This blog will be on a short vacation through Monday. The next post will appear on Tuesday. For Bleacher Report writers, next week’s Writer HQ Newsletter will go out on Tuesday rather than Monday.
Sportswriter Jay Busbee of Yahoo Sports has written a tongue-in-cheek form letter in response to commenters on his pieces, and anyone who’s ever had an online audience can relate.
The letter, published on his site and headlined “A Letter For the Angry Fan Who Just Wants a Little Attention,” has something for people who liked what he wrote, and something for, as Busbee writes, “as is the more likely scenario, you didn’t like what I wrote.” Since there are more of the latter, he spends more time on those replies, and that’s where the fun is:
4. Journalism can be “biased” in the sense that I get paid to offer my opinion on certain stories. If you disagree with my opinion, that’s your right, of course. But offering my opinion doesn’t make me a bad journalist, just like offering yours doesn’t make you a bad reader …
7. There’s (not theirs) a decent chance your (not you’re) writing is a writhing, poorly spelled, ungrammatical mess. If that’s the case, I’d love to take your points seriously, but I’m laughing too hard at you.
When I worked in a newspaper circulation department, taking calls from people whose morning paper was missing or in a puddle—sometimes people astonishingly angry over a 25-cent item!—my co-workers and I would fantasize about what we would say to callers on our last day at the job. Things like, “Sir, do you realize you’re screaming your lungs out over a 25-cent newspaper?” To be fair, that 25 cents would be worth about 60 cents today.
I’ve similarly fantasized about how I would answer apoplectic and abusive commenters and emailers if I were less professional, or maybe just less inhibited. I’ve never—OK, rarely—given in to these impulses. If you haven’t either, you might find Busbee’s form letter cathartic. You might even want to write one of your own. And never send it.
This Slate piece by Stefan Fatsis is about how the NFL’s recent actions have caused the league to lose “its most loyal reporters,” but it also has some insights into the meaning of access, a subject we’ve discussed a lot in this space.
“Roger Goodell and the NFL thought they had the press under control,” the story’s display text reads. “Not anymore.”
Fatsis writes about the league’s strategy, similar to that of other big sports leagues, of hiring top writers like Judy Battista and Michael Silver away from prestigious media outfits for its branded media outlets, in this case NFL.com or the NFL Network. That serves “to reduce the amount of critical daily reporting and commentary.” But, Fatsis writes, even those reporters who don’t work for the NFL can get paid, in a way, in access:
In his book The Watchdog That Didn’t Bark: The Financial Crisis and the Disappearance of Investigative Journalism, Dean Starkman describes two conflicting strains of American journalism: access reporting and accountability reporting. The former involves getting inside information from powerful institutions, the latter telling inside stories about them …
Meanwhile, it looks like some NFL beat reporters were used and abused by the hands that typically feed them news about free agent signings and coaches on the hot seat. The problem with access journalism comes when reporters serve as mere pass-throughs for information, especially when that information is a lot weightier than the Chargers planning to sign Doug Legursky. In July, [Peter] King reported that “the NFL and some Ravens officials have seen” the video of [Ray] Rice punching out his then-fiancée Janay Palmer inside a New Jersey casino hotel elevator. But then the NFL denied having seen the video, and King explained that he hadn’t done due diligence, posting a statement saying his source had told him that he had only “assumed” the NFL had seen the video.
Fatsis points out that the NFL’s strategy could turn out to be a double-edged sword. By not giving these “insiders” the straight dope, the NFL has left them embarrassed by revelations from outsiders, such as TMZ, which obtained and released the Ray Rice elevator video.
“Now, the writers who once bowed before the commissioner’s throne are mad as hell,” Fatsis writes, “and they’re not going to take it anymore. Well, maybe.”
But for our purposes, it’s always good to be reminded that access can be a double-edged sword for reporters too. It always pays to remember why access is being granted. The most important quote in Fatsis’ piece comes from Pulitzer Prize–winning financial reporter Jesse Eisinger, who told the New York Times that he always reminds himself why sources are talking to him: “It’s not because I’m good looking or a nice person,” he said. “They’re all talking to push an agenda.”
A piece on Medium.com headlined “The power of your writing: Why you should write even if you think nobody is reading” seems to be aimed more at creative writers and personal essayists than journalists, but I think it has some good advice for any writer, and it’s a nice follow-up to yesterday’s post in this space by Michael Schottey.
Writer Winnie Lim addresses some of the top reasons people have for not sitting down and writing and debunks them as myths:
In recent years, I have been advocating to anyone I come across that they should write. Not only should they write, they should publish their writing online for the purpose of sharing it openly with as many people as possible.
“Nobody would read what I write,” was the most typical reaction I would get, followed by various forms of, “My writing is so bad”. Some people don’t feel as self-conscious about the quality of writing, instead they are plagued by other reasons: “I am never inspired enough to write”, or “I have no time to write”.
The good news is that I get these reactions even from the gifted writers I know. The writing paralysis afflicts everybody, not only normals like you and me.
Sportswriters are often writing on assignment, on deadline, reacting to or anticipating scheduled events. Nobody needs to be talked into overcoming their reluctance to write because “nobody would read what I write” when an editor is figuratively leaning on their shoulder waiting to read what they wrote.
But what about that next thing? What about the longer piece you’ve been wanting to write? What about the novel, the screenplay, the personal blog, or even the sports blog with an angle you think is going to be a hit but no existing site is willing to give it a home?
I think Lim’s advice even works on the individual story level. If you’ve been stopping yourself from starting on something, especially if it’s been for one of the reasons Lim cites above, check out what she has to say.
Michael Schottey, NFL National Lead Writer, was awarded the 1st place 2014 Dick Connor Writing Award for News Writing by the Pro Football Writers of America, along with 3rd place in the Game Stories category. The 1st place award was for his column headlined “Reported NFL influence over ESPN latest blow to integrity on concussions.”
The following is the story of how that column came about.
Last year, the big news at Bleacher Report was the hiring of Matt Bowen and Mike Freeman as Lead Writers. Knowing both guys, I couldn’t have been more excited and was even more happy to fly out for an “NFL Summit” with the two of them, Lead Writer Ty Schalter, NFL Editor Collin McCollough, Editor-In-Chief Joe Yanerella and B/R founder and General Manager Dave Finnochio. Best yet, it was in the new video offices in New York City, so we were getting the chance to see those as they took shape.
On Aug. 23, as I was preparing to fly home to Florida from that summit, news broke from James Andrew Miller of The New York Times that the NFL had pressured ESPN to remove itself from its role in a joint documentary with PBS’s “Frontline” based on the book “League of Denial,” which had been written by two ESPN staffers.
If true—and Miller is a ridiculously reputable source on what goes on in Bristol—it would be a huge blow to the NFL’s integrity on the concussion matter and proof positive of what many have suspected for some time: that the NFL is more interested in sweeping the concussion issue under the rug than actually dealing with it.
My initial reaction was to blanket everyone I knew to try to get statements on the issue. I emailed, texted and called people at ESPN, NFL offices and at the NFL Players Union. I searched through all my contacts and cross-referenced them with any connection to the story, including ESPN employees who happened to be in the NFL concussion lawsuit.
I set up a number of columns on Tweetdeck so I would see any information on the subject as soon as it hit the internet.
Then, I shot my immediate editor, Wes O’Donnell, a G-chat at 9 a.m. on the dot (I still have the conversation saved) asking if I could write on the issue. At this point, I had nothing but my own opinion and the original report, but I trusted I could get more, so I started writing.
Understand that I was supposed to be checking out of my hotel and heading to LaGuardia. I had already called the front desk at about 8:50 to check out and have them call me a taxi.
I didn’t have to write this story—it wasn’t assigned and could have easily been covered by someone else at B/R. Yet, I wanted to write this story. It was important to me, and I knew it was an important topic.
The first response back to me was a text from NFLPA executive George Atallah agreeing to call me. The next, almost immediately, was a response via email by NFL spokesman Greg Aiello. By the time I had finished reading that email, I had received a message from former NFL player Lomas Brown.
You can read what those men had to say in the column, linked above.
In all, I think I sent about 15 texts, emails or phone messages that morning and only received a handful back. Some on the record and others off.
As each person responded to me, I plugged it into the skeleton of the story I had built. I used the columns from Tweetdeck to add more context to the piece as others were getting comments from sources I hadn’t talked to as well as others, including an official denial from ESPN.
At 10:17, I emailed the published link to O’Donnell and was out of the hotel by 10:30, praying that traffic would be OK on my way out of the city. With NYC’s typical and terrible Sprint cellphone reception, I G-chatted O’Donnell on the way to the airport about the editing and content standards of the piece.
In the airport, I was boarding the plane when the column was cleared and ready to go.
I didn’t have to write. There was no need to subject myself to that stress, or to chance missing my flight, which would have meant incurring huge change fees or getting home later to the wife and children who weren’t exactly loving that I hadn’t been home.
In the end though, I couldn’t be more happy that I wrote.
Writers write, period. That’s who I am and that’s what I do.
This isn’t about just the award, though I am extremely grateful to the PFWA and their judges for recognizing the hard work and craft that went into the piece. No, I’ve been proud of this piece since it published and have reaped benefits in terms of how seriously people take me and my writing—including some of those sources who may not have given me the time of day beforehand.
I wish I followed this “writers write” maxim more often. As can be the case, life happens. I have many hats to wear both personally and professionally, and I don’t always juggle those roles as well as I should. I try not to procrastinate, but I do. I try not to go through “writers block,” but I do.
Write, just write.
Don’t talk about writing. Just write. Don’t complain about writing. Just write. Don’t stress over writing. Just write. Don’t spend the entire day tweeting and Facebooking on a topic. Just write.
I don’t know what your best story will be or whether it will earn you an award. I do know this: Your worst work will always be the work you didn’t put in.
The Society of Professional Journalists released a a new Code of Ethics last week. Revised would be a better word, but there are some significant alterations that are worth noting.
The SPJ is acknowledging the changes that are roiling the media industry, mainly by changing its focus from “journalists” to “journalism.” That is, “giving nod to the idea that journalism is an endeavor that transcends that of the professional workers and encompasses many people and many forms, the idea of speaking to the act of journalism over the actors,” according to the press release announcing the changes.
There’s also a new acknowledgement of the concept of transparency. Without changing its view that journalism should avoid conflicts of interest, the SPJ notes that “when these conflicts can’t be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions.”
Among the other most important changes, according to the release:
- The code inserts language that tells journalists that a legal right to publish is not the same as a moral obligation to do so. It attempts to separate the legal v. ethical arguments that arise often in ethical debates.
- The code encourages the verification of information from all sources. This was inserted to address the growing trend to repeat information without independent verification, even when that initial source is another news outlet.
- The code has always encouraged journalists to resist outside pressures to alter or direct news coverage. This code includes the need to resist internal pressures as well, which speaks to corporation boards and executives trying to exert pressure from the highest levels.
- It speaks to the components of speed or medium over accuracy, and notes that the neither of those two reasons excuses the lack of the effort in getting the information correct.
- It is important to gather information throughout the life of the story and to update and correct it, a growing concern due to online storytelling and social media use.
Here’s a critique by journalism expert Steve Buttry, who says he’s pleased, but also disappointed, by the changes.
Note: A minor typo in the press release, repeated here, has been corrected in both places.
The headline: “Keep calm and write a headline worth reading.”
Facebook announced recently that it would step up its efforts “to weed out stories that people frequently tell us are spammy and that they don’t want to see.” Part of that is reducing “click-baiting headlines.” From Facebook’s company blog:
“Click-baiting” is when a publisher posts a link with a headline that encourages people to click to see more, without telling them much information about what they will see. Posts like these tend to get a lot of clicks, which means that these posts get shown to more people, and get shown higher up in News Feed.
The example Facebook used was a post from Celeb Style Weekly that read, “You’ll NEVER believe which two stars got into a fight on the red carpet last night!! CLICK to find out which starlet they were fighting over!!”
Saved you a click: Celeb Style Weekly is a mock page created for the blog post.
“Hyperbolic come-ons of this sort run counter to principles more traditional (some might say outdated) news outlets take pride in following,” Driscoll writes. He continues:
Among them: Keep the exaggeration in check and the blowout language in your back pocket, because someday you may need those explosive adjectives when a truly big story lands. Using “destroys” to describe what a comedian did to a politician’s position looks odd when the word also characterizes the devastation wrought by deadly floods.
Driscoll also notes that if a potential reader’s motivation to click on your story can be killed with one or two words, the specialty of Twitter feeds like @SavedYouAClick, “It’s the story that’s the problem.”
Comedian Louis CK makes a similar point in his comedy special “Hilarious,” which I won’t embed here because too much in the routine is inappropriate. He talks about people using extreme words like “amazing” and “hilarious” to describe things that aren’t.
“We go right to the top shelf with our words now,” he says. “‘Dude, it was amazing. It was amazing.’ Really? You were amazed? You were amazed by a basket of chicken wings? Really? Amazing? What are you gonna do with the rest of your life now? What if something really happens to you? [Here he describes Jesus returning and impregnating the speaker with the 'new lord.'] What are you gonna call that? You used ‘amazing’ on a basket of chicken wings!”
Have you noticed that there’s a new player in the sports media field? It’s TMZ, which broke the Ray Rice elevator video this week. TMZ also had scoops with the Donald Sterling audio this spring and the news last year that Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston was being investigated by police for an alleged sexual assault.
The New York Times wrote about how TMZ, which began and thrived as a Hollywood celebrity gossip site, has moved into sports:
TMZ decided to move beyond Hollywood and into sports after it helped break the story of Tiger Woods’s extramarital indiscretions. The logic was simple, driven home by the public’s seemingly unending interest in Woods’s off-the-course activities: Sports are now their own form of pop culture, and some of our biggest celebrities are athletes.
I think TMZ moving into sports and quickly becoming a major player is a reminder that in today’s fast-changing media world, you never know where your competition—or your next potential employer or partner, for that matter—is going to come from.
I often repeat the advice, which hardly originated with me, to differentiate yourself, make yourself valuable by doing something that nobody else does. But even if you manage that, you can be bopping along, thinking you’ve got the market cornered on something, and here comes someone you didn’t even know was in the game to beat you at it.
It’s a tough racket, all right.
Jeff Pearlman, an author and freelance sportswriter who sometimes writes for Bleacher Report, does a weekly Q-and-A interview on his personal website “with a person from sports/entertainment/politics/whatever.” He calls it The Quaz. It’s often a great read.
This week’s Quaz is with Peter Carry, the longtime executive editor of Sports Illustrated, where Pearlman was a staff writer from 1996 to 2002. Pearlman writes that Carry was a legendary editor who “presided over the golden age of sports journalism,” starting at S.I. in 1964. A short, typed note from Carry praising a story, Pearlman writes, was all the sustenance a Sports Illustrated writer needed.
He asks his former boss about his approach to editing:
The most important work was done before the story was written, even before it was even assigned. Rule 1: The best ideas come from the guys in the field (and Lord knows whatever other sources outside your office), so listen. Refine. Combine. Bad ideas result in bad stories, no matter who’s doing the writing. Rule 2: Listen and talk to the writer. Don’t nag, don’t hang over her shoulder. But do have a discourse. Challenge. Help the writer refine the idea. Rule 3: Read the damn story all the way through before you lay a pencil or a cursor on it. This seems like a simple matter, like medical personnel always washing their hands before they touch a patient, but you’d be surprised how often patients and stories get prematurely handled. Rule 4: Be gentle but be firm.
I’ll let you read the rest of it. My favorite part is when Pearlman asks Carry what it was like to work at Sports Illustrated at it’s peak, and Carry begins his answer, “Do you watch Mad Men?”
Sourcing is an important facet of writing for Bleacher Report. With the vast amount of information available in the digital media landscape, it’s vital that we attribute our sources properly to give credit where it’s due.
The Attribution Guidelines are a handy reference point, but here we’ll look at those guidelines and expand on some areas where there is occasionally confusion.
All news items that have broken in the 24 hours before your article publishes should be attributed with a link and citation to a credible, original source.
This includes national stories that could be considered common knowledge, such as LeBron James signing with the Cleveland Cavaliers. While the news may be widely circulated on the web, it’s still proper journalistic practice to acknowledge the person or outlet who broke the story.
Some examples of properly sourced breaking news:
LeBron James is rejoining the Cleveland Cavaliers, announcing the decision in an essay on SI.com told to Lee Jenkins.
At left wing-back, Luke Shaw begins his first United season with a hamstring injury and is expected to be out a month, as reported by BBC Sport.
Once a team or league has officially confirmed the news, a link to the official announcement is sufficient attribution rather than naming a media outlet. For example:
Bayern Munich have announced the signing of Spanish midfielder Xabi Alonso from Real Madrid.
All rumors must be sourced to a credible, original outlet. For advice on what to look for in a “credible” source, see this B/R Blog post.
Typically, a rumor will be accompanied by a word like “reportedly,” but in general it is a story that’s unconfirmed by official sources.
Personal speculation does not need to be sourced, but all items framed as rumors or speculation from elsewhere must be attributed to credible outlets. See examples of correct sourcing for rumors below:
According to Bleacher Report’s Mike Freeman, executives around the league believe Jim Harbaugh is wearing down the San Francisco locker room.
Tottenham are interested in a move for Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck, with James Orr of The Independent reporting that the north London club are the favourites to sign the England international.
According to Alan Nixon of The Daily Mirror, Fulham are interested in a loan deal for Valencia star Sergio Canales.
Quotes and Paraphrases
All quotes and paraphrases not obtained firsthand should be sourced to credible, original outlets. Proprietary quotes and paraphrases are attributed by linking to and citing that source.
All quotations that are not proprietary to one source (such as those from press conferences where several outlets are reporting the same quotes) should be properly hyperlinked to a source confirming the quotes, while specifying the context in which the quotes were made (“in a press conference …” “told reporters …” etc.).
Writers may also clearly indicate when and where the quotes were reported live (such as a TV broadcast), in which case no link is required.
Example (Indirect, Non-Proprietary Quotes)
Incorrect: After the game, Richard Sherman said, “I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”
Correct (Writer garners indirect, non-proprietary quotes from the Internet): In a press conference, Richard Sherman said, “I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”
Correct (Writer garners indirect, non-proprietary quotes from live TV/radio/etc.): In a postgame press conference televised on ESPN, Richard Sherman said, “I know some ‘thugs,’ and they know I’m the furthest thing from a thug.”
Distinguishing Between Primary and Secondary Sources
When attributing information, it’s important to ensure you’re giving credit to the correct source(s). Not only do we need clear attribution to the original source reporting the story, but we also need to credit any secondary sources from which you’ve obtained the information.
For example, this Mark Polishuk article on MLB Trade Rumors collects various reports from around the web, including a piece from ESPN’s Jayson Stark. Here’s proper attribution if you’re relying on Polishuk’s article:
Since Stark is the original source but we obtained the information through MLB Trade Rumors, we should credit both sources, with a hat tip (h/t) to the secondary source. It’s inaccurate to say MLB Trade Rumors is solely responsible for the rumor.
Be sure to read a source thoroughly to verify if the story is based on someone else’s reporting.
Sourcing Information That Isn’t Available Online
If something was reported in a print publication that’s not available online, we do not need a link: A citation and a clear indication that the source was a publication is enough. For example, we would ask you to make it clear when using quotes from a magazine.
Information from books also does not need to be linked. One common issue we see is writers linking to Amazon pages for books as a way of sourcing, but it is actually against our guidelines on promotional content to link to a page where a book that you have not written can be purchased.
Similarly, if writers want to use a report they saw on a television broadcast, they don’t need to link to it, but it must be made clear that it came from a broadcast:
Ian Rapoport reported on NFL Total Access that Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson has asked to be traded.
Attributing Firsthand Information
While most B/R writers are prohibited from breaking their own news, we do allow all writers to acquire and use firsthand quotes in their articles. However, because a lot of the information we use comes from external sources, we ask that writers make it clear when what they are reporting is firsthand.
There are a few ways this can be done:
- A tagline placed at the end of your article or slideshow saying “All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.”
- An indication in the text (“she told me,” “he said in an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report”).
- A dateline at the start of your article.
In that same vein, we ask that firsthand observations from events such as NFL training camps and college football practices are clearly attributed as being your own if that’s the case. Otherwise, we would need them to be sourced with a link and citation as they are considered proprietary to those reporting them.
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Calum Rogers is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report.