Wright Thompson of ESPN the Magazine is a great magazine sportswriter—or, to use the current term, which I don’t like, longform sportswriter.
Thompson talks about his career and craft as part of the Still No Cheering in the Press Box series at the University of Maryland journalism school’s Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism. We talked about that series last year when it ran a profile of the sports columnist I grew up reading, Jim Murray.
This is Thompson “in his own words,” his answers to a pair of student interviewers, according to the series overview. It’s a bit ironic because it reads as if Thompson is rambling uninterrupted on a bar stool, bouncing from topic to topic. That’s the very opposite of Thompson the writer:
When you’re a kid you think writing has to do with words and then you figure out that it doesn’t and that it has to do with structure. It’s architecture. That’s the whole job. It has nothing to do with words, really. It’s outlining, structure, it’s conflict and resolution …
I go through notes, I outline and underline and I make note cards and reorganize the notes into like piles. And I cover walls of offices with post-it notes. I do whatever feels like is necessary to wrangle all of this information.
Pull up a barstool and listen.
Salmon’s message was dark, as hinted at by the story graphic, a photo illustration that featured the words “We won’t pay you” superimposed onto newspapers:
I’m sure that many people have told you this already, but take it from me as well: journalism is a dumb career move. If there’s something else you also love, something else you’re good at, something else which makes the world a better place — then maybe you should think about doing that instead. Even successful journalists rarely do much of the kind of high-minded stuff you probably aspire to. And enormous numbers of incredibly talented journalists find it almost impossible to make a decent living at this game.
It goes on like that for quite some time, though Salmon also calls himself a “golden ager” and writes, “I think this is probably the greatest era for journalism that the world has ever seen.”
The problem, he writes, is that “Labor has almost no leverage over capital any more,” meaning it’s very hard to get paid.
Salmon makes a lot of good, tough points. I saw two responses that offered pushback on his bleak vision. This is my best advice to young journalists by Ezra Klein of Vox, and Advice for young journalists by “Sports Media Guy” Brian Moritz.
Both offer plenty of solid practical advice, but not terribly much to rebut Salmon’s pessimistic view of anyone getting paid. “The Death of Journalism is really a kind of disruptive change in journalism,” Klein writes, “and that’s bad for incumbents, but you’re not an incumbent.”
The problem with that is that, if successful, you will be, and, as Salmon wrote: “If you get a job by competing on price against 40-year-olds when you’re 22, then the turnabout, once you reach 40, is only fair play.”
Moritz, playing off a quote from Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” writes, “If the students and young journalists care a whole awful lot, they will create the journalism the world needs—both as a business and as the news.”
The whole dustup spawned a Twitter hashtag #AdviceforYoungJournalists. There are a lot of attempts at humor to wade through, a few of them successful, and some good advice mixed in.
Laurie Penny, herself a young journalist but a brilliant one for the New Statesman and the Guardian, collected her thoughts on the hashtag in a Storify.
Bleacher Report’s Attribution Guidelines say that “All quotations, paraphrases, and statistical analysis from other published works must be accompanied by attributions to original source material.”
While quotations and paraphrases are fairly straightforward, it’s a bit more difficult to determine what type of statistical analysis requires sourcing. This involves distinguishing between basic stats (no attribution needed) and advanced stats (attribution required). The tips below should make that process easier to understand.
What’s the difference between a basic stat and an advanced stat?
Anything that can typically be found in a box score or basic league/team/player profile is considered a basic stat. These stats are widely circulated and available in plenty of places, so there’s no need to acknowledge which specific source you may have used to verify the numbers. These often rely on fairly simple arithmetic and can be calculated without too much trouble.
On the other hand, an advanced stat might be exclusive to one source, require intricate data-tracking, come from a complex formula, reside behind a paywall, be a result of a particular writer’s research—or all of the above. The source of such a stat deserves credit for leading you to that information, even if other outlets carry the same figure. That way you’re being completely transparent about how you’ve obtained information that might not be regularly referenced.
Here are examples of sites that may contain advanced stats. Keep in mind that not every stat found on one of these sites qualifies as advanced—we’ll get into that more later:
Multiple Sports: Sports-Reference.com‘s various sites, official league sites, ESPN.com, Spotrac.com, OddsShark.com
NFL: ProFootballFocus.com, FootballOutsiders.com, AdvancedFootballAnalytics.com
NHL: BEHINDTHENET.ca, HockeyAnalysis.com, war-on-ice.com
NCAA Basketball: kenpom.com
MLB: BrooksBaseball.net, FanGraphs.com, baseballsavant.com
World Football: WhoScored.com, Squawka.com
Why should I source advanced stats?
If you’re relying on someone else’s research, formula or data in order to supplement your own analysis, it’s proper journalistic practice to credit that source and be completely transparent about how you’ve obtained your information. Basic stats can be found in many different places across the web without too much trouble, so those can be incorporated without attributing a particular source.
How do I source advanced stats?
In the same way that you would provide a hyperlink for a quotation from another source, you should provide a link that leads readers directly to the stat you’re referencing.
Beyond linking, you should properly credit your source by acknowledging it in the text. There are a couple of options for doing so: Either name your source alongside the hyperlinked stat or include a tagline clarifying where your stats come from. The latter option is particularly useful if you have multiple advanced stats in an article—that way you don’t have to continue naming your source throughout the text.
An in-text citation looks like this:
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL in adjusted yards per pass attempt at 10.14.
If you choose to go with a tagline to cover all of your citations, it would look like this:
In the article: Aaron Rodgers leads the NFL in adjusted yards per pass attempt at 10.14.
Article tagline: All stats courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Regardless of how you decide to name the source of your advanced stats, there should be a link showing where each of your stats is located. If the same link shows more than one of the stats you’ve referenced, no need to link it repeatedly.
Exception: If you’re using a built-in table to present advanced stats, naming your source in the required caption field is sufficient attribution since there’s no logical place to provide multiple links.
Sometimes a unique URL leading to your stat does not exist, in which case you should provide a hyperlink that takes readers as close to the stat as possible.
For example, if you mention where Kyle Korver’s true shooting percentage ranks league-wide, this NBA.com link is the closest you can get to showing that. While the stat won’t show up immediately upon opening that page, readers can click TS% in order to sort the players accordingly and see where Korver stands.
Why do we characterize true shooting percentage as an advanced stat? Because it comes from a complex formula—that formula is: points / [2 x (field goals attempted + .44 x free throws attempted)]. As you can see, it’s not exactly the type of figure found in a box score or one that’s widely circulated. So even though the same stat (both category and actual value) is available at other sites like Basketball-Reference and ESPN.com, meaning the formula isn’t proprietary to one source, you should show exactly how you know it to be true considering it’s somewhat obscure.
Still, an advanced stat is not always the result of a complex formula.
If I write that Giancarlo Stanton hit 16 home runs after facing a count of zero balls and one strike, that stat comes from simple arithmetic. However, it clearly took intricate data-tracking by somebody else—like Baseball-Reference—to determine his performance split up by specific counts. You should credit that source for their research and for making it available to writers like yourself to bolster your argument. You might have gotten the same stat from ESPN.com’s database, in which case that’s the source you’d acknowledge in your article.
If you’re unsure how a stat would be characterized, err on the side of caution and provide attribution while keeping the following notes in mind.
Advanced stats could be one of the following:
- behind a paywall
- calculated through complex formulas that require more than basic arithmetic
- only available at one or a few sports outlets, not most of them
- unlikely to appear in standard box scores
I think that even now, as deep as we are in the digital revolution, it’s important to keep reminding each other that the upside of all the disruption is that jobs might sprout up in the most unexpected places.
This piece at CJR.org asks “Is hiring journalists such a good idea for Instagram?” Author Damaris Colhoun is a little skeptical given the disappointing results of such efforts at both Twitter and Tumblr.
That debate aside, it’s probably news to you, as it was to me, that Instapaper is hiring journalists, and that Tumblr and Twitter have done so in the past. So has Facebook. As Colhoun points out, the jobs mostly involve helping the companies’ branding efforts. They’re much more public relations or marketing jobs than journalism jobs.
So not all journalists will want them, and those who do take them should do so with their eyes open, knowing they’re not being hired to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. But they’re jobs, and that’s a good thing to know about.
Here’s Digiday on Instagram expanding its “editorial” team.
Where have you seen journalism jobs, or at least jobs that leverage journalism skills, popping up where you hadn’t expected?
Bleacher Report U.K. has been building up the World Football coverage team. Here’s a rundown of who’s covering what in the Beautiful Game.
NATIONAL LEAD WRITERS
LEAGUE LEAD WRITERS
TEAM FEATURED COLUMNISTS
Arsenal: James McNicholas
Chelsea: Garry Hayes
Liverpool: Matt Ladson and Max Munton
Manchester City: Rob Pollard
Manchester United: Rob Dawson and Paul Ansorge
Tottenham Hotspur: Thomas Cooper and Sam Rooke
Barcelona: Jason Pettigrove
Real Madrid: Rik Sharma and Nick Dorrington
Atletico Madrid: Tim Collins
Milan: Sam Lopresti and Anthony Lopopolo
Juventus: Adam Digby
Bayern Munich: Clark Whitney
Borussia Dortmund: Stefan Bienkowski
PSG: Jonathan Johnson and Andrew Gibney
NATIONAL FEATURED COLUMNISTS
TRANSFERS FEATURED COLUMNISTS
If you follow people on Journalism Twitter, you may have seen some chatter recently about blogging being dead. I’ve ignored it, because “blogging is dead” is one of those things people have been saying since around 1973. Evidently this round of it happened in the wake of Andrew Sullivan’s announcement that he’s retiring from his paywalled blog.
Ingram writes that online content success exists at two poles, one of which can be the classic one-person blog:
In a sense, the blogging world—or even the world of online publishing as a whole—has bifurcated to create what I call a barbell effect: sites or even publications like newspapers that are huge and broad and have powerful brands will likely succeed, because they can make advertising work. And those that are small and targeted (either by topic or by geography) will likely also be fine. Everything in the middle, however, is in for a world of pain.
You might not find this interesting if you’re not planning to start your own content company, but I think this analysis works on the individual level too.
Thompson writes that “an advertising business model demands huge amounts of inventory served to a large number of readers targeted with a massive amount of data.” And here’s Ingram with the flip side of that: “The core of Thompson’s argument is that the more niche and targeted your content is, the better off you are likely to be with a subscription model.”
That is, the way to get people to pay for your writing is to make it unique, specialized, targeted. If you’re running your own paywalled blog, the paying customers are readers. If you’re working in the larger media arena, the paying customers are editors. But editors are just people buying what you’re trying to sell. They’re asking the same question potential paying readers ask: Are you offering something that’s unique, that I can’t get anywhere else?
The American Society of Magazine Editors and Columbia Journalism School handed out the National Magazine Awards Monday night in New York.
As with any awards, it’s hardly a slam dunk that the winners were the most deserving. But it’s a good bet that the winners make up a reading list of top-notch magazine writing. Handy to have when you remember one of the best pieces of advice any writer can get: Read, read read.
Here is a list of the winners, leaving out photography:
Multimedia: Texas Observer-Guardian partnership, Beyond the Border by Melissa del Bosque
Video: Vice News, The Islamic State by Medyan Dairieh
Public Interest: Pacific Standard, Why Women Aren’t Welcome on the Internet by Amanda Hess
Personal Service: O, The Oprah Magazine, Ready or Not: The Caregiver’s Guide
Leisure Interests: Backpacker, The Complete Guide to Fire edited by Casey Lyons
Reporting: GQ, Inside the Iron Closet: What It’s Like to Be Gay in Putin’s Russia by Jeff Sharlet
Feature Writing: The Atavist, Love and Ruin by James Verini
Essays and Criticism: The New Yorker, This Old Man by Roger Angell
Columns and Commentary: New York for Zombies on the Walls: Why Does So Much New Abstraction Look the Same?, Taking in Jeff Koons, Creator and Destroyer of Worlds and Post-Macho God: Matisse’s Cut-Outs Are World-Historically Gorgeous by Jerry Saltz
Fiction: The New Yorker, The Emerald Light in the Air by Donald Antrim
I don’t know how I’ve missed this, but Niemanstoryboard.org has a feature called Annotation Tuesday! in which one writer interviews another about some recent or famous piece, and the questions and answers are interspersed throughout the story itself.
It’s like the audio commentary track on the DVD of a movie. I’ll wait here while you go ask your grandparents what DVDs were.
I was pointed to Annotation Tuesday!—which, alas, is not a weekly feature—by a tweet pointing to the latest one, Justin Heckert and “Lost in the Waves” by Matt Tullis. “Lost in the Waves” was a story Heckert published in Men’s Journal in 2009.
I love the format of Annotation Tuesday! It usually starts with a short Q&A, and then we get into the piece. You can hide the annotations if you want to see the piece in its native form first. Otherwise they interrupt the text, the questioner’s queries highlighted in one color, the writer’s answers in another. The questions might be about the writing, the reporting, the editing, even the conception and pitching of the article. I’ve only read a few Annotation Tuesday! pieces, but I have yet to read one and not learn something.
Most of them aren’t about sports, of course, but here’s one in which Elon Green interviews Roger Angell about “Down the Drain,” his famous 1975 New Yorker piece about Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Steve Blass, who had suddenly lost the ability to throw strikes.
With all the talk last week about Marshawn Lynch not talking to the media and how sportswriters reacted to that, you might find another annotation by Green interesting: Gay Talese and “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.”
“Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” was published in Esquire in 1966, and it is widely considered among the greatest magazine pieces ever written. It is, in the words of an editor’s note on the linked reprint, “a pioneering example of what came to be called New Journalism—a work of rigorously faithful fact enlivened with the kind of vivid storytelling that had previously been reserved for fiction.”
It’s relevant to the Marshawn Lynch story because it’s a shining example of what a writer can do with a reticent subject. Sinatra never spoke to Talese.
This is pretty high-level, and because it’s about the BBC and the United Kingdom, it might seem a little foreign to American eyes, but I think it’s worth reading this Journalism.co.uk summary of the first report from the BBC Future of News project.
If you want to go deep on the report itself, it’s here in the form of “an immersive story told through text, images and video.”
This is good for our ongoing project of keeping up with the media biz.
Journalism.co.uk says the takeaways from the report, which according to the introduction aims to “consider the Future of News over the decade to come,” are:
- News will be more accessible, everywhere
- Increased automation in journalism
- Better collaboration
- Video is here to stay
- … and so is data journalism
The introduction also includes a selection of quotes from people around the industry about the future of the news industry. Here’s my favorite, from Caitlin Moran of The Times: “If we invented the news tomorrow, it would not be a half hour report at 6 o’clock.”
If tomorrow, we invented whatever it is you’re doing, what would it look like?
I admit I’m a little obsessed with the Marshawn Lynch story. I want Marshall McLuhan to write a book about the semiotics of Marshawn Lynch’s performance-art pieces, in which the Seattle Seahawks running back gives the same answer to reporters no matter what questions they ask him.
This week at Super Bowl Media Day, of course, Lynch’s answer to all questions was “I’m here so I won’t get fined,” though sometimes he threw in a “just” before “here.”
The sports media has been entertainingly up in arms about this, writing stacks of columns slamming Lynch for not giving them anything to write columns about. There have been occasional outbreaks of both sanity and idiocy.
At Awful Announcing, Brad Gagnon and Andrew Bucholtz wrote a point-counterpoint piece headlined Marshawn Lynch vs. the media: Who ya got? They also talked to me about Lynch and the media on my SiriusXM Bleacher Report Radio show.
Gagnon, who writes for B/R among other places, argued that Lynch is setting a bad precedent by refusing to speak in any meaningful way to the media, which his contract requires him to do: “If we shrug our shoulders and let Lynch go MIA, the floodgates could open up for players to blow off their media obligations going forward.”
Bucholtz, who covers the CFL on Yahoo Sports Canada’s 55 Yard Line blog, wondered how we’d be any better off if Lynch spouted meaningless platitudes instead of pulling his repetitive act.
I’m with Bucholtz, especially when he argues that an athlete not wanting to talk is an invitation to the media to break out of our packs and use our skills. “There’s no need to try to drag clichés out of an unwilling Lynch when there are better stories out there,” he wrote. “Maybe this will cause some to get creative and look beyond pack journalism and its clichés.”