and learn your craft.

    And learn to accept criticism without taking it personally.

    Good luck ... we've all been there.
  7. Smallpotatoes

    Smallpotatoes Well-Known Member

    If the letter raises legitimate points, do what you can to get better. I'd be a lot more worried if that sort of feedback was coming from the person who signs you check than someone who doesn't have the balls to sign a letter, but that's just me.
    The way I look at it, if somebody doesn't sign the letter, I never received it.
  8. shotglass

    shotglass Guest


    This is just about the photo thing. Because if you're running blurry ones, they are going to stand out like a sore thumb. You've got to do something about that. Now.

    If you're having trouble stopping action, you might need to think in another direction -- good "non-action" action. For basketball, get a good tight shot of someone shooting a key foul shot. In wrestling, that moment right before the whistle is blown, where both wrestlers are watching the referee intently.

    If you go this route, you might buy yourself some time to figure out the problem you're having in shooting. It would seem that your shutter speed is too slow, but I know that this is a problem indoors. When you get outdoors in the spring, never shoot slower than 1/250th of a second speed.


    As far as the stories go ... I hesitate to delve too far into this end of it, but it does sound like you acknowledge that some of what has been said is valid.

    If you're having trouble keeping stats and play-by-play in basketball ... that is a skill set you simply have to refine. That's what a lot of this is. There are certain things you just HAVE to be able to do in this job. Give some thought to how you're keeping up with the game -- BEFORE you're out covering it. Is there a way of keeping stats that would allow you to keep up with the action better? Are you asking good questions in postgame interviews?

    I don't agree with the people who say you ignore this letter, J ... IF you think there's some validity in what has been said.

    If you do, then make it your goal to make them say, "Wow, that section got a lot better."
  9. Moderator1

    Moderator1 Moderator Staff Member

    To my board colleagues - thank you for the time you put into giving this member considerate responses and good suggestions.
    When I get frustrated with this place (that happens??), I'll think back to this thread as one of the reasons I like the joint.
    Nice work and keep the help coming.
  10. sartrean

    sartrean Member

    First off, people are brutal. They say "write about the kids, write about the kids...." and you do, then when a kid gets busted for selling crack in the school parking lot and kicked out of school, off the team and you write about it, the people hate you (unless they are supporters of that school's rivals).

    Somethings I noticed in your first two posts:

    Gamers? I' m assuming you're a one-man show at a weekly or twice weekly. And you're writing gamers?

    I abandon gamers after football season. Weeklies and twice weeklies come out way too late to write about gamers during basketball, softball, soccer, baseball and track seasons. The kids are competing way too often to keep track of it all.

    I've always reserved non-football gamers for all-local games, you know when Hometown High plays Crosstown High on the hardwood, or on the soccer field. I've also written gamers on playoff games or championships.

    But during the regular season, I'd suggest hitting the games for photos, and for ferretting out good feature stories. Talk to folks at halftime. After you got a good shot (assuming you're using digital), put the camera up and talk to people. You'll get good feature ideas that way.

    Stats? That's impossible, nearly, if you're shooting the game you're going to write about. And most high schools I've covered didn't do stats on my deadline. Never have I run into a high school coach who could A.) do stats efficiently and accurately, and B.) provide me with his/her aggregate stats in accordance with my deadline.

    I'd forget about stats if I were you.

    Concentrate on getting your photo skills up to par. Read the manual to the camera and the flash. I've read countless camera manuals in my lifetime, I mean, they come out with different technology like every four, five years.

    But get good photos, find out possible feature information, cover the post season as comprehensively as you can and tell people what's going to happen when your print edition comes out, not what did happen. That's the best way you can work a weekly's deadline system vis-a-vis the high school athletic programs' schedules.

    And people will bitch. But they'll bitch whether you give them a week-old gamer or whether you give 'em nothing but features.

    You know you're doing a good job in this business when you don't hear anything from anybody for about 4, 5, 6 weeks time. Either that, or nobody's reading your rag.

    I've probably never had a compliment, i.e. "you did a good job..." and nothing else. I've always gotten veiled compliments, i.e. "you did a good job on story XXXX about that kid with the three-point record, but you left out my kid. He held the record at NON-COVERAGE-AREA-SCHOOL 19 years ago and you deliberately left that out of your article to make us look bad, or becuase you're just a sorry sack of shit...."

    People are brutal, get used to it.
  11. Brain of J

    Brain of J Member

    Thank you all very much.

    I like the idea of focusing more on features and less on regular-season gamers. The competing daily can do the gamers, I can focus on a game if someone does something noteworthy, but focus on features and stories that come from the games.

    As for the stats, I'm confident in my stat-reading skills, but you screw things up once, people here tend to jump on you. I'm going to re-look at how I read the stats and collect them.

    And the photos, it's frustrating because I love a good challenge, and getting that tight, action shot that makes people look twice, is a challenge I've dedicated to figuring out.

    Granted, my camera isn't up to par, so I'm forced to bite my tongue and find a good shot that's not a slam dunk or a drive to the basket, something that's in focus.

    But again, thank you all very much.
    I think the best thing you can do in this business is develop a thick skin. Mine's getting there, but I really freaked out when I first read that letter. Not anymore. It's time to prove all the dipshits wrong. They probably won't change their opinion, but I'm ready to get better.
  12. Covering preps as the part-time sports guy at our local daily (30,000 person county, paper is 5 days a week, around 13,000 circ.) - I cover the city High School prep beat. And it really is a thankless job, or so it seems. It seems for every pat on the back you get for what you wrote about Johnny - you have 3-4 complaints.

    But I shake most of it off due to stupidity.

    This past prep football season....City Prep School here goes 1-9 under a new head coach (went 1-9 the year before too). In the 1-9 season before the new coach arrived, the team lost to an opponent 65-0 and gained no more than 12 total yards until the final drive of the night against the opponents sixth string.

    This season, City Prep School travels to this opponent in the second year of the home-and-home and the opponent is ranked in the state top 10. City Prep School gives an inspired effort and plays tough, trailing only 7-0 at halftime and 14-0 at the end of three. In the fourth quarter, City Prep School throws an interception thats returned to their 2 yard-line for an easy score, City Prep School has a punt blocked for a TD and the opponent throws a 60-yard td pass in the final minute to win 34-0.

    My gamer of this story was how City Prep School played inspired ball - and despite losing 34-0 the final score wasnt indicative of the game, because of how the team played so well before the opponent scored what could be deemed as three cheap TDs in the final 6 minutes of the contest.

    Meanwhile, that same night, County Prep School is playing one of the worst Class AA teams in the state. County Prep School comes out flat and trails by 7 at the half and led by 6 at the end of three before pulling away to win by 28 at the end. The sports editor wrote that gamer and said County Prep School survived a scare and was lucky to get out of there with their perfect record still perfect.

    Two weeks later, a letter arrives in the newsroom as a Letter to the Editor saying how we should both be fired for biasing our coverage in favor of the City Prep School, because their 34-point loss was deemed as "competitive and respectful" while the coverage of County Prep Schools 28-point comeback win was deemed as "an escape". We were told that "words of praise for losers" (as he was referring to the positive coverage of City Prep School) meant nothing in the grand scheme of things.

    The two high schools in this county have always complained about the coverage of each others athletic programs. Its always a constant bitch fest about who got the lead story or which school's athletes photo got the lead photo. It always seemed the county school did the most bitching for whatever reason, despite the fact they get 10-fold more amounts of coverage because they always go deep into the post-season by playing at the smallest classification level, while city school is in the toughest classification.

    Anyhow, the new head coach at City Prep School sees this letter - as the paper actually ran it - and writes one defending the paper for the accurate and positive coverage of his program and thanking me personally for the coverage i had given. In his previous job, the only papers around were big metros and his program never received any coverage. He pretty much punked the letter's author and did so in a letter that was very impressive for a head football coach (he's an English teacher).
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