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Questions for you one-man sports department types

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by sweetbreads bailey, Oct 10, 2007.

  1. What's the secret to having a great sports section without killing yourself?

    Right now I'm the SE for two small-town papers, which amounts to six schools to cover and four deadlines a week (two come at the same time at midweek, which is what really keeps me up at all hours)...

    I've kind of hit the wall trying to chase everything that all my schools do, i.e. trying to be the "paper of record" in my little corner of Podunksville for all sports. We have stringer money, which is nice, but that has its drawbacks, too (like rewriting things because they don't know what they're doing yet).

    I've pondered a lot the past few months revamping how I do my job (thankfully have some freedom to do that) to salvage my life a little (I miss my wife, daughter). Going to fewer games, basically putting the initiative on teams to do better jobs of reporting their own stuff or else no coverage, writing more "quick-hitters" and roundups, etc.

    It's tough because I'm a perfectionist for one thing and always want to do a little more to make my pages better. And then no matter what I do, my morning deadlines make it tough to get work done ahead of time. I have two papers due at 9 a.m. on Wednesday mornings, for example, and a lot of stuff for those papers happens Tuesday nights. It's tough to put a page together with fresh material when the majority doesn't happen until the night before. Hence, like last night, I'm up till 3-4 a.m. writing, processing photos, designing pages, and then back in the office at 7 a.m. to finish things off. Then I drop around 11 a.m., go home and ignore my wife and daughter for several hours while I catch up on sleep, then go back out to games that evening, etc.

    Any suggestions on how to return to some sanity? I love what I do and where I do it (good people, good family town, decent pay though not great), etc.

    Maybe I just need to decide the sports section doesn't have to be as great as I think it needs to be? Unfortunately I've kind of created a monster of expectations with how hard I've tried to cover things my first few years here... anyway, off to sleep. Maybe I won't even remember posting this in a few hours...
  2. MGoBlue

    MGoBlue Member

    To answer your question, read my posting in the moving from sports to news thread.

    A more obvious question is why work in Podunksville? Get thee to a better opportunity.
  3. alex42083

    alex42083 New Member

    I do the whole one-man show with two small-town papers as well, and I sympathize with you that it's much more work than some others and possibly even higher-ups think.
    But then you get the same response about it 'having been done in the past so what are you complaining about?'

    I admire you wanting to go the extra mile with your pages, it shows you at least care and take some pride in your work -- and I've seen many other community papers and it's flat out embarrassing sometimes what I see.

    The only advice I could give you is try to do more features. Do interviews after or before the team's practice, knowing you don't have to try to go to every game on every night. Limit the other sports to roundup/quick-hitter types, have coaches call in or e-mail in results, and focus more on football (recap/previews/features, etc.) since really that's what most people care about in small towns.
  4. Flash

    Flash Guest

    Been there, done that. The secret is to cultivating good contacts and having them contribute. When I was the one-woman show, I had folks submitting good material on swimming, badminton, rugby, etc. I took care of the big stories. People in that town liked to help and liked to be involved in the reporting aspect.
    The most important thing to remember is you can't do it all.
  5. sportpro

    sportpro New Member

    It's a good idea to have some photo stringers. I am a one-man crew at a daily, with one high school. I have a person with the booster club of a sport (boys and girls soccer) serve as a "media" rep. They turn in sheets or information from the games, complete with quotes from the coach and some players. Usually get 12-14 inches from it. I cover the football team, plus do layout, design, etc. Friday is long, but my weekends are freed up and most evenings. Also cover major college as well. Knowing how to cover the bases and knowing the limitations is the key. I used work at a daily that had four prep schools and a two colleges with two-person staff. Learned how to juggle then. Big key is knowing limitations and getting people to help you get stuff in paper. Hope this helps!
  6. txsportsscribe

    txsportsscribe Active Member

    yes, because it's so easy for every person out there to find the right job in the right place.
  7. zeke12

    zeke12 Guest

    Do the best you can for as long as you can while still budgeting yourself at least five hours or so a week to seek a better job.

    Those papers are that way for a reason. They make money that way. And your boss, while he or she might be a personable person, is milking you for as much cheap labor as can be gotten away with before you burn out and another person gets hired. That's harsh, but it's the truth.

    Do what you can and look to get out at the first available better job.
  8. school of old

    school of old New Member

    I'm the SE on a two-person sports staff (my reporter is sometimes shared with the news side) at a daily paper. I originally started out as one-person section. We report for a small community with just two high schools and a community college.

    I feel like the best thing we've done is to find different ways to tell the story. Sometimes it's words and stories, sometimes it's pull out boxes, sometimes it's graphics, sometimes it's photos, etc.

    This fall we've added a bunch of different things like athletes of the week, a graphic breakdown of Friday’s football games on Monday (we don't have control of our Sunday paper), school notebooks and a weekly Q&A. Each item tells stories a little bit differently. These aren't terribly original ideas, but it's pretty simple stuff to get without spending too much more time getting it. To me that's the key. Collect as much information as you can and just find the right outlets for it or know you have certain holes to fill and what to get.

    Sometimes we go crazy and log way too much overtime, but I think we are having more fun with the section these days. We also have to update our Web site ourselves and have expanded into video. It’s not easy by any means.

    I feel like we've significantly enhanced the section. We get a lot more compliments. Part of the reason nobody did it before was because there is that attitude of "Get clips, and get out." The reason I've stuck around as long as I have, a year and half so far, is because I felt like I owed the paper and the community something. However, I completely understand I might be stupid, young and naive for thinking so. I just don't want to feel like everything I do is to put another line on my resume.

    I also felt the desire to make the section more structured so that when I do leave it's better than the way I found it. Maybe that means the section doesn't have to start from zero every year or so.
  9. TrooperBari

    TrooperBari Active Member

    It's admirable you think that way, especially the last bit. Don't think for a second, though, that your paper wouldn't dump you if it needed/wanted to (see the threads on loyalty and raises in JTO). Unless you have a compelling reason to stay somewhere that small, it's good to have an eye toward the future. I was at a similar shop for just about two years — one-man band in sports, plus city government and calamity coverage — and when I left, you never would've known that office was my second home.


    SB, if you don't mind my asking, is your daughter in school? After reading your post, it sounds like you've sacrificed quite a bit for your section, and you'd rather not let your level of coverage slide. Good on you for that. I know you said you love where you are, but is the location enough to keep you in a position where you're obviously unhappy? It sounds like you've earned a chance to move somewhere with more help and less constraints on your family life.

    Wish I had some good tips to help you improve your current situation, but I don't. I didn't (and still don't) have a wife and child when I was in one- and two-man sections, so I ran myself into the ground, beefed up the resume and GTFO.
  10. Hey Trooper, my daughter is 3, and my wife and I are pretty happy where we've landed. It's a small town with pretty good schools. We found a church we like, though we are still searching for "good" friends, though we've met a lot of people. I can see this being a pretty good place to raise kids.

    And I genuinely like my job. I've been a few rungs higher up the ladder covering big-time college teams and a few dips into the MLB waters, and I found that this level of journalism suits me. I like carrying a camera and doing some of the layout. I like being in a place, kind of like the movie Hoosiers, where an entire town will rally around their HS football or basketball teams and travel all over the state to see them play (and we have some really good teams here). It's neat to be the local sports guru telling the stories.

    I spend a lot of time on my page design and on the photography aspect (in addition to the writing). I don't want them to look and read like the Podunksville Times from the 1980s but like a major daily would treat things. That being said, I'm pretty tired and had better pace myself lest I flame out ... I guess I'm asking the ultimate question of how to do this job well and have a life/wife/family in the process. Maybe's there no good answer...
  11. TrooperBari

    TrooperBari Active Member

    I'm sure the answer exists ... it just isn't as bleedingly obvious as we'd like. :)

    If you really want to make a go of it where you are, then being more judicious with what you cover in person should be your top priority. It'll be tough to switch mid-stream — for you and those you cover — but the long-term picture is what's important. Better to have a fulfilling family life and have a few pangs about your work than pumping out a kick-ass sports section and be a burnt-out, shell of a man by the time you're 50.

    As long as you can let the right people know just how untenable your situation is, and how you need their help to keep the section at the level to which they've grown accustomed, you should be fine.
  12. Cadet

    Cadet Guest

    I echo that it's important that you clearly love what you do and take pride in your work.

    However, I can assure you that work does not love you back. In fact, you could evaporate tomorrow and, aside from a few co-workers, the only reaction your company would have would be to get pissed that sports didn't make its deadline.

    Nobody can keep up with that pace. That's why there is so much turnover at the small papers and one-man desks. Plus it doesn't pay enough. You've got a family and a daughter to eventually put through college.

    To play therapist a little, you need to set boundaries. Decide: This is what I will do (i.e. covering one football, two soccer and two volleyball games each week) and this is what I won't do (i.e. covering JV games, taking photos). I know that you like all the aspects of the job, from covering games to paginating, but you can't do everything you like all the time. Get some help and outsource the duties. Make it known that you welcome submissions, because that makes people feel covered without you spending all afternoon at the gymnastics meet.

    Very few people outside of your wife and this board will have sympathy for you. After all, you get paid to watch games. ::) Don't do everything and bitch to people about your workload. They won't care. Do less and explain to people who bitch when you don't cover the badmitton match that there aren't enough hours in the day.

    Good luck, and remember to hug your wife and kid.
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