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Feb 2 / King Kaufman

Nieman Storyboard’s Annotation Tuesday! looks under the hood of great writing

I don’t know how I’ve missed this, but 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.

The name Justin Heckert jumped out at me because his his profile of comedian Kyle Kinane for Grantland had just been cited in this week’s Sunday Long Reads by ESPN’s Don Van Natta Jr.

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.

Jan 30 / King Kaufman

The BBC releases the first report from its Future of News project

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 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. 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?

Jan 29 / King Kaufman

Marshawn Lynch: Obligated to speak, or a challenge for sportswriters to accept?

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.”

Which is better, all those stories that came out of Lynch’s Media Day presser or this Seattle Times profile of Lynch from last year’s Super Bowl by Jerry Brewer? Lynch didn’t cooperate.

Here’s a great piece about Lynch from this year’s Super Bowl, by Andrew Sharp of Grantland. It’s an analysis piece, but note how much research went into it. And no cooperation from Beast Mode.

Jan 28 / King Kaufman

What to do if you find yourself in a massive media scrum

Tom Brady at Super Bowl Media Day, Jan. 27, 2015

Imagine that’s you somewhere in that scrum surrounding Tom Brady at Super Bowl Media Day Tuesday.

What’s your story going to be? What angle, what insight will you present that the 99 people you’re jockeying for position won’t get?

Here’s another question: When’s the last time you read or saw something really interesting that came out of Media Day? Stories about how funny and weird Media Day is, or about the loopy characters who show up as reporters, don’t count. An event that exists only so people can create stories about how funny and weird it is that the event exists, every year for decades, isn’t something worthy of too much of your attention, wouldn’t you say?

Here’s a simple rule for finding good stories: If you’re one of a huge group of reporters in one place, go somewhere else.

See also:

Joe Posnanski on being a great writer: Stay humble

What’s your best advice for writers? Yeah, you

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AP Photo

Jan 27 / King Kaufman

Being a journalist means being a student: Should you learn to code?

In the first quarter of my freshman year at the University of California-Santa Cruz I had a wonderful history professor named William Hitchcock. I loved his lectures, which an earlier chancellor had called “a masterpiece, every one.” But what I really liked was how this professional historian would look at us 18-year-old dummies and call us “historians.”

“Since we’re all historians,” he’d say, and then talk about how we historians might want to reason together about whatever subject was at hand.

Now I’m a professional, though I’m not a historian but the short-attention-span version, a journalist, and I look at things the other way around: I think we professionals are all students.

We have to be, with how fast everything changes.

So when I read something like this piece in PBS MediaShift’s EducationShift section about how journalism students should all learn a little coding, I don’t just see it as advice for college kids. I see it as advice for all journalists, because every journalist is a student.

Aaron Chimbel, a journalism professor at TCU, writes:

If we value clear writing and the ability to communicate clearly with a wide variety of people, we should value teaching our students the basics of computer languages and digital communications. These skills will only be more important going forward, and more importantly code, a broad term encompassing several computing languages, is the future of digital and global communication. If we don’t expose our students to this—students we want to lead the next generation of journalism and communication—we are doing them a disservice …

What is important is to expose all students to the basics of coding and to give them a baseline of understanding this language, the language of the future … What is important is for students who don’t become programmers—and most won’t—to be able understand how information can be gathered and presented using code and how to use it for journalism, even if they aren’t the ones actually building the project.

Chimbel compares learning some code to studying a language. You might not become fluent, but “you learn a lot about thinking and culture from learning a new language.” He also points out that, fortunately for those of us not enrolled in school, there are several free online resources, such as Code Academy, Code{Actually} and

I’ve made a false start or two at Code Academy. I keep meaning to get back to it. Any of my fellow students feel the same way?

Jan 26 / Chelsea Becker

Content Standards: Attributing stats and factual information

Knowing when to attribute information to a third-party source is an important skill for any writer. In most cases, it’s pretty straightforward. When it comes to the presentation of stats and other factual information, it’s sometimes hard to tell what’s fair game and what owes credit to someone else’s reporting.

It’s obviously fair game to use basic win-loss stats for Clayton Kershaw’s season without attribution, or to include a widely reported fact about his background in a biographical piece. But when it comes to factual information that isn’t as widely available—or when factual information is presented in a way that mirrors the work of somebody else—usage is only acceptable with proper attribution to its source.

This post focuses on best practices for proper attribution in such cases.


Let’s use this ESPN article from Mike Wells as an example.

Wells outlines easily obtainable stats from the 2014 AFC Championship Game here: “New England followed up rushing games of 234 and 246 yards by rushing for 177 yards, including 148 yards and three touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.”

Now, if I’m a B/R writer reporting on this game, can I reference the same stats? Definitely. Can I phrase the same exact stats in an identical or near-identical way and present the passage as my own? Definitely not. I’d have to give credit where it’s due.

If I wanted to use Wells’ specific language, I’d follow B/R’s Attribution Guidelines for crediting direct quotes, which advises, “When you extract a word-for-word passage from the work of another author, you’re obligated to (a) introduce the quoted material with a hyperlinked reference to the original source …”

My attribution would look something like this:

As ESPN’s Mike Wells notes, the Patriots “followed up rushing games of 234 and 246 yards by rushing for 177 yards, including 148 yards and three touchdowns from LeGarrette Blount.”

Obviously Wells is not the only reporter using this data, and you are free to reference the Pats’ 177 rushing yards in your own work without sourcing the ESPN piece. However, his organization of the stats and information is unique to him and therefore requires attribution if we present the information in the same or similar way.

Originally reported factual information

If a piece of factual information comes from an identifiable source and is uncommon enough that it can’t be considered widely known, it needs attribution to the source that brought you to that information.

For example, mentioning that Mike Conley was a calming influence for his high school team comes from someone’s research and original reporting. In this case, Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams provided us with that piece of knowledge and deserves credit.

Conley playing high school basketball with Ohio State University teammate Greg Oden does not need a source because it’s a fact available at hundreds of media outlets and not the result of a reporter’s unique research.

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The art of proper sourcing gives fellow writers their due for helping you construct your piece. Look at it this way: If another journalist was using your ideas, words or research, you’d also want credit for your work.

If you are on the fence about whether something should be attributed, ask yourself whether you’d have that essential piece of knowledge without coming across the content in question. If your work has relied on another piece, your readers should know about it.

As we’ve written time and again, it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to proper attribution. If you’re ever in doubt about whether something requires attribution, don’t take unnecessary chances—simply email for guidance.

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Chelsea Becker is a Content Moderator at Bleacher Report. Content Moderator Nick James contributed to this post. 

Jan 23 / King Kaufman

Real talk about the “Talk about” question from Grantland’s Bryan Curtis

The Worst Question in Sports: What We Talk About When We Say ‘Talk About’ by Bryan Curtis at Grantland, is a terrific piece on two levels.

First, it’s just a good, solidly reported opinion story. Curtis analyzes the ubiquity of the sports-media question that begins with “Talk about …” as well as it’s cousins, “How big was …” and “Walk me through …” He also marshals a metric ton of examples, complete with video embeds and links. And he interviews sports media colleagues for their views on the tactic and whether they use it.

Curtis writes about the various reasons reporters use “Talk about”: As an ice-breaker at the start of press conferences, to cover up for not having watched the play in question, possibly because they were busy tweeting, to try out the thesis of the reporter’s article on the interview subject, or as a warmup to the real question—as in “Can you talk about the decision to overturn the call and why you overturned the call?”

He talks about the history of the use of “Talk about” and speculates about the reasons for its rise. It’s an engaging, nuanced examination of an often remarked-upon but rarely examined phenomenon in sports media.

And that’s the second reason I liked Curtis’ piece. It would have been easy to write a snarky, wisecracking piece about sportswriters and their stupid “Talk about” questions. “Talk about” is easy to spoof. That spoofy piece would have been greeted by an amen chorus on social media. Curtis didn’t settle for that.

That’s something to talk about.

Jan 22 / King Kaufman

Looking for your next podcast fix? IJNet lists nine podcasts for journalists

I’ve been listening to a lot of podcasts lately. Have you? The breakout success of Serial has made podcasting the hot media item of the moment, and in my case a new halfway decent smartphone has contributed to my newfound podcastphilia.

I’ve been listening to a lot of This American Life, Love + Radio and The Moth, and in the right mood I’ll listen to interviews on Fresh Air or WTF With Marc Maron.

If you’re into podcasting and journalism, the International Journalists’ Network, IJNet, has a post for you. It’s headlined Nine podcasts for journalists:

Commenting on the rise of the popularity of podcasts, Doug Mitchell, founder of NPR’s Next Generation Radio, said that the value of podcasts has finally caught up with a society that is far more mobile than it was when podcasting launched in the late 90s.

“Those who appreciate good storytelling, a more narrative form, will always have a unique audience. Think those who listen to books on tape,” Mitchell told IJNet, adding that the opportunity now lies in reaching everyone who has a smartphone.

IJNet compiled a list of journalism podcasts that media practitioners can listen to for on-the-go tips and inspiration.

I’ve only heard one of them, PBS Mediashift’s Mediatwits, hosted by Mark Glaser, with whom I’ve had coffee. It’s good.

I’m looking forward to listening to the other eight. I’d like to hear what you think of them too.

Jan 21 / King Kaufman

What should sportswriters do now that athletes don’t need them to speak directly to the public?

Ian Casselberry wrote about athletes speaking directly to the public on Awful Announcing.

That’s hardly a new thing. Cristiano Renaldo has almost 33 million Twitter followers. That didn’t happen in a week.

But in a post headlined Golden Tate goes first person to address rumors about Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin, Casselberry notes that the Lions receiver is part of a trend of athletes moving beyond social media and “taking that effort further through ventures where they can post first-person narratives, such as Derek Jeter’s The Players’ Tribune.” Casselberry, who used to write for Bleacher Report, also notes the B/R athlete-video site Uninterrupted.

Tate used the Medium publication The Cauldron to refute some rumors about him and talk about what it’s like to be a famous person about whom salacious rumors get passed around. His basic point, other than “I did not have an affair with Russell Wilson’s wife,” is that you shouldn’t believe everything you read.

Mine is a question: As more and more athletes get more and more sophisticated in their efforts to, in Casselberry’s words, “eliminate the middleman of sports media,” how should sports media respond? With less need to filter and disseminate what sports-world figures have to do, what should sportswriters be replacing that work with?

Jan 20 / King Kaufman

Rosen’s “banking theory” of media trust: Keep that credibility balance high

If you’ve been reading in this space for a while, you’ve heard me say that credibility is a finite resource. Once you’ve established it, all you can do is keep it or lose it.

But media critic and professor Jay Rosen of NYU posted an essay last week that takes a more nuanced view. In A (brief) banking theory of newsroom trust, Rosen writes that trust, another word for credibility, is something that can be built up and drawn down, like a bank balance:

Some decisions that editors make put stress on accumulated reserves of trust, while others add to those reserves. From this point of view, trust—credibility!—is not something you have or don’t have as a news provider. Rather, the way you operate can build up or draw down the “reserves” of trust.

Rosen sketches three scenarios, in descending order of transparency. The first is “Don’t take our word for it. Judge for yourself,” in which the outlet shows its work, gives users access to all of the information it has. The second is “We had to make a call. Here is our reasoning,” in which the outlet withholds something, but explains its reasoning, as in the recent case of the New York Times not publishing cartoons from Charlie Hebdo, editor Dean Baquet explaining that the paper took the sensibilities of Muslim readers into account.

The third is “Look, you’re just going to have to trust us,” which is self-explanatory. With this third scenario, Rosen writes, “the operation is drawing on deposits of trust put there by earlier acts of journalism that turned out to be trust-worthy.”

The more we operate in that first scenario, the more trust we build up. There may be rare times when we have no choice but to operate in the third. If that happens, we’ll be making a withdrawal from our credibility account. Rosen concludes:

The banking theory of newsroom trust draws attention to the fact that some acts of journalism are easier to trust in than others. The harder you make it for us to trust you, the more likely you are to wind up with a negative balance. The solution is to build up your reserves by operating in a transparent fashion most of the time. In other words: Journalists, show your work.

I would put it this way: Tell us what you know, and tell us how you know it.