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Fifty dos and don’ts for sportswriters . . .

The New York Times hired a restaurant manager to list 100 dos and don’ts for workers at his new seafood place. That inspired the Poynter Institute to wonder what 100 things journalists should never do. I am no less a thief than either the Times or Poynter, so here’s a list of 50 suggestions for sportswriters.

1. Be there. If there’s an event in your town that engages your audience, you gotta go. Nothing is better journalistically, in the short-term or the long-term, than up close-and-personal reporting.

2. Tell me the news quickly, tell me what it means. At games, I want the score in the lede, third graf latest.

3. Always be a fan of reporting, of games, of the athletic crafts. Be a fan of the spectacle.

4. Never wear cheese on your head, and no cheering in the press box.

5. Do not god up the players. Stanley Woodward’s advice to Red Smith still works.

6. Remember, they’re not your friends and never will be.

7. Never gamble.

8. Don’t try so hard. As Michael Jordan said, "Let the game come to you."

9. Never drink a Coke while standing near your laptop.

10. Do not let your press-box neighbor even think of setting a freakin’ Coke next to your laptop.

11. Hot dog mustard is also not good for your keyboard.

12. The way to dry out your keyboard is to set it in direct sunlight for six hours.

13. Do Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, and whatever other social-media inventions come along – do them all, but do them only after you’ve given your full attention to the reporting and writing that matters.

14. Never quote from any social-media device without verifying the person’s identity. Get addresses on your beat.

15. Engage readers on those devices, especially those readers picking fights. Be polite.

16. Study the comments on your stories, especially those from readers who know more about it than you do.

17. Tell your subject what the story is about. That way the subject can help you.

18. Never be late. "Ninety percent of success," Woody Allen said, "is showing up." Add eight percent for showing up on time. The last two percent is sweat.

19. Never misspell a name. Terry Smith is always Teri Smythe.

20. Do not trust spellcheck. Right now, spellcheck tells me spellcheck is two words. Really? I don’t trust it. So I Googled it. Big help. It’s written both ways, spell check and spellcheck. Spellcheck is con-fuced.

21. Never leave an interview without getting a telephone number for the questions that will come up in the writing.

22. Never leave an interview without asking if there’s anything the subject wanted you to ask.

23. When you sit bolt-upright, startled awake at 3 in the morning by the horrifying realization that you left out the really good stuff, never call 911. They won’t understand the tragedy of it all.

24. Never use a tape recorder without asking if it’s OK, even on the phone.

25. Never leave home without extra AA batteries.

26. Never pretend you understand the coach/athlete terminology.

27. Never quote the terminology without putting it in plain English.

28. At a game, pay attention. Pay strict, close attention. Watch intently. Look outside the white lines, too. This can not be done while trading wisecracks with press-box comics or slathering more mustard on your hot dog.

29. Bring binoculars to football games. Bring earplugs to basketball games.

30. Never write your lede ahead of time. Never write a lede that reads as if it were written before you did the reporting. The lede grows out of the story, not the other way around.

31. Always be ready to write. Every possession, you’re editing the story in your head.

32. At halftime, never tell anybody what you think. They’ll respond by telling you what they think, and you’ve already got enough junk in your brain.

33. Leave the press box, see the game from a different vantage point, from the sidelines, the end zone, a seat in the bleachers. Look up at the press box, consider how isolated those folks look.

34. Given a choice, go to the loser’s locker room. The stories over there are better and the crowd’s smaller.

35. Remember, the 1,317th interview of your career may be the first for a young athlete. Treat him like a champ.

36. Never quote in dialect and never quote bad grammar, save in the rare instance when those matters are integral to the story. By cleaning up the quotes – yes, I am a libertarian on quotes – you serve truth by making it clear what the subject has said and you serve the reader by making the sentence read more easily.

37. Once a year, watch the movie "Foreign Correspondent." Twice, "The Paper." Three times, "Deadline USA." (Interrupting myself here for a confession that is prompted by a reader already weighing in through the magic of the Internet: I forgot "All the President’s Men." To those of the ink-stained persuasion, it was the greatest movie ever made, two stars better than "Citizen Kane," which, come to think of it, was a pretty good newspaper-mogul movie. I hide my face.)

38. Don’t apologize for stupid questions. Ask them. Admit they’re stupid. Say, "So, educate me." You’ll get an answer that works in your story. And there’s no such thing as a stupid question that gets an answer you can use.

39. Education is not knowing everything, it’s knowing where to look it up. Know your rules books, record books, encyclopedias, and media guides. I once left Art Spander’s home in San Francisco and his daughter, Wendy, said, "Dave, why don’t you carry all those books like Daddy does?" "Because he’s got enough for both of us," I said. But not everybody has a traveling librarian as reliable as Art.

40. Practice reading upside-down.

41. Study what’s in a player’s locker.

42. Never touch anything in a player’s locker.

43. Think you know basketball? Go to a Pitino clinic. Buy a Krzyzewski video. You’ll soon know how little you know.

44. Read good stuff. Figure out why it works for you.

45. Copy the good stuff. Pretty soon you’ll hear your own voice.

46. Your job is not to fire the coach. Your job is to know if the coach is about to be fired.

47. No need to prove you’re the smartest guy in the room by asking the best questions at a press conference. That generally proves you’re the most foolish because you’re giving the competition a roadmap to your story. Stop the coach or the star later in the hallway, or just talk to everyone else. Write-arounds are great because the subject’s quotes don’t get in the writer’s way.

48. Always use "said." No substitutes are necessary if the story is written well. To use "exclaimed," or, heaven help us, "enthused" is to admit defeat.

49. Be a ruthless self-editor. Read your trash as if it were written by someone you really disliked.

50. Never say, "The desk will catch that one."


Now it’s your turn. Send me your suggestions, we’ll do another 50 of these.

Dave Kindred’s next book will be "Morning Miracle," an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached at He can be followed at and

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