Baseball America’s annual Top 100 Prospects list hit the web Wednesday, and while the 2014 list itself is behind a paywall, the site did publish a free article looking at the history of the BA Top 100, which is in its 25th year.
It’s a great read, even if you don’t find reading about baseball prospects fascinating. Full disclosure: I do.
If you make predictions in your sportswriting, it’s a useful exercise to look back every once in a while, as Manuel does here. That lets readers know how you did, but it can also provide important lessons for you.
Running down each year’s “Most Regrettable Ranking,” Manuel points out some patterns. “We’ll admit it, we were always suckers for a big signing bonus,” he writes about a high ranking in 1994 for 16-year-old Australian shortstop Glenn Williams. “Remember what we said about those big signing bonuses?” Manuel writes in the 1997 “Regrettable Ranking” section. “Matt White received a $10.2 million bonus as one of four loophole free agents from the ’96 draft, and that helped him check in at No. 4 in his first year of eligibility for the list.”
White, a pitcher, never made it past Triple-A. Unlike Williams, who got into 13 games with the Minnesota Twins 11 years after BA ranked him.
Elsewhere, Manuel points out that Baseball America’s evaluators are “suckers for power lefthanders” and have “shied away” from righthanded-hitting first basemen. And as much fun as it is to laugh at some of the bad rankings—some lefty named Tyrone Hill No. 10 in 1993, 34 spots ahead of Derek Jeter—Manuel gets to brag about plenty of hits too: In 1995, for example, BA ranked Vladimir Guerrero No. 85. He was 19 and had played 37 games of rookie ball. He broke out onto everyone else’s radar that season.
The hits and misses can all be as instructive as they are entertaining. Do you make predictions? How have you done?
The headline on this Poynter.org piece by Sandra Oshiro is ominous: “How laid-off journalists can stay afloat while the industry moves ‘to new moorings.’” But it’s packed with information that anyone who’s looking for a job in media can use.
And that might mean any of us, no matter how secure you might be in your job today. Given the volatility of the media industry and, beyond that, the long-ago end of a working world in which you stay at one company for 50 years and collect a gold watch, it’s safe to say most of us have some job searches in our future.
Oshiro lost her spot as an editor at Patch, AOL’s attempt to conquer the online hyperlocal news market, in a wave of layoffs last May. She writes that she looked around and saw a world in flux:
Journalists who have not sought employment recently may be shocked at how drastically the jobs landscape has changed. The market they are walking into won’t be the one that greeted them when they first got their J-school degrees.
Digital skills these long-timers told themselves they’d get around to learning are often what employers are seeking today. Beyond writing for the Web, video editing, and social media knowledge, employers want those with high level technical skills like programming, data visualization, mapping and other abilities that require concentrated study to acquire.
Oshiro interviews Lars Schmidt, a media talent recruiter, who points out that print isn’t the only part of the media that’s been hit hard by the disruption of the last decade or so. It’s everywhere. Today’s innovative disruptor is tomorrow’s disrupted, often leaving squads of employees and freelancers hitting the pavement in search of the next ground floor.
“All journalists,” Schmidt says, “not just those trying to recover from a recent layoff, have to pay continuous attention to where media are going.”
So what’s a laid-off journalist to do? “I think it is important that in addition to being great writers, journalists have a comfort level and curiosity around digital platforms,” Schmidt said by phone. He advises journalists to focus on displaying their digital skills in their portfolios. Strengths in that area are important as consumers migrate away from print toward Web and mobile …
While it may all be new for some among the recently laid-off, creating a solid LinkedIn profile, learning to connect with hiring mangers, building a website for clips and other work, and networking online as well as in real life are all part of today’s job search. Schmidt offers other tips for job hunters on his company’s website.
Oshiro ends up considering the question “But should you even stick it out in journalism?” It’s a tough one, since job reductions have been a trend for a while. We all have to answer it for ourselves, but if your answer is yes—or even if it might be yes—Oshiro’s advice is as simple as it is difficult, and vital: Keep up.`
Lindsay Gibbs leads off today’s edition of Shoutouts with a good story from the Winter OIympics. She did a great job of weaving biographical information into this recap and commentary on the women’s downhill in Sochi, the race that ended with a gold-medal tie.
That’s important in Olympics coverage, because as much as we all quickly become experts on these events and athletes, the vast majority of us had never heard of most of these people until a few days before the Games started—if not later than that.
The Fighting Life: The Fire of Dana White by Duane Finley put our new profanity policy to a severe test, but that’s what you get when you talk to the UFC president. Finley looked at the evolution and meteoric rise of White, showing why he’s one of the most compelling executives in sports.
Roughly 364 days out of any given year, fax machines are antiquated technology. Whenever I’m forced to use one, usually by some bureaucratic entity, I think, “Why are these people still using fax machines?”
But on National Signing Day, the humble, anachronistic fax machine is a star. Adam Kramer gave the old workhorse its props in An Ode to the Fax Machine, National Signing Day’s Oldest Recruit.
Jared Zwerling brought one of the most intriguing NBA draft prospects to vivid life in Behind Dante Exum’s Decision to Enter the NBA, and What’s Next for Aussie Phenom, about the Australian teenager whose dad was a college teammate of Michael Jordan.
Update: Zwerling advanced the Exum story today by publishing In Australia with Dante Exum: Life as a Top NBA Prospect, Outside the Spotlight.
And finally, Russell S. Baxter ran down the Biggest Snubs and Surprises of the 2014 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. He deserves high praise just for using respectful language in describing Canton’s annual absurd choices, but also for the detailed descriptions of players from different eras.
What gems from the last two weeks should I have mentioned?
Growing up I was the sports nerd of my class. I would make endless predictions for people, hoping I’d be right. I loved watching analysts make their own calls on teams, scores and more, and I wanted to be like them.
As I got older, I would go on Twitter, Facebook and MySpace and post my bold predictions without a worry in the world.
I gradually started to do it in my writing for player signings, games and championship teams. Not many people were reading me at this point, so what was there to worry about?
My readership has grown since I joined the Bleacher Report Advanced Program in Sports Media, but my worrying hasn’t.
I’ve learned you have to be confident with your predictions. You can’t be afraid to be wrong.
Many pieces I’ve written—such as Peyton Manning Will Pick Apart the Seattle Seahawks’ Defense—have been wrong.
Does that mean I should stop making predictions? Not one bit. I just have to work harder to make them better with each article.
Your predictions make your writing stand out. Find compelling stats that aren’t in the box score and present them in creative ways to make your point.
Predictions add a personal element to your writing that your readers wouldn’t get from the stat sheet or another writer. I love reading prediction pieces because others may have written something or used an angle I hadn’t thought of, and it broadens my outlook as a writer.
The key is to make your predictions stand out. If you think Player X is going to have a breakout season, show it and do so in a way only you can. Use charts and videos, find quotes and give your readers visual evidence backing up your point.
Writing a bold, strong, evidence- and stats-based prediction piece will give your readers a better experience than if you simply made dull statements those readers have probably already heard—or thought themselves.
Most importantly: Don’t be afraid to be wrong. No one’s always right because no one can see the future.
Confidence is key.
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One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask members of the Bleacher Report Advanced Program in Sports Media to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.
Fatsis, who spent about a decade each with the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal and has written three books, writes that SI’s Peter King, Pete Thamel and Thayer Evans made bad journalistic decisions as they reported their reaction pieces, and that those decisions resulted in coverage that didn’t accurately reflect what Fatsis describes as “a reasonable reflection of a broader reality.”
Thamel and Evans’ story, “How will news that Michael Sam is gay affect his NFL draft stock?” was published within minutes of Sam’s announcement, which was made through ESPN and the New York Times simultaneously Sunday night. King’s column, “The NFL’s Big Test posted a couple hours later.
The two pieces were presented as a kind of reality check on the good feelings of Sam’s announcement, as the anonymous sources in both issued heavy doses of negativity about the prospects of Sam being accepted, or even being drafted, by the NFL. Thamel and Evans quoted “eight NFL executives and coaches.” King quoted three general managers and a scout. In fact, Fatsis points out, King offered his sources anonymity up front, which Fatsis calls “a newsroom no-no.”
You grant anonymity to get information or to understand background and context. You don’t let a source trash someone anonymously. King wrote that anonymity “would give the best information possible.” But he didn’t give information, only blind, unchallenged opinion. If his sources had spoken on the record and said something mealy-mouthed or had outright lied, King would have performed a journalistic service far greater than letting them shiv Michael Sam in his pursuit of “the truth.”
Moreover, by offering anonymity, King, Thamel, and Evans were actually encouraging their sources to talk smack about Sam. That is, they were encouraging them to think of this as a horrifically complicated situation—that the presence of a gay player on an NFL team is so deeply fraught they couldn’t possibly be expected to affix their names to an opinion about it.
“The SI stories offered no counterbalancing opinion or analysis,” Fatsis continues, “so the message was clear: This is the NFL party line.” This despite a number of prominent NFL figures—far more prominent than the second-level guys Thayer and Evans quoted—making strong statements in support of Sam’s decision to come out.
Fatsis makes an important point by noting that how you approach the reporting of a story can have a huge influence on the conclusions your story reaches. All those anonymous team officials may turn out to be right: The league isn’t ready to embrace Sam and he isn’t all that good a player. They also might be wrong. Fatsis’ point is that right or wrong, the views in the story were not the only ones held by NFL execs, but they were the only ones Thayer, Evans and King were likely to get with the approach they chose.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that granting a source anonymity will lead to the telling of uncomfortable truths. It might. But anonymity can also provide cover for lying or pushing an agenda. It’s a dangerous tool. You think you’re using it, but it might end up using you.
Disclosure: Sports Illustrated, like Turner Sports, which owns Bleacher Report, is a Time-Warner company.
Poynter’s Al Tompkins does a close analysis of one of this year’s most popular Super Bowl commercials, “Puppy Love,” in a post and video headlined “What you can learn about video storytelling from the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial.”
I recommend spending eight minutes with it.
“I often use commercials as ways to teach journalists how to write compelling stories,” Tompkins writes:
Great stories have so much in common with this commercial. They have tension, context and an explosion of action. They are highly focused and don’t get distracted by characters who never pay off. You don’t need music, horses or puppies to tell a story. Stick to the fundamentals that work every time.
As you’ll see if you watch Tompkins’ video, he’s speaking directly to videographers at times, talking about pans, jump cuts and the like. “There’s a lot of cinema going on here,” he says at one point, pointing out how the lighting and shadows are working to focus viewers on the dog’s eyes in a key shot.
Anyone with an interest in creating media would probably do well to start learning at least a little bit about video storytelling if they haven’t already, but there are lessons here even for writers who only write. Storytelling is storytelling. A lot of what works for telling stories in sportswriting works for filmmakers and barstool raconteurs. It worked for Aesop.
Tompkins talks about how the opening shot, of the puppy farm’s sign, is a “scene-setter: It gives the viewer a sense of place and time.” That’s a good thing to do at the beginning of a written story too. I refer to it as giving the reader a place to stand. Where are we? Who are we talking about?
He talks about tension building, foreshadowing, the “rule of three,” and keeping the focus on the main character in the story. To do that, to not go off on tangents, you have to know who the main character of your story is.
It would be easy to make the mistake of thinking that the story is about the picturesque Clydesdale horses, or about the farmer with the Budweiser hat, the most prominent human. But it’s not:
Let’s take a second to talk about story focus. Notice how humans have only been a secondary part of the story up until now. We’ve not gotten to know the human. Only the puppy. Why? Because the story is about the puppy, loving the horse. The puppy is the main character. Not the horse. Not the humans. So the piece will start with puppies, end with puppies, and every key emotion in the piece will be about the puppy.
Have a look.
Jeff Passan, covering the Winter Olympics for Yahoo Sports, has access. But he didn’t need it to get one of the best stories of the first weekend at Sochi. He just needed some creativity and ingenuity. If you get a choice, take those over access every time.
American Sage Kotsenburg won the first gold medal of the Games, in slopestyle snowboarding, thanks to his signature move, the “Holy Crail.” At a press conference afterward, he mentioned Ally Berry, a 17-year-old Michigan snowboarder who had coined that term in response to Kotsenburg’s Facebook post asking fans for naming suggestions.
That could have been a nice little detail in Passan’s story: The name of the fan who’d come up with “Holy Crail.” As long as Kotsenburg mentioned it at the press conference, why not throw it in? It’s the kind of thing the Utah native does that means that, in Passan’s words, “In a snowboarding scene full of eminently likable riders, Kotsenburg might be the easiest to fancy.”
But Passan wanted more, so he found an Ally Berry on Twitter. One look at her feed tells you she’s a snowboarder, so Passan asked if he’d found the right one. Had he ever.
Passan and Berry traded Twitter direct messages, and she played a starring role in his story.
With a press conference full of writers working on the same story, Passan found a way to separate himself from the crowd. He still covered Kotsenburg’s gold-medal win. But he found a way to tell that tale through a unique point of view.
One more thing: If you read Passan’s story, you’ll notice he’s pretty comfortable with the sport’s jargon. For example:
On the strength of his Holy Crail and a backside 16 Japan air—a 4-1/2-spin trick Kotsenburg never had even tried, let alone stomped—the 20-year-old from Park City, Utah, stunned a deep field in slopestyle’s introduction to the Olympics and upset favorites Stale Sandbech (silver) and Mark McMorris (bronze).
Passan’s a baseball writer. But he doesn’t resort to distancing tricks writers sometimes use when writing about a subculture they’re not familiar with. He didn’t write, “let alone ‘stomped,’ as the snowboarders say.” It’s obvious from context that “stomped” is a snowboarding term and what it means.
By email, I asked Passan—a virtual friend and fantasy baseball competitor of mine—if he were a snowboarder. He answered that he’d been snowboarding once, that some 8-year-olds had laughed at him, and that while he’s a fan of the athleticism and fearlessness, he doesn’t really follow it outside of the Olympics. He went on:
I covered snowboarding in Vancouver and wasn’t as on with the jargon then. I wanted to make sure I had a better grasp of it this time around, so I watched a lot of videos and studied as much as I could. I spent a lot of time on this page, and if there was something I didn’t know, I ran it by one of the sources I’d cultivated in pre-Games reporting.
That, as old-school reporters say, is “preparation.”
Good thing too. It’s not an easy language to speak. Ask Ally Berry. You’ve heard of her, right? She’s a junior at Edwardsburg High School:
“When talking to my friends at school,” she tweeted Sunday, “they do not understand my lingo! #snowboarderprobs.”
We regularly review our Content Standards and related policies at Bleacher Report, making updates when appropriate. When we do make material changes, we believe it’s important to communicate those updates to all contributors.
The following notes from the Content Standards team reflect three noteworthy changes to previous policies. Please review them carefully.
Profanity is only permitted on Bleacher Report when it: (a) comes in the form of quoted material from an outside source, (b) is germane to the story, and (c) is censored by replacing all but the first and last letters of the offending word with hyphens.
Example: Speaking to the media after the fight, Dana White referred to Bjorn Rebney as “a typical boxing piece of s–t.”
Writers may not use profanity in their own original writing, whether it is censored or not.
Please refer to our full policy on Offensive Content, outlined here.
References to betting information (such as odds and over/under lines) should be accompanied by links and citations to betting information sites that do not actively accept bets. Writers may not link to or cite sportsbooks that actively accept bets.
Example: According to Odds Shark, Denver opened as a nine-point favorite over San Diego.
Acceptable sources (betting information sites) include Odds Shark, Vegas Insider, Oddschecker, SBR Forum, Covers, etc.
Unacceptable sources (sportsbooks) include Bovada, bet365, 5Dimes, sportsbook.ag, Ladbrokes, William Hill, etc.
References to specific sportsbooks are only permitted when comparing odds from multiple sources, and must be accompanied by a link and citation to the betting information site where the odds were obtained.
Example: According to Oddschecker, both bet365 and StanJames give Arsenal 21-20 odds for their match against Manchester United.
Attribution for Non-Proprietary Quotations
All quotations that are not proprietary to one first-hand media source—such as quotes from press conferences where multiple media sources are present and have access to the same quotes—must be: (a) cited using the context in which the quotes were made (“in a press conference,” “told reporters,” etc.), and (b) hyperlinked to a media source that was present when the quote was obtained. If you obtained the quote directly (either in person or with televised/radio access to live quotes), you should indicate the means by which you obtained it (no link is required in these cases).
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 (Garnering 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 (Garnering direct, 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.”
Primary vs. Secondary Sources
Always cite the primary source where information was originally published. While you might have obtained the same information somewhere else—from a secondary, tertiary or even further removed source—those sources should not receive credit for having originally reported the news.
Instead, it’s good practice to give a “hat tip” to those secondary-plus sources while making it clear to the reader who reported it first. That way you give credit to the person(s) who helped you to find the story, while also giving credit to the person who got it first-hand.
Incorrect secondary source attribution: ”According to Jeff Todd of MLB Trade Rumors, Carlos Pena signed a minor league deal with the Angels.”
Think back to the time you wrote your first essay in English class. If you were anything like me, your teachers probably harped on you to support your arguments with facts.
Regardless of the topic, that lesson was always drilled into my head.
And it’s become even more important since joining Bleacher Report’s Advanced Program in Sports Media. Instead of one teacher wondering where I came up with my claims, there are now thousands of critical readers doing that and more.
I don’t think a certain team is good enough to win the championship? That’s fine, but I’m going to have an entire fan base ready to tell me why and how I’m wrong, so I’d better be making a strong argument.
I’ve found that my favorite articles are the ones I put the most time into researching statistics to back up my opinion, because even if people don’t agree with what a writer has to say, most of will at least understand and respect it if the writer supports his claims.
One of these occasions for me came a few months ago when I proclaimed that the 9-1 Kansas City Chiefs weren’t legitimate championship contenders. I gave a handful of reasons why I believed this, and I quickly followed up every explanation with at least one or two stats to back it up further. Of course, Chiefs fans didn’t agree with me but the vast majority of commenters respected why I believed what I wrote and just hoped the team could prove me wrong.
If I went into that article making wild claims with no evidence to support them, the commenters would have taken a much different approach. Research and evidence are always key to a good article.
When you’re writing an article, make sure you read through it afterward and look for any possible argument that could be debated. If each claim isn’t followed by some sort of statistic or fact to support it, go find one.
Loading up articles with facts not only makes them stronger, it makes your reputation as a writer stronger as well.
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One Thing You Need to Know is a series in which we ask members of the Bleacher Report Advanced Program in Sports Media to write about just that: One thing they’ve learned that they would pass along to other aspiring writers.
Make every word count. You’ve heard that advice, right? Good writing means paying close attention to every last word.
As a writer, I find it educational when I get the rare chance to see how good writers work. Rebecca J. Rosen offers one such chance at Atlantic.com, where she looks into the revisions astronomer Carl Sagan made on a famous passage from his 1994 book, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space.”
Sagan died in 1996. In his day, he was a TV icon. A Cornell professor who created and hosted the PBS documentary series “Cosmos,” he had a distinctive and easily parodied speaking style—everyone in a certain age range has mimicked him saying “billions and billions” at some point—and he became a nerd superstar when “Cosmos” aired in 1980.
But he was also a good writer, which strikes me as a requirement for a science popularizer. The Pale Blue Dot of the book’s title is planet earth, which appeared as a speck in a photograph taken from the edge of our solar system—at Sagan’s request—by NASA’s Voyager 1 spaceprobe. Here’s the passage, as reproduced by Rosen, who calls it “perfect”:
From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of any particular interest. But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here, that’s home, that’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
Rosen discusses Sagan’s edits, which she found in the Library of Congress’ Sagan archive. I’ll let you read them, but take note of how seemingly minor word changes can each make a big difference in the final text. You might not agree that every change is for the better, but every edit has an effect, because every word counts.
Even the most common word in the language, a humble three-letter article. Rosen ends by analyzing a use of that word, “the”:
Are we a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam? Or, are we the mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam? The draft says “a,” but the voice [in a recording Sagan made] says “the.” It seems that Sagan’s verdict, in the end, was for “the.” A definite article! We are not just any mote of dust but the mote of dust.
But one detail adds a bit of ambiguity: The book agrees with the draft, not the recording, plainly calling Earth a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.
So, in a way, Sagan has left us with the answer that we are both. We are just a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. But at the same time, “for us it’s different,” Sagan says. For us, we’re the mote of dust: That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.
That’s right, three paragraphs on “a” vs. “the.”
I disagree with Rosen’s reading of Sagan’s use of “the.” I don’t think he means that earth is the mote of dust, as opposed to simply a mote of dust. I think he means earth is the mote of dust as in the one he’s been talking about.
And you know what? I’d be willing to devote a solid half hour to debating that point, the meaning of “the.” Every word counts.
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Photo credit: NASA via Wikipedia