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Talking to the HS athlete, a plethora of cliches

Discussion in 'Writers' Workshop' started by Doom and gloom, Jul 2, 2015.

  1. Doom and gloom

    Doom and gloom Active Member

    I'm sure I don't have to explain the "plethora of cliches," for those who have spent time on a preps beat.

    Any more, it's common in colleges too, where schools now have orientations for players to train them on talking to the media. Consequently, the results look like they've been through the equivalent of the White House press secretary.

    With many of you on limited staffs, and stories become more of a grind, it seems like what is common are cookie cutter stories and angles. There's just so much offensive and defensive strategy you can speak of until it becomes like Lucy re-runs. Occasionally there's a compelling human interest story but those require a lot of digging, which most staffs don't have the time for.

    I hope this description is clear.

    But to me it seems like this kind of work becomes so repetitive it's like working on an assembly line. Nothing ever seems unique. Stories aren't fun. It's space filling, not story telling.

    Right or wrong? And if it's "right" then how do you cope? How do you reinvigorate yourself and your staff?
  2. boundforboston

    boundforboston Well-Known Member

    I think the quality of material you get from sources depends on your relationship with the source (Podunk Times reporter showing up to cover the Yankees vs. someone who's there consistently from the New York Times), as well as the reach of your outlet (Podunk Times vs. ESPN) and the quality of questions you ask/the quality of the story you're pursuing. Good ideas lead to good stories. If you approach day-to-day coverage with boring ideas, you're going to get boring results.
  3. SBR

    SBR Member

    Couple things, maybe they touch on what you're talking about, more likely they're just my own self-indulgent, tangential ramblings:

    The athletes and the coaches shouldn't be telling the story. That's what the reporter is for. We need to use our own powers of observation. Even great quotes don't make a great story. You need to know details and context, both to ask the right questions and the flesh out the story. It's time-consuming to get that stuff, but that's what it takes.

    Another thing I think is, if you're looking for human interest, or for interesting humans, sports might be the wrong department. This goes back to the "preps are boring" thread on the main board. One of the talking points was that prep athletes are not as interesting to interview as collegians and pros.

    But even college and pro athletes are going to tend toward the boring side – and what else would you expect from people who devote their lives to practicing and working out? The most successful athletes are not very well-rounded people.

    Look at Tiger Woods, the most famous and successful athlete of the 21st century. After a 20-year career the most interesting thing we know about him is that he likes to have sex – A LOT.

    Sportswriting is an easy job. Doing it well is not.
  4. MNgremlin

    MNgremlin Active Member

    Ask a general question, you're probably going to get a general response.

    Sometimes it seems the questions have become just as repetitive as the answers. I'm as guilty as anyone here.
  5. fossywriter8

    fossywriter8 Well-Known Member

    Batman likes this.
  6. sgreenwell

    sgreenwell Well-Known Member

    Interview non-stars and non-leaders whenever you can. People who haven't been interviewed a million times before or since eighth grade can sometimes provide a more unique perspective and mindset.

    If you're not doing a gamer, bring up anything but the sport they're into. At this point, most preps kids - even the good ones - have different stuff they're into. And even if this is boring, it at least fosters more of a relationship with them, and separates you from the other reporters all asking the same thing.

    Try to ask a question that makes it seem like you give a crap about their opinion. Extra points if it builds upon a response they previously gave. (This tends to work for all beats, not just sports, and life in general.)

    Include family aspects when you can. "Who was cheering you on ehre today?" Sometimes getting the person you're interviewing to talk about someone they have an emotional bond with will get them to talk about more interesting things.
  7. spikechiquet

    spikechiquet Well-Known Member

    Tell the ugly ones they are pretty and the pretty ones they are smart...

    Uh, wait...is this the right thread?
  8. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member


    Some high school athletes are horrible quotes. Cliches or yes or no answers. Others are great. Look for the great ones.

    I always tried to avoid the cookie cutter angles and stories. Do not try to tell the same story over and over. Why would you do that? FIND DIFFERENT AND INTERESTING ANGLES.

    Ask questions you are interested in. "What drill is the hardest in practice? Who is the unsung hero of this team? Which assistant coach is ready to be a head coach? Anything.

    Every story about a high school team doesn't have to be about how good they are or whatever. Challenge yourself to find somethng different. Refuse to write the same old stuff.

    If you do feel like the nuts and bolts is required, put it in a fact box and write about how the team is rasing money to build a new scoreboard or whatever.

    Talk to parents. Talk to managers.

    Good luck.
  9. joe_schmoe

    joe_schmoe Active Member

    This scenario happens to everybody in the biz. Many pick that time to quit. I always make sure young sports journalists' passion lies in the art of journalism and not in sports. Like SBR said
    Sportswriting is an easy job. Doing it well is not.
    I see many many sports guys who join this profession fired up and huge sports nuts only to find a couple years into it, they can no longer watch sports on TV, and begin to dread attending games.
    There isn't a secret solution to the question you seek answered. There are good suggestions here. And I encourage writers every so often to actually go pay to watch a live sporting event. Be a fan again. That's not easy. You can often be at a stadium of your favorite team and watch a long bomb for a TD, a buzzer beater 3-pointer for a win, or a walk off grand slam and forget that its okay to cheer.
    If you relive the fan experience, you can often find yourself looking at things is a fresh perspective when you go back to the writing.
    Yes, cliches will always be there. Every high school kid will tell you "I think we can go all the way" "my lineman did a great job blocking" "I was just looking for a good pitch" "My teammates did a great job" blah blah blah. And no matter ow talkative a kid is, it is funny how much they clam up when talking to a reporter. But when you are fresh and on top of your craft, you'll find it a lot easier to break through the cliches and find the gold you so desire.
  10. highlander

    highlander Member

    For me, since I am one guy who covers two high schools I have the benefit of the players seeing me a lot and knowing who I am.

    I also see them in the stands at other games and get the chance to talk to them or even joke around about their last game.

    My approach is to talk to the coach first after a game. Usually somewhere in that interview I will ask about someone who played well that night and that might lead to the coach giving me a good nugget. Such as the player is sick, or has been putting in extra work or even something as simple as in basketball that once he started hitting shots we kept getting him the ball.

    For me those kind of things give me good idea on what player to talk to and some good lead in questions.

    For me thank goodness both of the school's have very intelligent and well spoken players. Although some still are shy.

    Don't know if that will help or not but that's how I do it in Texas.
  11. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    You said you talk to "the" coach. Do you try to talk to both coaches?

    If your coach is toeing the party line and the visiting coach is ripping the fans for taunting the players or something, I would hate to miss that.

    Conversely, we have had stringers turn in stories where 90 percent of the story is from the angle of the winning team -- which is from 2 hours away and not really in our area. Just because they won doesn't mean our readers care about them.

    For high school games, I always try to talk to both coaches, in addition to players.
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