We’ve made some changes in the Writer Program application process. The requirements for approval are the same as they’ve been for a while, but how you get there is a little different.
We no longer ask for a single original writing sample of up to 500 words. Instead, we ask for four things: The URL of your most recent published piece in a newspaper, magazine, blog or website, and three brief original writing samples to demonstrate your knack for taking insightful angles on timely stories.
As the application notes: “If you don’t have any published work to your credit, please explore other options for cutting your teeth before reapplying to Bleacher Report.”
For the three brief writing samples, up to 100 words each, we ask these things:
- Of all the week’s major sports news stories, which would you be most interested in writing about? Why?
- Of all the plausible analytical angles you might take when writing about your selected story, which one would you choose? Why?
- Given the angle described above, how would you write the lede for your selected story?
An earlier B/R Blog post spelled out what the B/R Writer Admissions team looks for when evaluating a writing sample. The team is still looking for pretty much the same things today, but those things must be in your published output and your answers to those questions. Let’s review them here.
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The Writer Admissions team uses an objective scoring system to evaluate writing. That might sound strange because we all know that writing is an art form. But music is an art form too, and just as we can evaluate whether a musician hits the notes correctly, there are some things within the art of writing that we can judge objectively.
That said, writing really is an art form, so the reviewers also use their experience and judgment to evaluate an applicant’s depth of knowledge on the subject of the article, and whether the piece is compelling and fun to read.
For a much more extensive look at how Bleacher Report defines quality sportswriting, you can read our short textbook, Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report, which is available for free download at this link.
In much briefer form, here’s how the objective side of the evaluation works:
Reviewers look at the strength of the analysis as well as the actual mechanics of the writing. In other words, not only do they want to see that you have smart, interesting, creative things to say about sports—the “art form” side of the evaluation mentioned above—they want to see that you have the ability to say them well.
There are 10 metrics the Writer Admissions Team looks at, five each having to do with analysis and mechanics. If your writing goes astray on too many of the metrics, the application will be turned down. In most cases, writers may try again after 30 days.
Here are the five metrics B/R reviewers look at as they evaluate your analysis:
Opinion: The writing we’re looking for offers opinionated analysis rather than merely regurgitating facts. Reviewers look for at least two consecutive paragraphs that contain subjective interpretation of the event or events being covered. The consecutive-paragraph requirement guards against “drive-by” analysis. Reviewers want to see thoughts developed a little bit.
Angle: Bleacher Report readers demand forward-looking analysis. Reviewers look, again, for at least two consecutive paragraphs that contain such analysis. That means making predictions or raising questions about the impact of the article’s topic.
Support: Every single statement of opinion must be supported with at least one persuasive fact.
Aggregation: Good analysis makes note of other coverage. Reviewers want to see at least one attributed reference to a third-party source.
Structure: Reviewers look for three basic elements in a good piece of writing: The first is a lede that introduces the article’s major themes. The second is a logical progression that develops the themes that were introduced in the lede. The third is a conclusion that substantively summarizes those themes as they’ve been developed. An oversimplification: Beginning, middle and end.
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There are also five metrics that reviewers look at while evaluating the mechanics of your writing.
Textual Correctness: Spell everything correctly. It’s as simple as that. Even one misspelled word will be held against you. Any more than two grammatical errors or typographical errors combined will also have you on your way to an invitation to try again in 30 days.
Sentence and Paragraph Structure: Readers like concision and so does the Writer Admissions team. We like to see an average of fewer than 20 words per sentence and four sentences per paragraph.
Language Variation: Word repetition is the big issue the team is looking for here. Using the same word two times in one sentence or three times in one paragraph, other than for rhetorical effect, will raise a red flag. Reviewers also look for subject-predicate repetition, which is the non-rhetorical use of identical subjects and/or predicates in consecutive sentences.
Verb Choice: Avoid passive verb constructions. Too many, and the Writer Admissions team will stop reading. “Too many” is not very many.
Authorial Voice: More than two instances of first-person voice will dramatically reduce your chances of approval.
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Don’t have a published piece that fits those criteria? That’s OK. Go write and publish one.
But keep this in mind: We wanted to tell you how the B/R application review system works not so you can game the system and score points with reviewers, but because we believe that if you understand the concepts behind the scoring, you’ll be able to write the kind of compelling stories that will help you build a loyal audience for your writing.
Again, you can download and read our free textbook, Playbook: The Basics of Writing for Bleacher Report for a more complete review of B/R’s editorial requirements.
When you feel like you’re ready, here’s the Writer Program application.
Your readers are great editors. But only if you listen to them.
Not every writer likes to jump into the comments and mix it up with readers. You’ve heard the advice about engaging with the community and encouraging debate, and if it’s not your style, it’s not your style.
But look at the comments anyway. And don’t wait too long. If there are errors in your piece, your readers are likely to point them out in the comments. If you can easily fix a mistake, why let it linger in your story, especially when—just in case other readers missed it—your friend the commenter helpfully points it out?
It’s tempting to publish and walk away. Job well done! But give it a few minutes, then check the comments. Then give it an hour or so and check again. Then don’t be a stranger over the next few hours. There have been mistakes getting past editors and copy editors for as long as there have been editors and copy editors.
You have millions of potential copy editors. Don’t ignore them.
Ingram covers the tech business for GigaOm, and in that role is a keen observer of changes in media. A longtime writer, editor and blogger for the Financial Times of Canada and, the Globe and Mail, he’s interested in both the rise of new media and the death of the newspaper. Hillel Fuld interviewed Ingram for Tech ‘n’ Marketing.
A couple of interesting points. First, Fuld notes that Ingram is not only interesting but also prolific on Twitter, and when Fuld asks him how he can tweet, analyze and write so much while also carrying on a life, Ingram’s answer sounds familiar. It’s what people who seem to produce a lot or do a lot of things always seem to say when someone asks them how they do it:
I think the secret, if I have one, is that I don’t watch TV.
That’s a little hard to pull off for sportswriters, or even sports fans—when we dined together, it was in the thick of the Richie Incognito scandal, and when I mentioned it Ingram joked, “Pretend I don’t know who Richie Incognito is.” But it’s worth thinking about. If you find yourself wishing you had more time, think about whether you need to watch every awesome new HBO series that everyone’s talking about.
Or, if you’re like me, every episode of Jerry Springer. Don’t judge.
Fuld asks Ingram what tips he’d give to a startup founder after having covered so many over the years:
I would never claim to have any secrets about starting or running companies, but I know that the entrepreneurs I have admired over the years are always the ones who are passionate about what they are doing for some reason other than just making money—someone once said that passion will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no passion. And they are almost always honest, even about their flaws and mistakes, which is difficult to do.
Putting aside the good advice that journalists should be entrepreneurial, that sounds like a good formula for success in a lot of fields, including this one.
Conor Friedersdorf of the Atlantic is good at finding good writing. He runs the Best of Journalism E-mail Newsletter, with which you get two emails a week highlighting exceptional nonfiction for $1.99 a month.
Last month Friedersdorf published his annual “Best Of Journalism Awards,” which is to say a list of, as the headline says, Slightly More Than 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism.
Bookmark it or Instapaper or it or whatever you do, and over the next few months, when you have a few minutes, instead of one more trawl through Facebook or Instagram, read one of these pieces. You won’t agree with Friedersdorf that all of them are “fantastic pieces.” I don’t either. But we can all learn from the ones that are fantastic, and maybe even from those we think fall short.
They’re split into categories, including “Sports & Leisure,” but also War & Peace, Arts, Letters & Entertainment, food, business, personal essays and more. I’ve only read a few myself, so I’ve got some Instapapering to do. And some reading and learning and improving as a writer.
The panel, “How to Hit a Home Run: Mastering the Sports Beat,” featured Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon, sports reporter David Nuño of Houston TV station KTRK and Ted Dunnam, sports editor at Houston Community Newspapers.
Some of the suggestions that came from the panel will sound familiar to regular readers of this blog:
- Make a name for yourself
- Use social media for that, to make connections with potential employers and sources, and more
- Grab opportunities when they arise
- Do whatever you can to get your foot in the door. Show initiative
- Get your facts right
- Better to be right than first
Funny how advice from people have had some success in the business always comes down to these same few points. Makes you think there might just be something to them.
Mary Meeker is an analyst whose annual report on the state of the internet is to people who care about such things kind of like what the first mock draft of the year is to NFL junkies. A former Wall Street securities analyst who now works for the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Meeker presented her report at the first Code Conference Wednesday in Southern California.
As always, there’s a lot to digest. Knock yourself out by reading all 164 slides from her presentation. If you just want highlights, you might want to surf around a bit, because Meeker’s talk is so wide-ranging that different people from different industries are going to focus on different things.
Some highlights for those of us in the media game:
- Smartphone use is still booming. So are tablet sales, with a lot of room yet for growth.
- Mobile monetization is way up, but the dynamics of ad spending are still inefficient, if not out of whack. In the U.S. in 2013, people spent 20 percent of their media time on mobile, but advertisers spent only 4 percent of their money on mobile advertising. Meanwhile, 19 percent of the ad spend was on print, where the audience spent only 5 percent of its time.
- Social sharing happens in a hurry. The average article reaches half of its eventual total of social referrals in the first six and a half hours on Twitter, nine hours on Facebook.
- Video screens are proliferating, and people are spending more total time with their screens because of simultaneous usage of multiple screens. Eighty-four percent of mobile-device owners use one while watching TV.
- Twenty-two percent of online video consumption was on mobile devices in 2013, which was double what it had been the year before.
Here are some more roundups:
The Most Important Technology Trend Of 2014, According to Mary Meeker by Jeff Bercovici, Forbes
Mary Meeker’s 2014 internet trends report: all the slides plus highlights by Dan Frommer, Quartz
Mary Meeker says mobile is keeping tech party roaring by Marguerite Reardon, CNET
I like to say that with the rapid rate of change, or even upheaval, in the journalism business, we’re all journalism students all the time, even gristly old vets like me who last spent significant time in classrooms when there was still chalk in them.
Kids, ask your grandparents why chalk would have been in a classroom.
But we’re not only all students. We’re all constantly contemplating a career change. You might want to stick with the status quo, but the status is likely to have other ideas.
So I think it’s smart to try to keep up with what’s going on in the racket, even if it might not affect what you’re up to at the moment. It’s good to know the features of the ocean we’re all swimming in, and those features change all the time.
Last week there was an interesting exchange sparked by a Facebook rant by Mike Hudack, who is a director of product at Facebook.
Hudack blasted the media for focusing on click-bait content rather than “real, meaningful news.” As several commentators pointed out, it was an interesting move for Hudack not to mention Facebook’s role in that phenomenon. Alexis Madrigal a senior editor at the Atlantic, tweeted at Hudack:
@mhudack We should talk about your take on news. My perception is that Facebook is *the* major factor in almost every trend you identified.
— Alexis C. Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) May 22, 2014
@mhudack I’m not saying this as a hater, but if you asked most people in media why we do these stories, they’d say, “They work on Facebook.”
— Alexis C. Madrigal (@alexismadrigal) May 22, 2014
Here are a few other responses:
Facebook product director furious at Facebook’s effect on news by Matthew Yglesias, Vox
Where journalism, Facebook’s algorithm and responsibility lie by Alex Howard, aka Digiphile, personal Tumblr
Facebook Product Guy Slams Buzzfeed And Vox In Rant About The State Of News by Jeff Bercovici, Forbes
How to Start a Blog is a terrific post on Journalists.org, the Online News Association site, that ‘s useful far beyond that headline. The advice, by reporter Kyle Stokes of NPR member station KPLU-Seattle, has the subhead “The Kick In The Pants I Wish I Had In College.”
According to the bio on the piece, Stokes “spent two-and-a-half years reporting on education for StateImpact Indiana, a collaboration of WFIU and Indiana Public Broadcasting.” He writes that before that experience, he thought of blogging as “Journalism Lite,” but having done it, “I can’t imagine a better, more relevant way for a reporter to own a beat. Nor is there any better way for an aspiring beat reporter to learn the trade—I’m looking at you, J-schoolers.”
Remember, I think we’re all students, not just J-schoolers.
Stokes is writing about how to start a niche blog, covering a narrow subject, but much of what he’s talking about carries over even if you’re doing something different, like covering a sports beat. Here are his recommendations, though you should read the post for his explanations:
- Pick a niche
- Figure out who cares
- Curate & converse
- Set your sights on a handful of big stories—and own them
- Post and post often
- Take great pains to explain, explain, explain
That’s a good start for separating yourself from the pack no matter what you’re covering, in what format.
I grew up dreaming of working in sports, and I always thought it would be that easy because I loved nearly every sport. I do love my job, but I was way off with that assumption.
After four years in the business, I’ve never actually enjoyed the perks of sitting in a press box and I don’t know that I will. But I’ve learned that people who work in sports media—in or out of the press box—don’t just work for two or three hours during a game but all day leading up to the game and afterwards as well.
As a content analyst my main job is to create content plans and provide real-time support for our breaking news team and our sport specific editors. I’m responsible for making sure that content published during major events and breaking sports news is optimized properly for search.
Since the launch of B/R UK I’ve also taken on the role of global planning and providing real-time Analytics support for our global iniatives.
It’s more than following the game and providing a recap these days. During major sporting events, I work on my days off. I work 12-hour shifts, and I don’t work a normal Monday-to-Friday schedule. When I say my life revolves around sports, I mean it. Sports media is a 24-hour, 365-day business, and sports don’t take days off. Christmas? NBA games. Thanksgiving? Football. July 4th? We have a hot dog eating contest to worry about covering.
Many of my friends think my job is completely stress-free. They think all I do is sit in a recliner, watching sports. They think it’s crazy when I tell them I have to get up at 7 a.m. for work when there aren’t any games in the morning.
Working in sports media isn’t all fun and games. It’s not the easiest job on the planet. But it is one of the most fun.
Despite the long hours, the workload, the weekend shifts and all that comes with working in sports media, I wouldn’t trade my job for anything.
I’ve worked multiple positions with Bleacher Report over the last four years and each of them requires a strong work ethic and schedule flexibility. If you want to be successful in the sports media world, you have to be prepared for a crazy life.
It’s not easy, but it’s worth the sacrifice.
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If you have a few minutes and love sportswriting, sit down with ‘Still No Cheering In The Press Box’: Jim Murray, Pulitzer Prize Winner by Elia Powers at Yahoo’s the PostGame.
That oddball headline is a clumsy reference to the classic 1974 book “No Cheering in the Press Box,” in which Jerome Holtzman interviewed 18 of his fellow sportswriters. An introductory note says that students at the University of Maryland are working on a new version. “The premise is to profile great sports journalists by allowing them to tell their own stories,” the note says.
Murray died in 1998, so he’s not going to be telling his own story. But of course Murray, one of the founders of Sports Illustrated and a Los Angeles Times columnist for nearly 40 years, left millions of words behind, and Powers does a good job of both showing and telling what made him great.
How great? As Powers notes, he was named “America’s Best Sportswriter” in 14 different years—12 of them in a row—by the National Association of Sportscasters and Sportswriters. He won a Pulitzer Prize. Bill Dwyre, the former sports editor of the Los Angeles Times, says, “There was Red Smith and there was Jim Murray and there won’t be any two better.”
I grew up reading Murray. Unlike Smith, who I think slowed down a bit in the 1950s, Murray didn’t have a prime. He got old and sick and had to write less often, but whenever he could get to the keyboard, he brought his best fastball.
Two of his best and most famous columns, about losing an eye to glaucoma and the death of his first wife, were written when he was in his 60s. His obituaries all mentioned his last column, noting that it was vintage Murray. It was about jockey Chris McCarron, who was riding Free House, a horse that had finished third, second and third in the 1997 Triple Crown races but had won at Del Mar that day. “‘The bridesmaid finally caught the bouquet,” Murray wrote. “The bridesmaid finally caught the bouquet. The best friend got the girl in the Warner Brothers movie for a change. The sidekick saves the fort. … It’s nice to know getting older has its flip side.”
As great as Murray was with words and one-liners, as keen an observer as he was, Powers notes that it was when he hit on the idea of poking fun at different cities that he became a household name. He had a rainy-day column to file from Cincinnati, and he wrote about the town, “If it was a human, they’d bury it.”
“When he got the idea and started doing those columns where he wrote about cities, I think that’s where it clicked in his mind that he could do this,” [Murray biographer Ted] Geltner said. “I really thought that was an important part of his career because in the early ’60s there were so many newspapers and dozens and dozens of columnists, and he was just another one until he started doing that.”
Fifty years ago, just like today: Even if you’re clearly the best, you need to find a way to stand out.