A different kind of sports reporting at the News & Record

The past few years, when it was time to create the budget for the news department at the paper, I would slash expenses with all the surgical precision of Freddy Krueger. (At least that’s the way it felt.) Sending reporters and photographers with UNC and Duke through the NCAA tournament? Whack!. (It never occurred to me that N.C. State would make it. My bad.)

My thinking was that scores of journalists are there, all reporting basically the same story. Why add a few more to the mix? The paper subscribes to wire services that are sending dispatches from the games. Besides, perhaps staying away from the madding crowd might inspire our reporters to write something different.

It wasn’t a popular choice among the staff.

So, I was surprised and delighted when I read the story by Jeff Mills of the UNC-Ohio game in Saturday’s paper. The only way I knew he wasn’t sitting courtside was that the story didn’t have a dateline. I had watched the game on television and listened to the post-game interviews on the radio, as, apparently, had he. Unlike me, he had taken his experience of covering ACC basketball this season and written an on-the-mark expert analysis of why Carolina won, complete with player and coach quotes.

It was, as sports editor Eddie Wooten later told me, as if Jeff were the News & Record’s version of Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis sitting back in the studio commenting on the game. We had always assumed that 99 percent of the readers who cared about a basketball game watched the game on television. The value of the reporter wasn’t recapping the game itself, it was in using their knowledge of the players and coaches to tell people why and how a team won or lost. Jeff did that from 750 miles away. I asked Eddie to elaborate.

We like to offer readers analysis of the big ACC games. What is the big takeaway from this game? The only way to get that out of the NCAA regionals, without being there ourselves, was for our writers to produce that content from home. We could have printed stories from the wire services, but those stories are more often game rehash with a few quotes.

Yes, we miss things when we’re not there. We miss things the camera won’t pick up during a live broadcast: Discussion between coach and player, or official and coach, or among players. It’s hard to get the feel for the game from the den. We have access to quotes from locker room, but we don’t see the body language or sense the emotion.

So it’s not perfect. But just as a suit in a studio can deliver analysis on a game played far away, so can we. And at this point in the season, our writers know our teams better than the writers assigned to cover NCAA tournament games.

It was a smart and creative use of Jeff’s skills.

 

4 thoughts on “A different kind of sports reporting at the News & Record

  1. However, and it’s an important “however,” the ability to do that well now comes from staffing games in person during the regular season, getting to know the players and coaches, and getting insight into team strategies and dynamics that regular-season broadcasts also don’t provide.

  2. Lex is right — while it makes sense not to have 80 people all writing the story, you also have to make sure you can offer something that Joe’s ACC Hoops Blog cannot.

    Also, Greensboro is the ACC’s home. Makes sense for the News and Record to cover it well and let the other papers wonder why *they* are sending someone.

  3. I found out about this through a Poynter feed, and while I agree that the analysis is useful and that Jeff Mills didn’t need to be at the game to write the story, I do wonder why you didn’t feel the need — in a tagline at the end or something — to make it clear to readers that Mills wasn’t at the game. Industry insiders may realize that the lack of a dateline would indicate the writer wasn’t on site, but I don’t know if the average reader would know that. And in the interest of real transparency, a footnote stating the fact that Mills’ analysis was based on his observations from watching the game on television would be much more honest.

  4. I appreciate the pat on the back. All things considered, I was pleased with the way the work turned out. But I still believe we should be traveling to the NCAA tournament.

    I understand the economics. I really do. But what is your own voice among the mob worth? I watched on TV with a few million others as the nation’s top rebounding team got beat at its own strength — badly — by Kansas. And I had to hope some other reporter would ask about it at the formal postgame news conference with the coach and two of his hand-picked players. Know what? Nobody asked. Instead there were a parade of questions along the lines of “How much does this hurt?” and “How does it feel playing your final game?” and “Was there ever a chance Kendall Marshall could play?”

    Ugh.

    By not being there, we lost the locker room. We lost the chance to ask any player any question, then watch his face and body language when he answered. We lost that which we in the media often harp on — access. And we gave it away for the cost of a plane ticket and four nights in a hotel.

    To write my analyses from afar, I had to rely on what I had seen with my own eyes from October through early March, which served me well. But I also had to rely on transcripts from the formal postgame pressers for my only player access. Those transcripts helped in the Sweet 16. They were nearly useless in the Elite 8.

    Bottom line? I did the best I could with the tools available. But I can’t help but wonder what I missed.

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