It’s hard out here for a journalism optimist, and if you don’t believe me, take a look at the ironic juxtaposition of two stories that happened late last week.
On Thursday, magazine editor and freelance writer Ann Friedman published a piece in the Columbia Journalism Review with the headline: “This is the best moment to be in journalism: The old stuff isn’t coming back, but that’s okay.”
In it, she describes traveling around to various journalism conferences where she found herself in the role of Future of Journalism cheerleader in the face of all the pessimism and worry among the people she encountered there.
Then on Friday came news of layoffs and cutbacks at the Columbia Journalism Review, the very publication where Friedman had waxed so optimistic.
Two top editors were laid off, Capital New York’s Joe Pompeo wrote, and two others were given the choice of being laid off or cut to half-time, with their answer not yet made public. Pompeo wrote:
The layoffs were characterized to Capital as a precautionary measure, based on projections of how much money CJR is expected to raise in the coming fiscal year to pay back the annual budget the Journalism School fronts it.
The CJR is published by the Columbia Journalism School.
Even if Friedman didn’t know about the impending layoffs—and there’s no reason to think she would have—she had to know there would be some bad journalism business news soon after her post appeared, giving critics of her approach a chance to dismiss her argument. She was ready for that:
Here’s a little secret: Even if I’m wrong and it’s not the best moment, we’d all be well-served to operate as if it is. Because you know what? The old models aren’t coming back. Lamenting the death of classifieds and display advertising and annual subscribers isn’t serving anyone. The sooner journalists start seeing disruption and technology as opportunity, the better off we’ll all be.
Friedman writes that journalists can learn a lot from the people she met at a conference of designers and entrepreneurs, who mostly talked “about how to take smart, creative risks.”
“Creative risk-taking is now a core journalistic job skill,” she writes, “and it needs to be prioritized.”
I want to believe everything I produce is top-of-the-line writing, but I also know that my first draft of a piece will never end up as my published article.
It will just never happen.
As I’ve come to realize through the Bleacher Report Sports Media Internship, the key to perfection in writing (or as close to it as possible) is proofreading.
And then some more proofreading and then some more. Maybe a snack break and then another round of proofreading.
Sure, it’s tedious to read the same content four or five times in a row, but the benefits of finding even the most minuscule errors make it worth it.
There are plenty of mistakes to be found, and there is almost always room for improvement.
I’ve come to develop a system of proofreading that I find very helpful and maybe you will too.
I read silently through my draft three times, one directly after the other. There is no need to rush through it.
Next, I read it aloud a couple of times. The mistakes you will find after verbally reviewing the work are astonishing. Awkward phrases pop up when reading the work out loud. I sometimes ask myself, “Did I really write that?”
This internship has taught me that, specifically in sportswriting, if a digit is off or a name is spelled wrong, all credibility could be lost.
I suggest all aspiring sportswriters put in the extra time and effort to ensure your articles are as close to grammatically, stylistically and statistically correct as possible.
Perfection could be a typo away.
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One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask our interns to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned in the B/R Sports Media Internship that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.
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We’ve heard a lot about brain injuries in football, but surprisingly little about the subject in MMA. Featured Columnist Scott Harris tried to remedy that yesterday in a long, heavily reported piece in Bleacher Report headlined “‘A Sense of Urgency’: MMA Races to Learn More About Brain Injuries.”
“New findings carry ominous—if not entirely surprising—warnings.” Harris wrote. “But at the same time, brain injury science in MMA lags behind that of other sports, even as MMA gains new followers by the day.”
The 3,000-word piece features interviews with fighters, sport officials and medical researchers. At its center is Nick Denis, who surprised a lot of people when he retired from a promising ring career last year. Denis had been a doctoral student in biochemistry before his fighting career, and he began researching brain trauma following a knockout loss. He learned about subconcussive trauma and decided to get out.
“I had access to databases and libraries. I had never heard of subconcussive trauma before,” Denis said. “Football and hockey players, you look at their brain scans and they’re 40 years old and their brains look like deformed sponges, easy to compare with people who had dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. I was like, ‘this is crazy.’ You come to the realization that people think a concussion is where the damage occurs, but there’s damage all along the board.”
“I’m also a freelance health care writer and when I saw Bernick’s research finding it piqued my interest,” Harris wrote in an email when I asked him what inspired him to write the piece. Bernick is Dr. Charles Bernick, a neurologist who’s one of the nation’s leading experts on brain injury and disease. Harris continued: “Plus, I knew I could land an interview with him. One thing led to another, as they say, and I realized that the topic had never really been covered to this depth. I realized this needed deep reporting in order to really make this do what it needed to do.”
Harris’ piece was featured on prominently on Bleacher Report for a while Tuesday and did well, both in terms of reads and the response of readers, some of whom called the piece the best thing they’ve read in the MMA community, and not just on Bleacher Report, in some time. It’s an example of the kind of ambitious work that can get a writer noticed.
Follow Harris on Twitter at @ScottHarrisMMA.
Continuing on yesterday’s theme about the changing ways people consume news and information, including sports news, here is a report on a study commissioned by the Associated Press into video news consumption.
Titled “White Smoke: The new era for video news,” the report, according to the AP, “demonstrates the increasingly critical role of video in online news sites.”
You can request a free copy of the study at this link.
“First in-depth study into video news consumption reveals high levels of consumer demand,” reads the headline on the report, which, this being the AP, I’ll call a dog-bites-man headline. But there’s interesting stuff in the study, which was conducted by Deloitte with research by GfK. News consumers in the United Kingdom, Germany and Spain were surveyed.
This is from the study itself, which has U.K. spelling:
The growing popularity of online news is a reflection of the fact that news is a personal experience. A desire for personal engagement that is both fuelled and satisfied by online platforms that allow individuals to participate and customise their experiences … For all its convenience, live text cannot engage the news-seeker in the same way as video, whether it is watched on a large or a small screen.
The popular shift to using online platforms opens up interesting possibilities. A combination of professionally produced video and written journalistic content on news websites can be more engaging than TV or newspapers, with the potential to attract and retain loyal users. Our research also shows that it offers a unique way of accessing younger audiences who are often dismissed as lacking interest in the news.
This is nothing new if you’ve been paying attention to what Bleacher Report has been saying and doing recently. The online content business is increasingly mobile and increasingly visual. If you’re not thinking in those terms, if you’re thinking in terms of text articles with maybe a few photos to break up the paragraphs, the way it’s been for the last century or so, there are millions of potential readers out there with a message for you: A click on someone else’s story.
Bleacher Report CEO Brian Grey passed along this Nieman Journalism Lab story about Reuters’ coming website redesign, which is based on the idea of a “river” of stories, and moves away from the idea of a front page to the site.
That’s the kind of different, innovative company Bleacher Report is: The CEO actually makes himself useful!
Here’s NiemanLab.org’s Justin Ellis writing about the Reuters preview site:
Go to an article page and you find that you’re actually placed in the middle of a larger stream of content—scroll up or down and you’ll find your story’s text actually lives in a bifurcated version of the Reuters front page. If every page is your homepage, why not treat them all like one?
Check out this story from last week about the support Jason Collins got after he came out as gay. If you scroll up or down, you see older or newer stories about Collins and, beyond that, about the wider topic of “Gay Rights.”
As a user, when you come to this story, you’re not isolated on a story page, with a few teasers for other stories on the margins. You are drawn into the mix of the site’s offerings, just as you would be if you landed on the site cover. That’s what Ellis means above by “every page is your homepage.”
Bleacher Report thinks of story pages in much the same way. The site cover is still important, but we want the vast number of readers who reach B/R through social media, search, newsletters and Team Stream to have just as rewarding an experience as if they’d gone to the front page.
Grey, the CEO, calls this “the evolution of the ‘article page’ as the living, breathing, real-time new ‘front door’ that we know it is for readers/viewers.”
Just as we—and others—are rethinking the article, making it more visually compelling, more dynamic, we and others are also rethinking the article page’s role. The way people consume content is changing at breakneck speed. We—all of us—have to change right along with it.
Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, a pair of professors in the public policy and economics departments at the University of Michigan, weren’t addressing sports when they wrote Six Ways to Separate Lies From Statistics for Bloomberg.com last week.
But you may have noticed that sports and statistics aren’t exactly strangers. Sportswriters can learn a lot from the piece.
The news hook for Stevenson and Wolfers was a study that found major errors in a 2010 Harvard study that purported to show a correlation between high national debt and slow growth. The Harvard study has been widely used to support austerity measures.
Sportswriters rarely deal with issues as momentous as whether a government should enact austerity measures in an attempt to get a slow economy moving.
I’m kidding, of course. Sports is way more important than that stuff.
And with the influence of the sabermetric movement in baseball and its spread to other sports, we increasingly see arguments that arise from complex data. Anyone who made it through the third grade ought to be comfortable comparing yards-per-carry, points-per-game or batting averages, but what’s a liberal arts major to do when presented a thesis that grew out of sophisticated number crunching?
Stevens and Wofers address this, and it’s as if they were talking about old-school sportswriters who dismiss statistical analysis by saying the statheads should get their heads out of a spreadsheet—located, no doubt, in mom’s basement—and watch a game:
Given the complexity, it’s understandable that people might fall for the old aphorism that “liars figure and figures lie,” that you can say anything with statistics. But this is silly. You can say anything in English, too. Indeed, our nation’s opinion pages are filled with slanted nonsense written entirely in English.
Sports pages too.
Here, in brief, are their six rules separating “the useful research from the dross.” You should read the piece for the full explanations:
- Focus on how robust a finding is, meaning that different ways of looking at the evidence point to the same conclusion.
- Don’t confuse “statistically significant” with something actually mattering.
- Be wary of scholars using high-powered statistical techniques as a bludgeon to silence critics who are not specialists.
- Don’t fall into the trap of thinking about an empirical finding as “right” or “wrong.” At best, data provide an imperfect guide.
- Don’t mistake correlation for causation.
- Always ask “so what?”
I would put 5 and 6 at the top. I think mistaking correlation for causation is the single biggest mistake sportswriters make with stats. Think of the truism that football teams should “establish the run” because teams that outrush their opponents tend to win games. In fact, teams that are ahead in games tend to run a lot, so the truism is backwards: Winning causes an advantage in rushing yards, not vice-versa.
The question “so what” comes in very handy when amateur statisticians—many of whom work in the truck for TV broadcasters—start throwing numbers at you.
I’d add a related question: What’s the context? As David Grabiner pointed out in a blog post titled “The Sabermetric Manifesto”:
No statistic can be useful without proper context, a measure of opportunities. There were more crimes committed in New York than in Boston last year, but this doesn’t say much about the relative safety of the cities; to make such a comparison, you would need to compare crime rates.
One of the toughest things for beginning sportswriters to grasp is how to leave the fan behind. Being a sports fan is what got you into this business in the first place, and the whole idea of “For the Fans, By the Fans” is what sets Bleacher Report apart and makes it so special.
So, how can you be sure you’re writing as a journalist and keeping your fandom in check?
Well, for starters, stop defending your guys every time they do something wrong and lambasting your rivals whenever the opportunity presents itself. Banter is good fun on Twitter, but you can’t base an entire article on it.
As you write and read your article, put yourself in a rival’s shoes. Is your argument sound and complete, or are you only seeing half the picture? You’re already going to upset plenty of readers when you pick your favorite player over theirs, so don’t give them any extra ammo.
It also doesn’t work to list your complaints during your team’s latest losing streak and place blame on anyone you can think of. Any fan can do that. Sportswriters need to actually defend their complaints and find the solutions to the problems.
Readers are smart. They know when you’re just favoring your team or player and when you’re simply going on a rant. They won’t like it, and they won’t respect you for it.
Proofread your article as a reader and make sure you’ve answered all the questions that come up. Make sure you’re not talking—or writing—down to anyone.
Finding the balance between being a fan and being a writer takes work, and Bleacher Report is the perfect place to experiment. Fans are everywhere on B/R, and they’ll be sure to let you know if you’re on the wrong track.
Keep writing what you’re passionate about, but write as a journalist, not as a fan.
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As we’ve mentioned, the Bleacher Report product team is working on an overhaul of the content management system. The new publishing tool is in testing now and should be ready for release later this month, so we want to get you ready.
We’ve made a video that briefly explains what’s new, but more importantly, why we’re making these improvements. You can view it below.
“What we’re trying to do is give our writers the tools to allow them to create this really snackable, digestible and ultimately shareable content,” says Senior Manager of Programming Bennett Spector. “The way we’re going to do that is to make it really visual.”
The new interface will be much more intuitive than the current one. As you create content, you’ll be able to see how it’s going to look on the site. Searching for photos will be a lot better too, with the tool returning 100 pictures from your initial search, rather than eight, and then loading more in an infinite scroll as you browse through them.
Videos and tweets will be searchable within the tool, so you won’t have to open another browser window to find them. And, as with the photos, once you know what you want, you’ll be able to just drag it into your story. Creating a poll will be easier and smoother as well.
As Spector says, these improvements are designed to help you create the visually compelling content that sports fans want. We are officially past the era of straight text articles being the default format, and the publishing tool will be up to the task of joining you in this new age.
The new tool has been in the hands of a few testers. It will be rolled out first to a wider test group and then to everyone within the next week. The first phase of the rollout will be for standard articles, but the new tool should be in place for slideshow creation by the end of the month.
You can squeeze some practical writing advice out of this profile of author and writing teacher William Zinsser in the New York Times, but it’s such a lovely portrait that you might become a better writer just by reading it.
Zinsser is the author of the classic “On Writing Well: An Informal Guide to Writing Nonfiction.” Now 90, retired and blind from glaucoma, “he is still teaching at 90,” writes Dan Barry, “holding one-on-one counseling sessions for accomplished and aspiring writers.”
You ever try to write a story about a legendary writing teacher? It’s intimidating, as Barry notes with a quote from “On Writing Well”:
“Clutter is the disease of American writing,” he declared in one passage that tends to haunt anyone daring to write about Mr. Zinsser. “We are a society strangling in unnecessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon.”
Unable to read the work of the writers he’s helping, Zinsser has them read to him. He listens. “People read with their ears, whether they know it or not,” he tells Barry.
Plenty to learn there. And here’s one more chance:
He tries to help them organize their thoughts by condensing, reducing—learning what not to include.
“By talking to them, by finding out who they are, I bring out their own personality,” he says. “And ease their mind, for God’s sake.”
Got that? Now you can be your own writing coach.
We got back into the business of Writer Meetups over the weekend at Bleacher Report’s NFL Draft Bash 2013 in New York, and now we’re wondering why we don’t have one every week.
More than 50 and fewer than 200 writers showed up—we were having too much fun to count. They enjoyed and in some cases pitched in on B/R’s live draft coverage. They ate, drank, got bags full of B/R swag … and bowled.
Days 1 and 2 of the Bleacher Report draft party and live broadcast, Thursday and Friday at Bowlmor Lanes in Times Square, were open to the public, and the public showed up. Here’s some shaky-cam video of the crowd during the opening moments of B/R’s coverage of Round 1 Thursday, taken by an incompetent videographer with a mustache.
Matt Miller, Aaron Nagler, Michael Felder and Josh Zerkle broke down the picks, talked about the trades and rumors and, in Zerkle’s case, mingled with the masses for three days, resulting in the kind of deep, wide coverage that makes the NFL Draft the biggest event of the year for Bleacher Report.
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was a special guest reporter Thursday night, and new Atlanta Falcons back Steven Jackson did the same Friday night. Jackson stopped by just to visit and hang out on Thursday. Here he is getting ready to say a quick hello on camera while Rice, in black, and Zerkle, in red—as we say in captions—look on.
Philadelphia Eagles Featured Columnist Yueh Ho won the raffle for the GoPro Hero3 White Edition camera, and NFL FC Lafe Peavler won the Valuable Prize for traveling the longest distance to the meetup. His trip from Birmingham, Ala., earned him a very valuable New York City hip flask available only in the finest Times Square souvenir shops.
If you missed the draft coverage, pull up a chair. You can catch up with these three videos.
And just a couple more photos. Here’s Matt Miller, sporting the orange Bleacher Report sunglasses with the lenses removed that became all the rage, with B/R Community Coordinator Will Leivenberg.
No, seriously. They were all the rage. Just ask New York content programmers Aliko Carter, left, and Zach Moretti, or this friendly Bowlmor Lanes bartender.