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Small town takeover

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by GermanKeyser, Jan 1, 2012.

  1. GermanKeyser

    GermanKeyser Member

    Well, tomorrow I'll be taking over a sports section for a small-town newspaper in south Texas (the coverage area includes two high schools and a Division I JUCO). I've spent the past two weeks trying to ready and prepare myself, but I thought I'd also seek the wisdom of the board and for any advice ye members have.

    So I turn it to you, the wise and knowledgeable. What should I expect (aside from the moms crying about me costing their kid a scholarship, of course)?

    (Bonus points for the person who can help calm the anxiety and the worry that I'm going to completely screw this opportunity up.)
  2. dixiehack

    dixiehack Well-Known Member

    Try to figure out early if readers actually care about the juco, or if you should focus more elsewhere.
  3. joe_schmoe

    joe_schmoe Active Member

    If you are taking a job where I think you are, and you are who I think you are, then you likely already know the answer to Dixie's question. This JUCO is important, but not anywhere close to as important as the high schools.

    Expect to work your butt off on some days, wonder how you can possibly 1. Find the time to write all the stories you need to write. and 2. find space to put them in. Smaller hometown papers expect a lot more localized feature. They almost expect their sports editor to be a homer (you don't have to be, but sometimes it doesn't hurt to write like you are).

    If it's not too late, be sure get as much info as you can from your predecessor before you take over, but be yourself, and don't expect to please everyone. You'll have to discover most of the quirky parts of the job on your own, every place is different.
  4. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    Matt Stephens, don't come in here and try to guess where he works. Thanks.

    GermanKeyser, I think your nerves are natural and healthy. You care. That's half the battle. You can't approach those kinds of jobs with the primary thought of, "I can't wait to get out of this place."

    The key for a sports editor at a small shop like that is to push your staff to care as much as you do. It's not easy. I've freelanced for a weekly with a terrific sports editor, but his staff of five was miserable. The staff quality showed.

    That isn't to say you should fire everyone. But a lot of the more moribund writers and editors at small papers simply haven't been challenged with anything intellectually stimulating in ages. They've had more and more grunt work dumped on them. I don't have a clue what your staff is like, but keeping it energized will pay dividends for the inevitable burnout days you experience.

    That leads into my other point: Don't kill yourself for a job that would just shrug and replace you (or not replace you) if you did. Your enthusiasm is healthy, but it doesn't mean you should be working 70 hours a week unless they're paying you to work 70 hours a week.
  5. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Good advice from Versatile about the hours, of course, and Joe makes a good point about trying to find out stuff from your predecessor, if possible.

    One thing I would do when you first come in is ... take a deep breath (seriously), and try not to worry too much about putting YOUR imprint on the section right away. Too many times, a new person takes over a new job and wants to put their imprint on it withing the first couple of days, either because they feel pressured to make a huge splash for their new bosses, or to impress the community. And what happens is that it does little more than gum up the works. You'll have some good ideas on improving your section and you'll want to implement them. But make sure that it'll be workable to follow up on those ideas once the initial burst of enthusiasm fades.

    Also, take a few weeks, and look at your section to see its strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you're not going to change something that is a strength (or something that is beloved by the community), and look to see if you can shore up the weaknesses, or if the weaknesses are even that important to shore up. That way, when you start implementing your ideas, you're building on your section's strengths.
  6. dixiehack

    dixiehack Well-Known Member

    Figure out if you have any stringers worth a damn. My guess is you won't have a staff to worry about.
  7. TheHacker

    TheHacker Member

    With only two high schools to cover, you will be able to do something that those of us with much larger coverage areas can't: Make real, meaningful contact with all of your coaches.

    Get out of the office and go meet them. Make sure they know who you are and which paper you're with. Make sure they understand that you want their results on a regular basis -- and that when you're not there to cover them in person, you need them to meet you halfway and work with you on submitting the results. Find out who "keeps the book" and make contact with that person too. In short, get to know people.

    Tell them you're always on the lookout for features/interesting stories that aren't just game stories. Going to meet them in person can help mitigate whatever preconceived notions they have about your paper. The ones who thought they weren't treated well by the paper in the past may be more inclined to give you the benefit of the doubt if you get some quality face-time with them.

    Also, find out what resources there are in the region -- is there a larger paper, or some website that maintains the standings for the league that your two schools are in? I assume they're in the same league. Does the league have a website? You'll want to know how to contact the teams that your schools play against.
  8. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member


    Figure out the days you have to push hard and the days you can recharge your batteries. Then be firm about that.
  9. GermanKeyser

    GermanKeyser Member

    Thanks, all. I think the anxiety is settling some the closer tomorrow comes, just the big oh-shit-what-if-I-fail thought is still lingering.

    The staff there is really small, just me and one other writer, and no stringers.

    Versatile, I definitely agree with you about the hours. I don't think the misses would be too pleased with that. On the other hand, I do want to do what it takes to put out a good product. Hopefully it won't take too long to find that happy medium. Good stuff, too, about implementing changes, Baron. I want to somehow get out to the community and see what the readers think are strengths/weaknesses, I'm just not sure how to go about it. I guess by being at as many games as possible and talking with the people in the stands might work.

    And, Hacker, I'll definitely be out at practices and have plenty of face time with the coaches. I don't want to be just some guy they know through phone conversations and emails. Luckily the SE before me kept a pretty good relationship with them and they were pretty good about calling scores in.

    Oh, man. Less than 12 hours...
  10. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Just be careful when going out in the community and asking about strengths and weaknesses. Especially if it's a small community, you'll get a lot of "You cover School A too much, what about School B?" and then the next person will say the opposite.

    That doesn't necessarily mean that they don't have good ideas. When I started at the one-man staff small daily, I came in the middle of a high school season and was basically starting from scratch because the job had been open for a long time. I thought I was doing OK, a couple of people came up to me and said they liked what they were seeing. Then one day, a man came up to me, and suggested putting in a schedule of the local high school teams of when they were playing, which I hadn't been doing. A simple staple of a newspaper, yet, I, being fairly new and trying to figure out how to put the section out each day, hadn't thought of it. Within 2 days, I made sure there was a schedule in there every day.
  11. spikechiquet

    spikechiquet Well-Known Member

    First and foremost, think of policies and how to deal with certain things (will you only take submissions via email? How are youth sports covered? What about photo submission of a karate club? Are you going to run bowling scores? Are you going to run JV box scores? JV recaps? JV anything? Are you going to write a feature on every kid in the area that "signs" a D-III "scholarship")...and stick to them! Get a feel for what the paper does now and either agree with what is being done...or change it. Get it in writing and STICK TO IT!
  12. trifectarich

    trifectarich Well-Known Member

    German: I don't know what your previous work experience has been, but chances are, you're going to learn a ton. It's going to be a very exciting opportunity. Good luck.
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