Introducing Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report
Download all of Playbook as a free ebook at this link.
Bleacher Report is a meritocracy. The best writers get rewarded.
But what does “best” really mean? How do we judge the quality of the writing on the site?
One key tool is the objective evaluation system used by B/R’s Quality Control Team. Editors use this system to judge whether Bleacher Report writers have mastered the basics of B/R sportswriting, and where they need to shore up their skills if they haven’t. We also use it to check ourselves when we’ve determined that a particular story is solid enough for placement on the site cover or some other prominent spot, such as in a Team Stream feed or on the cover of CNN.com.
“Objective” might sound like a strange word to use because we all know that writing is an art form. But just as we can evaluate whether a musician hits the notes correctly or is playing in the right key, there are some things within the art of sportswriting that we can judge objectively.
It seems logical, not to mention fair, that as long as we’re subjecting your writing to these criteria, we ought to tell you what they are and how you can best meet them. Over the next several weeks, this blog is going to do just that. If you don’t want to wait, you can download the whole thing as a free ebook in a variety of formats. Click on the title to download Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report.
In pedagogical terms, we’re teaching to the test. For a brief introduction into some of the concepts we’ll be talking about in Playbook, you can read the B/R Engagement Guide.
Objective evaluations mean that as a B/R writer, you’re not subject to the whims of an “I know good writing when I see it” approach, to one editor telling you to do something that will improve your writing, then another coming along the next day and telling you the opposite. If some aspect of your writing is good according to the evaluation standards, it will be good in the eyes of everyone on our editorial staff too.
By rationalizing the way we review writing performance and provide feedback, we hope to give B/R writers a clear picture of what we’re looking for. In other words, we don’t want you to learn about the evaluation system so you can score brownie points with evaluators. We want you to use its concepts because they will help you build a loyal audience for your writing.
And we believe that mastering the concepts in this book will help your online writing, wherever you publish and whatever the subject matter.
This isn’t just theory. We’ve tested it. We’re only rolling out Playbook now because we’ve seen the results since the evaluation system went into effect in the fall of 2012. We’ve seen across-the-board improvement from writers who have engaged with the feedback that’s based on the system. Their pieces get flagged less often for Content Standards violations, and are programmed on the B/R front page and in other prominent slots—Team Stream, CNN, partner sites, etc.—more often.
That means editors using subjective criteria—their own news judgment—are determining that those writers’ stories are good enough for high placement more often.
Having said all that, there are limits to what this type of system can do. Writing really is an art form, and while an objective evaluation can judge things like grammar, diction, story organization and adherence to B/R style, it can’t judge things like how well you know your subject, how funny or profound you are or whether your prose really sings.
That requires a human touch. We have that too. It’s how we make those judgments about story placement and it’s how we identify the very top writers, separate the great ones from the good.
This system probably wouldn’t single out “Death of a Racehorse” as a superlative piece or Joe Posnanski as a brilliant sportswriter. But that’s not what it’s meant to do. The system’s job is to separate the good from the not-there-yet, and identify the things the latter group needs to do to make the leap to the former.
Bleacher Report has been raising its quality standards for about three years now, and we plan to continue doing so. We want as many writers as possible to be able to stay with us. If you want to be successful at Bleacher Report, mastering the concepts in Playbook is a prerequisite, but it’s only a first step. Once you’ve built that foundation—which, again, will benefit you wherever you go—your long-term prospects will depend on the kind of nuanced intangibles that are better judged by more subjective methods.
Playbook can get you into that game.
In the next post, we’ll get started by describing the three types of stories B/R’s evaluators look at to make their judgments, and the elements we look at within those story types. Then we’ll talk one by one about these building blocks, and exactly what the Quality Control team looks for when it evaluates your articles.
But first, a note on the word “writer”: “Digital content creator” would be a more accurate term because text is only a part, though a major part, of what Bleacher Report and many other digital publications present to readers. It’s useful for writers to think of themselves as creators of the whole presentation, not just writers of text.
Unfortunately, “digital content creator” sounds horrible. “Writer” is a lot less clumsy and unwieldy, so we’ll keep using it. But keep in mind that in the digital world, writing involves a lot more than just typing.
Next post: The three article types
Download all of Playbook as a free ebook at this link.
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Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report Writers is an 18-part series outlining the metrics and criteria of B/R’s objective Writer Evaluation system. The system complements the subjective assessments made by members of our Editorial Team, which means that a solid evaluation is a necessary but not sufficient condition of success with B/R. You can find more information and download the full Playbook for free at this link.
Playbook Table of Contents:
Three story types
News Report Story Angle
News Report Narrative Structure, Information Aggregation
Argumentative Articles: Thesis, Rhetorical Structure, Factual Evidence
Ranked Lists: Ranking Logic
Ranked Lists: Topic, List Composition
Attribution and Hyperlinks
Sentence and Paragraph Structure
B/R Style and Formatting
Common Mistakes: General
Common Mistakes: Three Article Types