Thursday, January 17, 2013

Prescriptions for The Orion: Sports

I’m not a doctor, don’t play one on TV, but after a semester of advising The Orion, I thought I’d write prescriptions for making a good college paper a little better. My Eye on The Orion posts in the next week or so will suggest three ways to improve each of the newspaper’s sections, webcast and website.

Today: Sports.

Blake Mehigan and his team started fall semester with a clear idea of how to use all the publishing platforms at their disposal to get sports news in front of readers and fine-tuned their approach week by week. 

New editor Trevor Platt stopped by for a chat the other day, and it’s clear he’s ready to take the next steps to make the section even more useful to readers. Here’s some of what we talked about:

Rx1: Get more visual
Sports is a visual subject, but photos of actual game and match action were scarce on and in the section last semester. Video was nonexistent, except for interviews with players on the webcast. There are a few ways to fix the problem:
• Make more photo assignments for games, and encourage photographers to shoot both stills and video.
• Equip sports reporters with smartphones or cameras and provide training on how to use them. Encourage them to post from the field or gym for the Web and use their game photos in the paper.
• Make art for sports part of the daily coverage plan coordinated by the managing editor.
• Putting photos on Instagram isn't enough. That makes the audience work harder than necessary to see visual coverage of the games. Photos, videos and slideshows should all be part of stories posted to the website.

Rx2: Do a better job of integrating news across platforms
Adding Twitter, Facebook and soon TheOrionApp content to an already full schedule of stories with fewer people to do the work can seem daunting and even impossible. The trick is to re-use, revise and repurpose content across platforms. For example, a Tweet from a game should be rewritten and incorporated into the game story that’s posted on the Web a few hours later. That same story should be shortened to a 125-word brief and incorporated into the In Case You Missed It aggregation in the newspaper. Another example: Photos taken for a feature story on the sports section front can be used in a narrated or captioned slide show on the website. A tease following the print story can send readers to the Web; a tease at the end of the slideshow can send readers to the print story.

Rx3: Have a regular sports column to put a face on the coverage
Narrowing the width of The Orion pages apparently created a problem with having a sports column on the section front every week. But commentary and analysis are two things print does better than the Web. In whatever layout configuration, an anchored weekly column from a columnist or the sports editor should be a staple of print coverage.

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