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Five Places Sports Departments Can Continue to Innovate

Two weeks ago, in writing about why sports departments have proven to be seedbeds for digital innovation, I mentioned five areas where I hoped sports departments would continue to experiment and find new ways to serve readers.

Actually, I mentioned seven – I guess I got a little excited. For this column, let’s look at the five ideas I find most promising:

* Experiment with crowdsourcing coverage. First off, apologies for the term “crowdsourcing” – the Web seems to specialize in horrible terms for useful ideas. Crowdsourcing is a fancy term for getting readers to do the work – and be more loyal to your news organization as a result. Shortly after my original column, NYU’s Jay Rosen supplied two examples of how sports departments are doing just that on his blog PressThink. Chris Stanley, an editor at The Reporter in Lansdale, Pa., turned to Twitter to get high-school sports scores, setting up a Twitter account where anybody – reporters, photographers, fans, etc. — could send scores. To guard against spam or bad behavior, someone monitors the account and retweets the relevant material, plus scores from other Twitter accounts. At the Trentonian, the staff used Twitter to get live coverage of the entire area’s high-school football games from people in attendance, and then used hashtags to develop a live blog. (Both of these initiatives came from papers owned by the Journal-Register Company, which is aggressively innovating and experimenting under CEO John Paton.)

* Find substitutes for game stories. I’ve written about this before, but it remains a challenge to be solved. The game story is increasingly an anachronism in situations where most of the audience knows the outcome of the game and can access highlights whenever and however they want. (Which means that game stories still work for college and high-school sports, and wherever you have lots of interested folks who can’t tune in.) Are there still great game stories? Absolutely – and there will be games that cry out for them, because we’ll want to remember every twist and turn for posterity. But that routine 4-2 win from the night before? An account of it that’s heavy on play-by-play or paint-by-numbers locker-room quotes wastes the time of beat reporters and readers alike. We should be thinking about what a great writer can do that a brief highlight video can’t.

* Display more information visually. A great visual makes a lot of information accessible at a glance, and tells a compelling story on its own. Let me give you three examples. Look at this graph of Win Probability Added for Game 6 of the 1986 World Series – the Bill Buckner game. WPA graphs are like fingerprints – after seeing a few you can tell a barn burner from a ho-hum affair at a glance. Wouldn’t a big WPA graphic with a couple of quick explainers make for a pretty good game story? Here’s a spray chart of hits and outs by Mets rookie Ike Davis which baseball fans could pore over all day, trying to figure out what it means for Ike’s sophomore season. And here’s a graphic of how umpire Hunter Wendelstadt did calling balls and strikes in a Yankees-Twins playoff game. Yikes!

* Go Mobile: My smartphone is one of my information lifelines. But I access information over it very differently than I do using a tablet or a desktop PC. With a tablet or a full-fledged PC, I’ll happily browse, read long articles, search and investigate most any potential bit of news. When I’m peering at my phone’s little screen, it’s very different. I’m not going to read anything too long. I’m very discriminating about whether or not to open a link. I’m not going to browse or search because I don’t want to do a lot of typing. And any information I take the time to access better be truly new and worth my click. News organizations could be ideal sources of sports news for me while I’m on the go – but they can’t just shovel their existing information at me. They have to let me pick exactly what I want deliver, package it in a way that’s easy for me to take in on a small screen, not waste my time and bandwidth, and let me change my preferences on the fly.

*Building Blog Connections. News organizations are getting better at including the work of rival organizations in Twitter feeds and story links. Which is smart. I don’t read sports news the way I do other news. One story about global warming or midterm elections will probably do it for me, but I’ll happily scan five or six papers looking for takes on my favorite team – and if news organizations routinely send me to good stuff by their rivals, it doesn’t diminish them in my eyes. Rather, it gives me faith that they’ll get me to where I want to go. But don’t stop there – sports blogs and news stories are more complementary than they are competitive. They’re a conversation – but too often it feels like a one-way conversation. Building links to independent blogs would make everybody’s coverage feel richer – and keep me coming back.

Are there news organizations doing a particular good job in some of the areas I’ve discussed? Leave me a note in the comments or email me at the address below. And thanks!

Jason Fry is a freelance writer and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom. Write to him at  jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook, or follow him on  Twitter.on Fry is a freelance writer and media consultant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He spent more than 12 years at The Wall Street Journal Online, serving as a writer, columnist, editor and projects guy. While at WSJ.com he edited and co-wrote The Daily Fix, a daily roundup of the best sportswriting online. He blogs about the Mets at Faith and Fear in Flushing, and about the newspaper industry at Reinventing the Newsroom. Write to him at  jason.fry@gmail.com, visit him on Facebook, or follow him on Twitter.
  
   

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