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By Sarah Wallace, Western University (London, Ontario)
Sports journalism can be seen as part of a big and scary world. It’s not necessary.
I’m a student-athlete at Western University and started out in the sports section of my student newspaper. I drifted into copy editing and cultural reporting a few weeks later, because I didn’t want to focus solely on game recaps – that part of the sport, at the time, bored me.
After being a culture intern and culture editor, I am now the coordinating editor of the sports and culture sections of the Western Gazette, leading a team of more than 20 editors, journalists and interns.
The biggest problem I’ve found in writing and managing the sport is the alienation that comes with it. Too often, writers dismiss sports reporting as mere game-by-game summaries or an extraneous entity.
Sports journalism has been at a huge disadvantage during the pandemic, with one of the main issues being whether or not they will play. But that doesn’t mean you can’t integrate your writers into the office culture. Here’s how we did it.
News and opinion writing is defined by its particular style of writing – news, more often than not, uses the inverted pyramid. Sport, on the other hand, is defined by its subject: everything we write is about sport!
Sportswriters have sports as their beat all the time. Therefore, sport can be presented in different ways: in a cultural context, in a current affairs context or in the form of a video. One of my favorite articles I’ve ever written is my second article, on gender equity in college coaching — something that emerged as a result of a story on Ontario’s Sunshine List .
During our pitch meetings, I will also dedicate the first half hour of our hour to an editorial board-style debate on a topic. Often this will be based on something happening in the news, such as the Olympics or whether sports betting should be allowed in college sports.
After our debate, the sports columnists take two minutes to brainstorm a pitch based on our debate. Because the debate is open to the whole office, we often receive varying opinions and examples from other sports, such as cricket, curling and figure skating. These debates have also led to longer stories, opinion pieces and profiles.
Change can be difficult, especially when you’ve been on a specific beat for so long. Student journalism is about trying new things, making mistakes, and learning. More than ever, it’s time to explore and bounce back.
At the Gazette, we’ve changed our approach and made schedules based on when our staff are supposed to be in the office – we’ve asked them to be in the office when they’re not in class or on their days off.
Just being present naturally facilitates conversation and also encourages productivity. Being around different sections and a staff of different talents leads to some interesting conversations. One of the sports interns did a 10-second weather report for TikTok about our first snow dump of the year, and others are writing personal essays for our Valentine’s Day issue after interacting with the team. of opinion.
Every two weeks, I do workshops with my cultural and sports teams where I teach them a particular aspect of journalism outside of their usual rhythms, or involve various speakers. The first workshop I led was about integrating multimedia into their work, and I challenged them to think of a piece that might involve video or web feed. This led to the sports team helping to organize and create a video featuring key players from our (nationally winning) football team.
I found that exercises like these helped to mingle and normalize the conversation about sports in the office. The added need to interact with different sections of the office – like video production and graphic designers – gives them the opportunity to connect with people they wouldn’t normally talk to. My writers found they had more in common and became good friends with other section members due to the initial forced communication.
More than anything, your goal should be to make sure everyone has a positive experience. Being a student journalist is fun. Organize social media around everyone’s schedule (easier said than done, I know), play games, and if you’re on Slack, have a random channel for people to share things you can’t. find fun or interesting outside of journalism.
Sport is an additional world that we share in addition to the shared community of journalism. My editors cite the increase in communication as having enhanced their experiences. Various staff members have accompanied my sportswriters to games because they like their company, even if they don’t understand the game at hand.
Sports parts can also be difficult to understand. There are many phrases that you will never see elsewhere or are in a strange context. When I started, editors asked me about these phrases because they knew I was a multi-sport athlete and were afraid to ask the sportswriters themselves.
I helped create a sports dictionary / style guide with sports and copy teams, which includes specific sports phrases, their grammatical function, the sport you would find the phrase in, its definition, and an example. The Gazette uses ClickUp and Slack for organization, so we’ve created a tab for all of our guides and pinned it to the top of some of our channels, allowing anyone to access these materials to start writing a sports story. .
Sports journalism doesn’t need to be scary. It’s the little things, notes one of my colleagues, that make sports feel not just like balls and racquets, but like a real world in which people live their lives and turn day to day.
Sarah Wallace is a varsity curler at Western University and cultural and sports coordinator for the Western Gazette, Western’s student newspaper.
Thomas Harding was the only black player on the Butler University football team in the late 1930s and one of the best running backs in the country. But unlike Jackie Robinson or Jesse Owens, Harding’s name remains obscure, wrote Drew Favakey for The Butler Collegian.
When Butler traveled from Indianapolis to Washington, D.C. to play at George Washington University, GWU said they would not play if Harding took the field. He was still traveling with the team, had to take a separate train car and stay in a separate hotel before watching the game from the sidelines. When GWU came to Butler the following year, Harding dominated the field.
Any student publication can apply this historical approach and draw from its archives. What was the integration of sports into your school like? Who can you talk to and who is connected to these stories?
I’m looking for students and recent grads to write for The Lead. No one knows student journalism better than student journalists, and I want to hear how you solved problems, innovated, or tackled complex issues in your student publication.
All students will be paid for their writing, thanks to The Lead’s partnership with Poynter. I am particularly interested at the moment in pitches on these topics:
- Publishing on multiple platforms
- Photo + Video Journalism
The most successful pitches are specific and concise. Reflect on what other student journalists can learn from your personal experience and show your understanding of The Lead’s purpose and audience. There is no deadline, but the sooner you start, the better.
Learn more and submit pitches here.
💌 Last week’s newsletter: Sports journalism is not limited to sports
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