As vaguely promised in a noncommital way last week, this week’s Shoutouts post will focus on writers who are not among the “big names,” the star B/R writers who are starting to become usual suspects in the Shoutouts feature.
Here are some of the pieces that caught the eye of Bleacher Report’s Quality Editors and other gormandizers over the last couple of weeks.
Analyzing Randall Cobb’s Injury Outlook and Recovery from a Fibular Fracture by Dave Siebert, MD. Dr. Dave is starting to become a usual Shoutouts suspect, but his stuff is so detailed and informative that it’s hard to exclude him.
Fantasize Me: Fresh Picks for Fantasy Football Week 6 by BRTV. All right, Packers wide receiver Cobb, pre-injury, and human beatbox Doug E. Fresh are stars, but they’re not Bleacher Report stars, and this is a pretty fun video.
Brandon Jennings Injury: Updates on Pistons Star’s Status, Likely Return Date by Tyler Conway. Here’s a piece from our Breaking News Team. That means it was written quickly, on deadline, and Tyler hit all the marks of what a breaking-news report should be, not just in content but in structure as well.
Football and Fried Beer: The Faces and Stories of the Red River Rivalry by Ben Kercheval. An engaging read as Ben gathers a diverse group of interviewees to talk about Texas-Oklahoma.
- Bullet-point “clutch moments” laid out clearly for each selection.
- Strong statistical support.
- Video highlights on each slide.
- Well written and clean overall.
In the last two weeks we’ve covered comma- and hyphen-related constructions common to sportswriting scenarios. Having touched upon some basics, let’s fill out each of these topics just a bit more, with special attention paid to cases of quirky punctuation.
Commas and Compound Predicates
CORRECT: The A’s face an uphill battle and need some big-time pitching in the weeks ahead.
In this sentence, the verbs “face” and “need” are joined by the conjunction “and,” with both verbs belonging to the subject “the A’s.”
However, we’ll often see a comma erroneously inserted between the two verbs in such constructions.
WRONG: The A’s face an uphill battle, and need some big-time pitching and clutch hitting in the weeks ahead.
Now, maybe that first correct construction didn’t sound quite right to you. As the author, you have a lot of freedom in deciding to use a comma or not, based on your personal preferences for rhythm and flow. The only real sticking point: If we want to use a comma to separate the verb phrases, we need to repeat the subject or else reintroduce it as a pronoun, making both clauses independent. In order to use a comma in this sentence, we’ll reintroduce the subject “the A’s” with the pronoun “they.”
ALSO CORRECT: The A’s face an uphill battle, and they need some big-time pitching and clutch hitting in the weeks ahead.
Let’s take a look at another example:
WRONG: Carl Jenkinson is a very versatile defender, but has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.
This presentation is incorrect because it splits the compound predicate with a comma without reintroducing the subject. One possible fix is simply to remove the erroneous comma.
CORRECT: Carl Jenkinson is a very versatile defender but has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.
Another possible fix entails retaining the comma but reintroducing “Carl Jenkinson” so that each verb phrase is paired with its own subject. “Carl Jenkinson” is paired with “is a very versatile defender” and “he” is paired with “has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.”
ALSO CORRECT: Carl Jenkinson is a very versatile defender, but he has not been used by Arsenal as a centre-back.
More on compound predicates from Education.com.
Hyphens by the (Style)Book
When we discussed hyphens last week, we noted that some usages are open to interpretation. That said, if you’re looking for a firm ruling on whether to hyphenate a certain word, the best place to turn is our Stylebook. The Sports Usage Dictionary section is arranged alphabetically, and the whole database is conveniently searchable (using ctrl+F on a PC or command+F on a Mac).
Here you’ll find the nouns “front-runner” and “route-runner” are hyphenated while the noun “baserunner” is not. You’ll also see that that writers may use “center back,” “center half” and “center forward” in articles about American soccer teams, while world football articles may use the presentations “centre-back,” “centre-half” and “centre-forward.”
And be sure to pay close attention to cases in which words are presented differently depending on the context or part of speech. While “redshirt” is presented as one unhyphenated word whether it’s employed as a noun, adjective or verb, some terms shapeshift based on the role they play in a sentence. Here are some good examples of that:
Adjective and noun: bounce-back (“Dwyane Wade is on the verge of a bounce-back.” Or “Dwyane Wade is on the verge of a bounce-back season.”)
Verb: bounce back (“NC State will look to bounce back after a disappointing road loss to Wake Forest.”
Adjective and noun: knockout (“Tyson landed a knockout punch.” Or “Tyson landed a punch for the knockout.”)
Verb: knock out (“In his prime, Tyson could knock out anyone.”)
Adjective and noun: pinch-hit (“Mueller slammed a pinch-hit double off the wall in the eighth inning.” Or “Mueller slammed a pinch-hit off the wall in the eighth inning.”)
Verb: pinch hit (“Bogaerts may pinch hit for Drew to face a lefty reliever.”)
You’ll see hyphen usage outlined in the Style Standard Clearinghouse section as well. For example, round-related constructions used as compound modifiers (e.g. “first-round pick”) are hyphenated.
As always, be sure to refer to our Stylebook whenever you’re unsure about how to present a term or phrase. This resource is jam-packed with handy rules regarding spelling, hyphenation and capitalization. I’d recommend skimming it every now and then too. We’re always adding new entries, and you never know when a good tip might catch your eye and clear up a lingering uncertainty.
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Gracie Leavitt manages the editor training program at Bleacher Report.
You already know why a good lede is important to your reader, but I find it extremely helpful for my creative process as well.
The development of the online platform means there is an abundance of sports content and even more people jonesing for a good read. This is a wonderful thing, but as a sportswriter it can be somewhat problematic—especially when you consider that many online readers are “skim readers.”
You need to provide a fresh angle and you need to make that opinion clear from the get-go. Consequently, the most important thing I’ve learned from the Advanced Program in Sports Media, as well as in my time as a copy editor and Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report, is how to hone my ledes.
Ledes are obviously important for search engine optimization (so use those primary keywords!) and to engage your readers, but they also help me—the writer—stay on task during the writing process.
Focusing on your lede means you’re focusing on the crux of your article. You have to do some soul-searching and determine why your article deserves reading. What differentiates it from everything else that has already been published?
That’s a crucial question in an age when there are thousands of articles written about any given topic.
A lede isn’t a summary; it sets the stage for what’s to come. Thinking critically about my lede helps me focus on what I really want to say. If your lede helps you, you know it’s going to help your reader.
Readers know the backstory. I used to have a terrible habit of writing uninteresting ledes that really didn’t add anything for my piece. They used to start with generic recaps of a game or re-breaking news that everybody knew. They were just a way to start the writing until I could get to the juicy stuff.
A lede can be so much more, for you and the reader.
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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.
Buzzfeed editorial director Jack Shepherd talked to the journalism site 10,000 Words about list articles this week. This is a little bit dog bites man but here’s the news: He’s in favor of them.
In Why Listicles Are Here to Stay, Shepherd says that lists have been a staple of publishing since long before the web, and he doesn’t just mean the old “25 Ways to Make a Can of Tuna Last All Summer” pieces in women’s mags: “Lists have been around since the 10 Commandments,” he says. “It’s a very natural way for people to organize information.”
Putting aside the ugly word “listicles” which he says he doesn’t like, Shepherd points out that lists are nothing more than a format:
At their best, lists are just scaffolding for stories: The list format grabs the attention because it’s an easy way for people to process information and for readers to know what they’re getting, but that’s not even close to half the battle. A great list that people share everywhere has to be an experience.
This is also true of the subset of lists that are in the slideshow format. Any “scaffolding,” any format, can be used for good or ill. The important question for any writer to ask about every story is: What is the best format to for me to say what I want to say in this piece?
This week’s Shoutouts start with Kevin Ding, who is in China with the Los Angeles Lakers. You can check his archive to see all of his pieces from the weeklong preseason trip, but here are some highlights:
Togetherness Taking Hold as Los Angeles Lakers Travel to Great Wall of China: Ding chronicles how the team is using the China tour to build the kind of togetherness it was lacking in the Dwight Howard “era,” also known as last year.
Kobe Bryant Speaks out on Why Chinese Fans Worship Him as a Hero: With that headline, it’s hard to imagine this piece being anything other than an egotistical athlete talking about how great he is, but Bryant gives a fairly nuanced view of why he has connected so well with the people of China, which he’s visited regularly for years in his role as a sneaker baron. As a bonus, Ding offers sly “Footloose” lyrical references.
Kobe Bryant Not the Only Celebrity Causing Crowds to Swoon in Beijing: Of course Kobe isn’t the only star creating a stir. This is the Lakers. There’s Pau Gasol, Steve Nash—wait a minute. It turns out the crowds are swooning over … Kevin Ding! Because of the combination of Ding’s ethnicity—his parents immigrated to the U.S. from Taiwan—and the popularity of the Lakers, a team he’s covered for 14 years, he has quite the following in China. Ding writes that he never believed it when Chinese media people told him that, but you can’t argue with video of him signing autographs for a crush of fans outside the Lakers team hotel.
Here are a few other Shoutouts in a week so busy I won’t even get to the suggestions from Bleacher Report’s Quality Editors. I’ll come back to those later.
A sampling of B/R’s coverage of the “League of Denial” documentary on PBS:
A video take on Who Will Win the BCS Championship: The SEC or Anyone Else? by The Program.
And finally, a fascinating look at the coming battle in the sneaker wars: Inside the Epic Race to Get Andrew Wiggins’ Sneaker Endorsement by Jared Zwerling.
Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR who’s best known for his real-time aggregation of news on Twitter during the Arab Spring uprisings, has a post on his personal blog that everyone who does similar work—which includes a lot of people at Bleacher Report—should read.
In When Reporting Breaking News, Words Matter – And Sometimes Languages, Too, Carvin examines the words journalists use in breaking news situations. Using the hypothetical example of what must be the most heavily covered cat ever to get stuck in a tree, Carvin reviews what meanings readers, listeners and aggregators should take from these well-worn phrases.
But there are other words and phrases [besides "confirmed"] that pepper the journalistic lexicon that may not seem so obvious to us, but in fact have a pretty clear meaning to the reporters saying them. Take the following example:
“We’re getting reports that the cat was rescued from the tree.”
When you hear that phrase, “We’re getting reports,” or some variant of it, it should tell you that the information being conveyed to you is very preliminary – so much so that you probably should take it with a grain of salt until further details are available.
Carvin covers such familiar constructions as “reportedly,” “it appears,” “sources tell us,” “an anonymous source tells us” and “we have learned,” describing what meaning you can glean from each about how confident reporters who use them are in their information. It’s vital information, and isn’t always as obvious as you might think.
I have confirmation that the next time there’s a breaking-news situation, I’m going to consult Carvin’s post.
We’re back this week with another installment of common misunderstandings seen on the editing side of the site. This time we’re covering hyphens and compound modifiers, complete with examples based on some standard sportswriting constructions.
As with commas, there’s some wiggle room when it comes to deciding when and when not to employ the compound modifier hyphen. The sharpest of editors can end up debating whether hyphenation is a must in a given scenario.
But there are some clear-cut rules—and then there are the ultimate requirements: clarity and consistency.
When to Hyphenate a Compound Modifier
A compound modifier is formed when multiple words come together to describe a subsequent noun. We add a hyphen (or hyphens) to the mix to clarify this, as the meaning of a sentence can sometimes change or be obscured depending on how the ingredients of description fit together. Even when the meaning can be gleaned, the lack of a helpful hyphen can still interrupt readers’ experience when they find it necessary to retread a sentence. (“Wait, what did I just read? Ugh, gotta start over.”)
Let’s take a look at this sentence:
WRONG: Ryan Grigson dropped the injury prone players with hefty contracts.
It’s not that the meaning is completely elusive here, but a reader might need to reapproach the sentence to see that Grigson did not drop the noun “injury” and that “prone” isn’t modifying “players” all by itself. Using the hyphenated “injury-prone” creates a smoother read, making it immediately obvious that the players in question were prone to injury.
CORRECT: Ryan Grigson dropped the injury-prone players with hefty contracts.
Hyphenates Common to Sportswriting
“Injury-prone” is a compound modifier that appears with some frequency in our line of work. “Much-needed” and “well-known” pop up quite a lot too, but note that these are hyphenated only when (1) appearing directly before the noun described or (2) following a form of the verb “to be.”
WRONG: His early spark, much-needed since the team’s serious slump, proved insufficient as the game wore on.
CORRECT: Jake Peavy returning to top form provided a much-needed spark.
CORRECT: Jake Peavy returning to top form provided a spark that was much-needed.
With respect to this last correct example, the AP Stylebook says, “When a modifier that would be hyphenated before a noun occurs instead after a form of the verb to be, the hyphen usually must be retained to avoid confusion.”
We also see a lot of number-related compound modifiers requiring hyphenation. Here are a few examples:
- The New York Rangers bounced back with a three-game winning streak.
- He scored in double digits six times during his four-year career at Duke.
- Illinois handed a double-digit loss to Gonzaga last December.
- Michael Dyer slashed through the line of scrimmage for a five-yard gain.
- She never started a high school game until proving her skills with a stellar third-quarter push.
Now is a good time to touch on the role of the suspended hyphen, since it often comes up in number-related phrasing. This construction allows us to combine multiple compound modifiers sharing a common element. In the example below, that shared element is “round”:
WRONG: Washington traded its first and second round picks in 2012.
WRONG: Washington traded its first and second-round picks in 2012.
WRONG: Washington traded its first-and-second-round picks in 2012.
CORRECT: Washington traded its first- and second-round picks in 2012.
More on suspended hyphens from Ask the English Teacher.
When NOT to Hyphenate a Compound Modifier
Let’s take a closer look at the last sentence in that group of number-related compound modifiers above:
- She never started a high school game until proving her skills with a stellar third-quarter push.
We might feel compelled to add a hyphen between “high” and “school,” modifying “game.” However, “high school” is commonly understood as a single term, so there’s no need for extra clarity there.
A phrase like “slog it out,” meanwhile, is not a generic phrase, so we’ll want to hyphenate its adjectival usage:
- The recently dethroned champions will need to take more than a slog-it-out approach.
This last sentence also gives us an opportunity to mention that we DO NOT want to hyphenate adverbs ending in “-ly.” That’s why the phrase “recently dethroned” should not contain a hyphen. Here’s another example of this rule:
WRONG: Jesse Scroggins arrived at USC as a highly-touted prospect.
CORRECT: Jesse Scroggins arrived at USC as a highly touted prospect.
More on “-ly” adverbs in compound constructions from Kent Law.
Hyphenating compound modifiers is all about making a text as precise and comprehensible as possible. We want to support readers’ encounter with each sentence rather than ask them to do a lot of work in deciphering the intended meaning.
We’ll be back next week to cover a few quirky constructions in greater detail and to highlight some related B/R style points. Until then, be sure to check out our Stylebook for further rules and guidelines.
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Gracie Leavitt manages the editor training program at Bleacher Report.
Guardian writer Oliver Burkeman, by way of reviewing a book on the daily routines of creative people by Mason Currey, tried some of them out: He woke up early like Hemingway, drank strong coffee like Beethoven and wandered around naked like Ben Franklin.
And just like that, he wrote “The Sun Also Rises,” composed “Ode to Joy” and discovered electricity!
Well, no. He didn’t. But he did learn a few things, which he sums up in the piece as “six lessons from history’s most creative minds.”
Learning about how birds like Ernie and Ludwig van spent their day won’t make you a creative genius. It won’t even help you write a good sports story. But it might give you some inspiration and some ideas about how to approach your writing, or any other creative activity.
So here are Burkeman’s six lessons, learned from Currey’s research:
- Be a morning person.
- Don’t give up the day job.
- Take lots of walks.
- Stick to a schedule.
- Practice strategic substance abuse.
- Learn to work anywhere.
Read the piece in the Guardian to learn why these things are important.
This blog cannot fully endorse No. 5. Note that substance abuse includes drinking a whole mess of coffee, but any time someone advises you to practice substance abuse, take that advice with a grain of salt. Just one grain, though. Salt’s not good for you.
Football Outsiders writer Rivers McCown confessed this week that the top mailbag question the site gets isn’t about its innovative analysis of the NFL, it’s some variation of “How can I become a football writer?”
So McCown spent almost 4,000 words dispensing advice on that very subject. It’s a lot of good advice, too, and it won’t be useful only to those who want to write about football. I won’t be able to give more than just a quick taste here—4,000 words is 10 times as long as this blog post—but I’ll sum up McCown’s advice this way:
- Read a lot. Study the writers you admire and figure out why what they do works.
- Learn about companies you want to work for. Don’t just spray applications and résumés around. You’re selling something. Understand your markets.
- Be willing to put in some work, unpaid if necessary.
- Look for new places where you can write—McCown states this as looking for places where you can guest-post.
- Be kind. Create and nurture good relationships. Praise writers you like. Network.
Go read the whole thing. As you can tell from the links above, it contains a lot of advice that’s been dispensed around here. There just might be something to it.
“Real time” was a big web buzzword a few years ago. We used it a lot at Bleacher Report. We still do, and it’s still a big part of what we’re about—giving sports fans the news, information and entertainment around sports events as they’re happening.
Since “real-time” has faded a bit as a buzzword, it’s easy to forget how important it is and how hard it is to do well. If you’d like a reminder, check out this NFL Week 5 live coverage by Ken Dorset. The experience isn’t quite as good in retrospect, but it’s a good record of how much you get when you follow an event with B/R as either your first or second screen.
Some other Shoutouts from the past week, as identified by Bleacher Report editors:
Lance Fresh is one of Bleacher Report’s video stars, and he’s showed why a couple of times in the last week. Here he is using Google Glass to get the story from Carmelo Anthony about the Knicks star’s go-to move, the jab-step to the step-back. Anthony also talks about how he discovered the move. And, as Fresh’s bio points out, he knows sports and he knows style: His breakdown of Which NBA Stars Wore the Best Sneakers for Media Day Photo Shoots is definitive.
Bleacher Report’s recent NBA hires are humming along. Howard Beck reported that Derrick Rose looked sharp in his return, and Ethan Skolnick talked to often-injured big man Greg Oden for a piece at the Miami Heat media day. Skolnick portrays the poignancy of Oden’s situation—his cautious optimism about the season being a success, which Oden defines as “walking onto a court and just walking off healthy”—without any obvious tugging on heartstrings.
NFL Lead Writer Ty Schalter examined How NFL Defenders Can Strike Back against constant attacks in the form of changing rules and enforcement that always favor offenses, and exotic, wide-open offenses. Firsthand quotes from two former NFL players, including B/R Lead Writer Matt Bowen, and a nice use of media help tell the story.