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
Giancarlo King racked up more than 210,000 reads on 14 stories in January, but that’s not why he’s the Bleacher Report Featured Columnist of the Month. It’s the range of his coverage: The New Jersey native took on a prominent publishing role for three NFL franchises this season.
“Most NFL FCs dedicate their focus to one team—something that affords those writers a sense of expertise and proficiency writing about their favorite team,” said B/R NFL Associate Editor Justin Onslow. “Giancarlo currently covers three teams for B/R NFL, and he does an equally impressive job with each.”
King became a Featured Columnist to write about his main squeeze in the sport, the Minnesota Vikings, but this year he also provided FC-level content for the Oakland Raiders and Jacksonville Jaguars, and he served as an in-game grader for the Green Bay Packers.
The 25-year-old began his path at B/R by applying to the Writer Program in December 2012. He was accepted into the FC program in May, and he’s continued to rise gradually, taking particular interest in NFL draft research and film breakdowns.
“I like to switch up what I’m covering,” he said, “but I really liked the draft coverage, analyzing who fits where. That’s something I’ve done more of recently. And then the teaching sessions with Matt Bowen, learning how to study the game.”
Raised in a family that’s heavily into the advertising industry, King developed into a copywriter in his teenage years. He ended up at Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla., studying film and creative writing, which is where he started to focus on stories and opinion pieces.
Given his longtime Vikings fandom (it’s mainly Randy Moss’ fault)—which made him a rare breed for a Jerseyite—and his propensity to scour a variety of sports sites on a daily basis, King felt compelled to start writing about the NFL. That led him to B/R.
Now with a regular 9-to-5 at an ad agency, King said he does much of his writing on weekends and late at night as he continues to polish his skills, eventually hoping to turn NFL coverage into a full-time profession.
“I’m sometimes up until 3 or 4 a.m. writing, looking at film,” said King. “You don’t really notice if you’re enjoying it.”
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Casey Crowe is Bleacher Report’s Featured Columnist Coordinator.
So you want to be a sportswriter. You might want to read two interesting takes on the sportswriting life, one of which almost has the first sentence of this post as its headline.
First, longtime New York Times scribe Gerald Eskenazi’s “Pity the sportswriter” in the Columbia Journalism Review argues that “being a sportswriter is one of the hardest—if not the trickiest—jobs in journalism.”
The other folks at The New York Times used to call us the toy department. But what I discovered during my 40-something years writing sports was that, when I wrote about an event that wasn’t strictly sports, it was an easier assignment.
As surprising as it may seem to the non-sportswriter, we are not born with a distinct knowledge of the difference among the foil, epee, and sabre in fencing. Nor did we grow up with the arcane language of figure-skating, appreciating an axel jump or a camel spin—telling a good one from a bad one.
But beyond the expertise is this: You’ve got to write a darn-good story as well, incorporating adjectives and knowledge, avoiding the clichés that infect much of sports reporting, and do it all under a tight deadline.
Eskenazi argues for the honest approach when you find yourself covering a sport you don’t know that much about. He recalls his first day on the New York Jets beat for the Times in 1975. He introduced himself to Joe Namath and confessed he didn’t know anything about football. Namath was delighted, and, Eskenazi writes, “for years afterward, whenever Joe would see me, he’d introduce me to people by saying, ‘He was an honest sportswriter.’”
For a view from the present-day trenches, read “So You Want to Be a Beat Writer …” in the Hardball Times. Fangraphs writer Eno Sarris interviews several baseball beat writers about their lives. Disclosure: Eno is a friend of mine.
The writers talk about the punishing travel, sleep deprivation and how difficult it is to eat healthy or exercise. They point out that tight deadlines can be painful and getting to talk to ballplayers is not the treat many fans think it is. Working at night and traveling a lot usually means little or no social life. And if you won’t mind that because you’re married and have kids, think of what your being away from home 120 nights a year means to your family. Get ready to miss a lot of milestones.
“There’s a reason few beat writers reach my age,” says San Francisco Chronicle Giants beat writer Henry Schulman. His age isn’t given but he’s a friend too and I think he’s in his mid-50s. “Most decide they need to quit so they can have a more normal family life.” Sarris notes that the divorce rate among beat writers is high.
Of course, there are things that make it worthwhile. “Well,” Schulman says he thinks every New Year’s Eve, “I fooled them for another year.” C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer says, “There’s still few things I love more than the view of a baseball field in front of me.”
It can be a rewarding life, but it’s a tough one and it’s not for everyone. “So you want to be a beat writer,” Sarris writes. “Are you sure?”
The ESPN “30 for 30″ short “Judging Jewell” is an absolute must-watch for anyone even remotely involved with media. If you do nothing else this week to further your career in sports media, sit down and spend 21 minutes with this devastating documentary.
You want to see the real-life consequences of simply failing to properly attribute facts and assertions? Watch the sad, infuriating story of Richard Jewell.
Jewell was a security guard at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Stationed near a light tower at Centennial Olympic Park during a late-night concert, he spotted a stray backpack, alerted law enforcement and helped evacuate the area. A bomb in the backpack exploded, killing two and injuring 111.
Jewell’s quick thinking may have saved more than 100 lives, according to his attorney, Lin Wood. He was hailed as a hero at first, but a few days after the explosion, suspicion fell on Jewell, who was quickly convicted in the court of public opinion, thanks in large part to the media’s portrayal of him as “fitting the profile” of a lone bomber and an overzealous security guard.
As Henry Schuster, a CNN producer at the time, says in “Judging Jewell,” once suspicion fell on Jewell, everything he did made him look guilty, starting with having to navigate a huge scrum of international media every time he left the apartment he shared with his mother—a living situation that the media also seized on as illustrative of the 33-year-old Jewell being a loser. He had simply moved in with his mom temporarily when he moved to Atlanta to take the security-guard gig at the Olympics, the documentary says.
After three months of intense law-enforcement and media scrutiny, Jewell was cleared. In 2005, Eric Rudolph confessed to the Olympic bombing, among other terrorist acts. He’s serving life without parole.
“Judging Jewell” shows how the media can allow itself to be manipulated by those with an agenda, in this case law enforcement. And how the media can in turn manipulate public opinion. Here’s CNN’s Schuster, attorney Wood and Atlanta Journal-Constitution Senior Managing Editor Bert Roughton:
Schuster:What you had was just this incredible pressure from the very top.
Wood: The park was going to open on Tuesday night. The FBI was under a lot of pressure to tell the world “We got our man” while the world was still watching.
Roughton: The quicker there was some kind of resolution to who was behind the bombing, the better for the security community, the better for the Olympic organizers.
Schuster continues: “The pressure for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is immense. There’s no way they are going to be beaten on this. If they can’t be the first ones on this, than why are they there? And so the AJC comes out with this special edition” identifying Jewell as a subject in the bombing. “And then it got ugly.”
It got ugly in a variety of ways, but listen to how central the AJC’s attribution failure was to the problem:
Wood: The story published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution grossly misrepresented certain facts. It starts off by saying, “Richard Jewell fits the profile of the lone bomber.” Doesn’t attribute that to anyone.
Roughton: What we reported in the paper completely reflects the point of view of the FBI at that time. Had we attributed that statement to the FBI, I would have felt much more comfortable with it, but we didn’t. It sounded like, to a reader, that this is something the newspaper is reporting because it knows it to be true, as opposed to reflecting what the FBI was saying. But I think the way that it was phrased in the story is unfortunate.
Calling it “unfortunate” is an understatement of Olympian proportions, but Roughton mostly doesn’t go easy on himself and his paper. Still, imagine how easy it must have been for the AJC and other outlets to go along with what seemed to be shaping up as a cut-and-dried case.
“People embraced the story because it fit a very comfortable narrative. A lone Southern, you know, overweight guy wanting to somehow prove himself to the world,” Roughton continues. “I can’t tell you that I’m comfortable sitting here today telling you that we fully played the skeptic we should have.”
When we go on and on about verification and attribution at Bleacher Report, it’s not a matter of following rules for their own sake. As members of the media, our actions can have far-reaching, real-world effects. Lives can be altered, even ruined.
“This is a guy who should have been throwing out baseballs at major league games,” says Schuster, the CNN producer, “walking into rooms and people should have been standing up and cheering. How do you ever get that back? I don’t think he ever did.”
Jewell died of natural causes in 2007. As “Judging Jewell” does, I’ll give him the last word, from the press conference he held upon being cleared of suspicion in late 1996.
“In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother,” he said. “I thank God it is now ended and that you now know what I have known all along. I am an innocent man.”
I started my sportswriting career in perhaps the most conventional fashion possible: with a blog. My decision to start writing about sports made sense, as I’ve always loved, played and followed sports, and writing has always been my forte.
In fewer than six months, I’ve written hundreds of articles and grown tremendously as a writer.
But that growth hasn’t come solely from sitting down and writing. I’ve received tremendous feedback from a variety of sources, most notably my journalism professors at Northwestern and my editors and writing coach as part of B/R’s Advanced Program in Sports Media.
With this guidance and frequent practice, I’ve picked up on some valuable lessons when it comes to being a successful journalist. The one that stands out to me most is how important is it to distinguish yourself from the masses.
This is particularly important in online media and sports journalism.
That doesn’t mean I try to take a ridiculous stance on any given subject. Rather, I look at how I can put forth an opinion I feel hasn’t been considered yet.
I generally find inspiration by looking at controversial and popular news stories, like Johnny Manziel being destined for a failed NFL career or why the Golden State Warriors are overrated, and examining the supporting points that go against the grain.
Taking unconventional points of view prevents my writing from growing stale, but most importantly, it increases the quality of my work because I’m covering a topic about which I’m truly passionate.
And I’ve found that there is no better way to improve as a writer than to write about something that you truly believe in.
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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.
One thing about being an aspiring journalist—not to mention any other kind of journalist—is that the business changes so fast it’s hard to keep up with what it means to be a journalist in the first place.
That’s a problem. It’s also very exciting. I don’t think there’s ever been a more interesting time to be in this racket.
Ken Doctor, a media analyst and consultant who writes the weekly “Newsonomics” column for Harvard’s Nieman Journalism Lab, has written an informative take on what seems to be the dominant trend in digital journalism circles. The headline: “The newsonomics of why everyone seems to be starting a news site.”
Bloggers turned journalism superstars Glenn Greenwald, Ezra Klein and Nate Silver are among those who have either launched or are leading new ventures. Doctor digs into the factors behind the phenomenon, and that’s worth reading even if you won’t likely be launching your own $25 million news site any time soon.
Doctor’s story is a business trend report, and, perhaps because there’s no mention of sports other than Silver’s association with ESPN, that might not strike you as interesting. But it should be if you’re in the midst of or considering a career as a sportswriter. Doctor is writing about the landscape of our business:
Journalists are more mobile than ever. People now bring along their own audiences. Just look at the Twitter followings and some of those in the news. Nate Silver: 653,000. Ezra Klein: 422,000. Glenn Greenwald: 326,000. Matt Yglesias: 100,000. Digital access and social sharing mean that both twentysomethings and veteran voices can develop big followings in a short time …
In the old days, superior regional talent, like that of The Miami Herald’s legendary Sunday magazine, would migrate to The Washington Post and stay there. Now, people come, people go. The movement that we’ve seen growing over the past several years will only increase as legacy and startup news companies compete and journalists balance the massive traffic, brand support, and stability the old brands offer against to the allure of the new and of building their own brand and products.
There are people thriving in this fast-moving environment, and I’ll tell you one thing they all have in common: They have not been incurious about or dismissive of the changes roiling the industry.
Half a decade ago—an eternity!—a video got passed around showing elite Beltway media pundits responding to a question C-SPAN hosts had begun asking: “Are you on Twitter?” The video was six solid minutes of journalism titans joking about how they didn’t think anybody would care about what they had for lunch.
Here were some of the top people in the profession responding to something that—it was already evident—had a chance to become a major factor in that industry with complete indifference. They couldn’t have been bothered to actually engage with it, use it, think about its consequences or potential strengths and weaknesses. They’d heard—from each other—that it was people talking about what they’d eaten for lunch, so … meh.
Don’t be those people. You’re not going to see any of them mentioned in stories about the exciting things that are happening in journalism.
There’s a great-looking new free resource for attribution and verification: “Verification Handbook: A Definitive Guide to Verifying Digital Content for Emergency Coverage.”
I say it’s great-looking not because it’s pretty but because it looks like it’s great. I haven’t read it yet, but I plan to rectify that in the next 24 hours, and I have a lot of confidence in it.
“Verification Handbook” is a project of the European Journalism Centre and was edited by Poynter.org’s Craig Silverman, one of the best in the world, if not the best, on the subject of attribution and verification for journalists. It looks like he’s made seven appearances in the B/R Blog. The handbook is available online as an html document, but you can leave your email address and you’ll be notified when printed, ePub and PDF versions are out.
In an introductory post at Poynter.org, Silverman writes:
In the past three years, perhaps in part due to the spread of social media, smartphones and viral news, I’ve found myself more and more focused on verification.
With so much misinformation flowing fast and freely, and the ability for anyone to easily shoot, share and/or manipulate images and video, the skills of verification have never been more important. Yet it’s not taught on an ongoing basis in most newsrooms. And it’s not just journalists who need the skills and knowledge to sift real from fake—this is a basic, essential skill of news literacy. We all need it. It’s about cultivating a mindset to question and scratch away at the surface of what we see, hear and read.
We talk a lot about attribution and verification at Bleacher Report, since news aggregation is a huge part of what we do. And we teach it on an ongoing basis. Here are the Attribution Guidelines, and “Attribution and Hyperlinks” chapter from “Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report.” You can download Playbook, our basic-writing textbook, for free at Smashwords.com.
But you can never talk too much about this vital subject. “Verification Handbook” is meant as a guide for how to verify digital information in emergencies, but at Bleacher Report we understand that as an everyday skill.
This handbook offers lots of tools and some technical advice — but the most important pieces are non-technical. It’s about a mindset, about asking questions when others don’t, and maintaining skepticism when something looks true, or is more attractive if true.
It’s also about practice. Do the work of verification day after day and you’ll hone your skills, and your sense. Do it with colleagues in a defined process, and you’ll all achieve a better result—faster.
Silverman got contributions from journalists around the world, and he writes that there are case studies in the book not just from the United States but from Syria, Japan, Nigeria and other countries. The contributor lineup includes representatives from the BBC, the Guardian, Circa, Amnesty International and other journalism and NGO powerhouses.
We don’t highlight pro wrestling content in the Shoutouts very often, but this 2014 WWE Royal Rumble Preview by Big Nasty is worth it. Big Nasty is nice in front of the camera, comfortable and with good body language and an engaging style. The text isn’t just a blurb either. There’s some meat there.
Another video: I had to take a moment to wipe a tear from my eye after watching this heartfelt and hilarious “public service announcement” by Reese Waters aimed at LeBron James, Kevin Durant and other NBA stars. “Help save our winters with your yearly gift of just 18 minutes,” Waters pleads in a brave effort to get the stars to participate in the All-Star Slam Dunk Contest.
Going back a week, because the holiday and a sports media controversy meant we didn’t get to the Shoutouts last week: Ty Schalter went with a “Mission Impossible” theme in his NFC Championship Game preview, Colin Kaepernick Already Holds the Secret Keys to Unlocking the Seahawks Defense, and it actually worked to create a fun and informative read. Before self-destructing, Schalter told Kaep he had to be “picture-perfect.” Didn’t happen, but a good piece.
Lindsay Gibbs went outside her usual tennis beat to go Inside Lolo Jones’ Quest to Make the 2014 US Olympic Bobsled Team. That story ran before Jones was named to the team. Gibbs was back to tennis to profile Australian Open women’s winner Li Na and then chronicle the strange men’s final, in which Stanislas Wawrinka upset Rafael Nadal. That’s a lot of good stuff from Gibbs.
If you’re already missing Johnny Manziel, A.J. McCarron and Teddy Bridgewater, Tyler Donohue had some Pro-Player Comparisons for College Football’s Next Class of Star Quarterbacks.
You’ve probably noticed that the story pages on Bleacher Report look a little different.
B/R’s Product and Engineering team has launched a redesign that’s really just a first step in an overall improvement.
The modernized look, including share buttons at the top and a sleeker typeface, brings the desktop into line visually with the mobile version of Bleacher Report.
But the biggest improvement is behind the scenes. The update puts B/R’s desktop, tablet and mobile sites on one codebase, rather than three separate ones. Because of this, our product team can move much faster on things like speed optimizations, design changes, new features and fixes.
This increased agility will allow for more design changes and improvements in the coming months. Look for an evolution rather than periodic big redesigns.
Nothing is locked in, so let us hear your thoughts. Chris and his team will keep tweaking and improving based on metrics and feedback.