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Your journalistic big-ass projects?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Football_Bat, Oct 2, 2008.

  1. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    I've got one going: To find and publish every high school varsity football game ever played by a team covered by our newspaper.

    I got tired of not knowing the last time one team beat another, or how many times in a row one team has beaten another, or whether two teams had even met before I started working at the paper. So I got started.

    I'm to 1971 now and have found about 80% of the results just on the Internet. I'm saving the mircofilm research for last because it's such a pain, but I have complete area results through 1989.

    I'm wondering if anyone has undertaken a big project like this and I'm curious how much work it has involved.
  2. We put together a book on one school's 100 years of football.
    Team records, year-by-year results, championship photos, photos and bios of every head coach the school ever had, stories on all the championship teams and award winners. A comprehensive list of the all the school's 1st-team all-state players. And photos, photos and more photos of the teams, players and games through the years.

    A lot of the information was already availible. But the photos and bios of coaches was hard to get.. It took a lot of painstaking work. Digging through yearbooks and going to bars to get photos and results. Calling little-known colleges.
    We did it over the summer, when everything slows down and we didn't have much else going on.
    It was awesome!
    I loved doing it. I learned so much, but it was much harder than I thought it would be.

    The work involved always ends being more than what you think.
  3. Rusty Shackleford

    Rusty Shackleford Active Member

    I was going to suggest going to the school and asking to look at its yearbooks. That might make such a project much more manageable.
  4. azom

    azom Member

    PM sent.
  5. Football_Bat

    Football_Bat Well-Known Member

    Yearbooks at a lot of schools are hit-and-miss. The first one I went to, I got scores from three of the first 22 I looked at. The rest just had nothing but posed shots and homecoming photos.
  6. Steak Snabler

    Steak Snabler Well-Known Member

    At my last shop, we had a part-time stringer/clerk who was compiling historical football scores and coaching information for not only all of the 30-odd schools in our area, but every team in the state, including the all-black schools during the Jim Crow days. He does most of his work on microfilm at the local public and college library, but has gone so far as to order old school yearbooks off eBay (he then sells them back on eBay after getting what he needs out of them).

    He has them all saved in easily-searchable files on the shared folder, backed up on one machine's hard drive and by hard copies. It was an invaluable resource; I referred to them on a weekly if not semi-daily basis when doing preseason tab work and during the season.

    It's an ongoing project, but I think he's pretty close to finished.
  7. TheMethod

    TheMethod Member

    Somebody give that kid a full-time job. That's impressive.
  8. Batman

    Batman Well-Known Member

    We did this at our paper a couple years ago. Sit a spell, and let me tell you my tale of woe...

    It started with an all-time, all-county team from the last 50 years. We tracked down old players, researched some stats, and came up with a ballot for every decade. We let readers vote on it, and it was a pretty popular thing.
    After it was done, though, I realized how incomplete it was. We heard stories about guys we never found in the research (we threw it together in a couple weeks) and stats were either wrong or woefully incomplete. So over the Christmas holiday, when things were slow, I started digging. Went through the old bound volumes to compile team records. Then started on the single-season and career records. Eventually, it developed into a kamikaze mission.
    I was going to do a single-game record search.
    That meant going through every game ever played in our county, that there was a record for. At any given time, there were between four and six teams to research. So it was 40-60 games a year to track down.
    The first 20 years were a breeze. Open a bound volume, rifle through September, October and November, take notes.
    Then it was time to hit the microfilm. I broke the machine a couple times. Burned out relays that hadn't been used in 10 years. Even had to dig up a replacement bulb from the supply closet. Thing had likely been there since 1983. Our paper's film went back to the early 50s, then it was off to the library. Every slow week, and a good portion of the summer, were spent hunched over that damn microfilm machine for 2 or 3 hours a day. I gained the superhuman ability to thread a microfilm machine in 2.4 seconds. I could finish off an entire season of research in about an hour.
    And I nearly went insane. Words blurred together. I'd be making love to my wife and blurt out, "Did you know Jimmy Tailback at Podunk High rushed for five touchdowns in a game against Crotchtown in 1955? Then, two weeks later, he had six against Shelbyville!" I was like an idiot savant. Like a high school football version of Rain Man.
    The records just kept going further and further back in time. Every time I fired up the microfilm, I felt like the guy in the H.G. Wells story. Time and space distorted. Everything turned a weird shade of sepia. Old-timey headlines appeared and disappeared (My favorite was "Podunk beaten by deaf and dumb team").
    1940. 1930. 1925. 1923. 1922 ... wait a second. No games in 1922? Let me check 1921 ... nothing!
    I was finally done. I let out a Tiger Woods like fist pump that nearly got me tossed out of the library. A few more checks of yearbooks revealed a few games in the mid-teens, but nothing major. After eight months I was finally done. And I say "I" because it was all me, baby. No help from anyone else.

    The project was really started just for in-house use. I got tired of someone saying "That's a school record!" and not really knowing for sure. It ended up as a countywide record book that spans a century, ended up becoming an annual feature in our tab, and has been wildly popular. Every now and then, I'll be at one of the schools and someone will mention how their stud running back has X amount of yards, and needs X amount to pass someone on the career list. Or someone else caught seven passes last week, and only needed a couple more for the single-game record.
    That makes me smile.
    I wrote a five- or six-part series, each part a 50-to-60 inch epic, about the history of football in the county that was largely a rehash of everything I had worked on. I wrote 75 percent of it from memory.
    And over the last few years we've gotten a couple dozen regular stories out of it about current players who are approaching milestones or setting records. It's been an invaluable resource.

    Anyway, it's a worthwhile project. Just be careful. You can get wrapped up in it and lose your mind. Consider me the old-time grizzled prospector warning you about gold fever.
  9. Steak Snabler

    Steak Snabler Well-Known Member

    Except that he's actually a 60-ish lawyer who does it on his own time purely as a labor of love ...
  10. my first job, i covered a JUCO basketball program, always nationally ranked, but with no SID, no available history, no media guide, really no resources at all that had anything to do with the program's rich history

    i spent a month in the dusty microfilm room and came up with a historical game-by-game going back to the point where the program began having success, also all 25-point scoring games, annual scoring leaders, put together all-time series results ...

    finished it and got a new job far away about six weeks later
  11. deskslave

    deskslave Active Member

    The guys here are doing a pretty tremendous job rounding up that sort of information for Georgia high school football. Todd Holcomb of the AJC is one of the driving forces. Anyone who's doing this sort of project probably wouldn't hurt themselves by throwing up a message on their board and asking for advice.

  12. Birdscribe

    Birdscribe Active Member

    I did something very similar to this. Only I didn't rely as much on microfilm as I did interviews with about a dozen people who personified football in our area going back to the 1920s.

    For our football tab in 1999, my boss wanted me to write the definitive history of football in the area. I figured it would be around 65-70 inches. I spent a month doing the research, along with my regular beat duties.

    Then, I hit some yearbooks from the area "historian," who played football at our oldest high school in the 1930s and knew virtually everyone. He was a gold mine.

    What I was trying to do was give everyone a picture of what it was like to play football over the various decades. For example, in the 1940s, the one high school up here had to travel to Ventura down a road with their lights off because of blackout restrictions. Stuff like that.

    I started writing it one Thursday morning, leading with a fictional anecdote of two of our area studs from rival high schools -- one who went to Cal, the other who went to UCLA -- watching their two schools play a high school game in 2065 and talking shit like Statler and Waldorf from the Muppets. Then, I segued into what it was like to play football here over the various decades.

    I got back from the Rose Bowl Saturday night, took over my boss' office and finished it around 4:30 in the morning.

    My boss was there with our ASE working on layout. I kept telling him it was going to be longer than 70 inches. He said, "Don't worry about it. Just keep writing and let me know how big it is when you're done."

    It clocked out at 111 inches. They didn't cut a line.

    I must say it was one of the more fun stories I ever did in 17 years.
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