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Associated Press Sports Writing Handbook [Secure eReader]
eBook by Steve Wilstein

eBook Category: Sports/Entertainment
eBook Description: Glamorous, exciting, and explosively popular, the world of professional sports increasingly whets the public's appetite for up-to-the-minute, entertaining, and accurate information on the plays and the players. In this hands-on guide, award-winning AP sports writer and columnist Steve Wilstein gives prospective sports journalists the real-life, up-close and personal scoop on this in-demand but demanding, 24/7, sunshine or snow profession--a profession that is more about writing than it is about sports. And yes, spelling counts. Here is expert, comprehensive coverage of all aspects of professional sports writing as it is done every day at the world renowned Associated Press, in newspapers, magazines, and on the Internet--from basic sports reporting to writing a column, the art and craft of interviewing, digging for scoops, writing features and investigative series, breaking into the business, and more. In addition to providing core techniques and methodology, The Associated Press Sports Writing Handbook also includes an array of real-life experiences and insights straight from the mouths of such noted journalists as Dave Anderson, Christine Brennan, Jim Litke, Bob Ryan, George Versey, Michael Wilbon, and many others.

eBook Publisher: McGraw-Hill Companies/McGraw-Hill, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: October 2002


Make it sing, sports writers tell each other as they sit hunched over their laptops in cramped press boxes and tents. And the refrain often comes back that they will be lucky to make it hum a few bars. But the idea is always there, to take a scene, a game, an interview and make the story sing and the words dance off the page. The best writers, masters of the storytelling art, do it day after day for decades.

They watch for those moments that make each game different from all the others, tune in on the fresh, taut, witty quotes that snap the characters to life on the page, search for the color and detail that make it all feel real.

The sports writers' challenge is to describe events with elegance and passion and wit, to make readers share their laughter or tears or rage, to entertain and inform, to break the news that no one else knows or describe a game that everyone has seen, to impart a feeling for what it was like to be there in the stands or on the field or in the locker room, to give the event meaning and put it in perspective. Oh, and the deadline is in 15 minutes.

The intent of this book is to give prospective sports writers an understanding of the real world of covering sports, what it takes to do the job every day, working weekends and holidays, in heat and cold, sunshine and snow, always under the pressure of deadlines. The late great Red Smith once said sports writing is easy, you just open a vein and let your blood drip on the page. Smith had a genius for irony and understatement. Sometimes you wish you could get off that easily.

Nobody cares how much effort it takes or what you have to do to get the story in, just as long as you do. Over the years, I have filed from a bait and tackle shop on a mountain, a broom closet outside a John Elway news conference, under the ring at a Muhammad Ali fight. At the Australian Open a few years ago, when the newsroom was flooded ankle deep by a backed-up drain, the Boston Globe's Bud Collins calmly took off his shoes and socks, set his chair up on top of his desk, and kept typing with his laptop on his lap high above the water. He was on deadline.

We're all still looking for the magical story that writes itself. At a big event, the more obvious the lead, it seems, the harder it is to get right, to convey the magnitude of the moment, to weave in the elements that made it happen, to place it into historical context, and to assess the impact it will have on the future of the athlete, the sport, the fans. When you do, when the words match the moment and you know you've nailed it, nothing feels better. When you don't, you toss sleeplessly in strange hotel rooms, thinking of all the lines you should have written and fighting the urge to stomp on your laptop until it dies.

Sports writing is much less about sports than it is about writing. It's not about being a superfan, memorizing a million statistics, and rhapsodizing or ranting in print about how awesome or awful the game was. In fact, the day you become a sports writer is the day you stop acting like a fan, even if you never lose the fan's passion that drew you into sports and keeps you going. You don't cheer in the press box or ask for autographs in the clubhouse. You don't wear the name of your favorite team on your shirt or the number of your favorite athlete on your back. You don't worship ballplayers or turn them into gods. You have the kind of access that fans dream about, and it's your job to bring them silently along with you, to let them see and hear what's going on as if they were by your side.

Nothing beats legwork -- going to the games and practices, talking to the athletes and coaches and everyone around them, filling notebooks with a million details that might never get used, finding the gems that will make the story sparkle. Good sports writing is good, honest reporting, not relying on play-by-play descriptions handed out moments after a game or quote sheets filled with banal comments about executing and being focused. It's about watching events in person, listening to the sounds of the crowd, smelling the air and feeling the temperature, not lazily watching on television at the office or in a windowless press room. It's about breaking from the herd and searching for something unique and unexpected. It's about being original and clever, passionate and true, not just going through the motions to fill space in the paper.

Whether you're writing for The New York Times or The Arlington Times, covering the Super Bowl or a high school game, the World Series or Little League, the opportunity is there to tell the story with eloquence and excitement and make it sing for the readers. No sports writer goes straight from college to cover Wimbledon. No one begins by interviewing Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA Playoffs. Writers get there by putting in the effort on hundreds of smaller stories, sharpening their skills, broadening their background, developing their judgment, proving they can handle the big assignments and deserve them. Every word, every sentence, every story in a writer's life counts. So does spelling.

I begin this book at the end of a typically busy year of covering sports, rambling from event to event as the seasons slipped seamlessly one into the other. It was a year, like most of my past 30, when many of the aspects of the sports writing craft were called into play: beat reporting; filing fast on deadline; writing columns, features, and enterprise packages; covering meetings and court hearings; explaining medical and legal issues; editing other writers; cramming to cover Olympic sports we see only once every four years.

It was a year when I wrote about a quarter-million words, flew about 100,000 miles, and stayed more than 200 nights in hotels... another year when I left pens, a tape recorder, an organizer, sunglasses, odd socks, and taxi receipts scattered on three continents. There were many memorable moments -- Bob Knight getting fired at Indiana, Venus Williams and Pete Sampras winning Wimbledon, Marion Jones running wild at the Olympics, the Yankees beating the Mets in the Subway Series, Darryl Strawberry standing shackled before a judge in a Florida courtroom -- and hundreds of forgettable ones.

People often ask, only half jokingly, if they can carry my bag when they hear I'm off to the Olympics or the Super Bowl or the World Series. Friends who are lawyers or doctors or executives wish they could trade jobs. Heck, even Richard Nixon once said that, all things considered, he'd rather have been a sports writer. And he and the country might have been much better off if he had.

Being a sports writer seems such an easy life. Surely it beats real work -- there's no heavy lifting and you can often sleep late. Good writers also can make a pretty decent living and earn a fair amount of fame, even if they never become as rich or famous as the people they write about. Red Smith might have sweated blood over his column, but he knew exactly how good his gig was. "Sports writing," he contended, "is the most pleasant way of making a living which man has yet devised."

Yet it's not for everyone. There are constant deadlines, endless flights and cabs to catch, days spent on the road away from the family and nights spent alone in hotel rooms, eating room-service meals while punching out another story. Not everyone has the skills to do it well or the willingness to make the sacrifices the sporting life requires. But if you have the ability and the desire to be a sports writer, if it's in your bones the way the stage is for actors, then let us explore what it takes to succeed by listening to advice from some of the best in the business.

The emphasis in this book is less on telling tales of the road or the big events than it is on knowing what to do when you get there. We will look at sports writing as it is done, or should be done, daily at The Associated Press and in newspapers and magazines and on the Internet. That's different in many ways from the sports writing of John Updike, Thomas McGuane, Roger Angell, and many other notable writers whose work often appears in sports anthologies. There's no question that those writers tell marvelous stories -- Updike's essay on Ted Williams, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," is a classic that every sports writer should read -- but they are not the stuff of the daily sports pages. They weren't written while fans stomped their feet and loudspeakers blasted music and the clock ticked down on the game and the deadline. They weren't written to fit a 20-inch news hole or to be subbed in a later edition.

The sports writing we will look at was done on the run yet has the wonderful, creative flair of polished pieces that have been labored over as if time didn't matter. They have phrases that make us smile in the morning, then linger in our minds all day like a tune we can't stop whistling. They are the game stories, columns, and features that really do sing.

Copyright © 2002 by The Associated Press

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