Friday, August 1, 2008

meet your friendly neighborhood sports editor

Who's neither friendly nor in your neighborhood.

The guys over at Capstone Report -- in an effort to make me feel as important as the guys who work at the big papers -- sent me a list of questions slugged "Day in the life of a sports editor." I'm so flattered they'd think of me for a feature like this, I won't even make any snarky comments about a site that used to be really good being turned over to hacks and flamers. In fact, forget I said that.

Anyway, his questions and my answers are listed below. Hopefully I'll prove worthy enough to keep participating in things like this.

1. How do you start your day? Reading what papers? What do you read online? How has this changed since you started working as a sports editor?
How I start my day in general: coffee and taking my traveling entourage (read: dogs) for a walk while being careful not to slip, fall and break something.
As for how my day at work starts, unless there's an assignment to cover on the way into the office -- a scholarship signing or an interview -- I usually start by listening to whatever angry voice mails have been left for me, checking angry emails and reading over that day's paper to see what I screwed up. Suffice to say, it's a long list.
During football season, we're usually working on preview stories during the week -- notebooks, features, etc. -- and trying to figure out who's going to cover what on Friday night. We're fairly fortunate at our paper to have multiple news staffers who double as capable sportswriters, and they're usually pretty available (so long as they're paid for the overtime).

2. How much time do you spend in the office?
More than I'd like to, frankly. Unfortunately, because of the rising cost of ... well, everything, our bosses prefer we keep our travel to a minimum (particularly since we're already charging the company money for the overtime we inevitably put in during football season trying to cover 14 schools with two sportswriters).

3. When you head to the athletic complex or office or whatever, what do you drive? What do you listen to on the radio/cd? Sports talk? Music? Politics?
My folks got me Sirius for Christmas a couple years ago, and it's pretty much changed my whole music-listening life. With the XM merger now complete, life is likely to get even better. I spend most of my time toggling between the various music channels -- I like pretty much anything that's not Rascal Flatts -- and ESPN Radio (not nearly as good as it used to be). I get most of my political info from The Daily Show and consider myself a skeptical moderate.

4. How many schools do you cover? How do you prioritize who gets covered?
Our coverage area officially includes 14 schools -- basically, the entirety of Talladega County, plus Pell City and Coosa Valley Academy (mostly because so many kids from Talladega County attend school there). We also sort of partially cover Central-Coosa and the schools in Clay County.
Prioritizing who gets covered has a lot do with who's good -- sounds superficial, I know, but most people would rather read about who's winning than otherwise. This isn't to say that we completely ignore teams that aren't good -- in fact, one of my favorite games I covered in '07 was 1-9 Winterboro's lone victory, over White Plains.
We do the best we can to spread out the coverage during the regular season. Obviously, we could always do better. But we're giving an honest effort, and I think most of our readers -- not all of them -- appreciate it.

5. Coaches are a weird combination of personalities. Found any like Saban?
None like Saban per se, no. Interestingly, football coaches rarely actually read what's written in the paper -- most of the times I've had football coaches angry with me, it was because they'd been told about a newspaper piece by a wife/mother, who told them about the piece (often leaving out key pieces).
The only real time I've had a significant battle with a coach occurred while I was in Georgia, and Dublin head coach Roger Holmes -- a very accomplished high school coach who's almost always in the Georgia Dome in November -- accused our staff of bad faith in relation to a story we'd run about his team forfeiting some games because of an ineligible player. Relations were strained enough that he was threatening to not speak to us ever again and our boss (a prominent Georgia politician, ironically) was threatening to embarrass him in print. But the principal of DHS resolved things, Dublin wound up having a banner season and we were there to cover it all.
That's the good thing about sportswriting -- players and coaches rarely hold grudges.

6. How many stories do you write on a typical day? week?
During football season, we'll pump out roughly six or seven stories per week, depending on whether we do any game coverage on Saturday. And last season I took to writing a notes column on Sundays, which was well-received and a good way to work in tidbits that didn't necessarily warrant a full story.

7. Once practice begins, what type of access do you have?
Depending on the coach and whether he knows me, almost unlimited. Usually new coaches who don't know me will send an assistant to run me off -- once they figure out why I'm there, there's no trouble.
But it's interesting you should bring that up, because football coaches, as a group, tend to be the most paranoid people on the planet. Even David Norred at B.B. Comer was concerned about an outsider watching his practices last season, and his offense only consisted of two plays. Driving through Tuscaloosa a few weeks ago, I was shocked to see the new condos on Hackberry Lane have balcony access across the street from the practice field -- dollars to pesos Saban moves all his Thursday and Friday practices to the indoor facility by the end of the season.

8. How do you go about planning your coverage? How much space are you allocated for your total sports coverage?
My average section is 3 pages -- during football season, I get four on Thursdays and Fridays, and six on Saturdays and Sundays. As I said earlier, we have some capable staffers already in the building, which keeps me from having to martial an army of stringers (though we have some of those as well). The key is to limit travel as much as possible -- have a reporter who lives in Pell City cover Pell City, etc. Some weeks the featured game on the front is obvious -- a local rivalry or the like -- and some weeks it's on the fly.

9. Interviews, how many are face-to-face? How many are done on the phone?
As I said earlier, we do more by phone than I prefer. But I'm not above driving to the practice field if I can't raise the coach on the phone, either.

10. How many column inches are you allocated each day/week for sports commentary? How much Alabama/Auburn coverage is included in your paper? How do you balance that with high school coverage?
I try to stick as closely as I can to the regimen of two columns per week -- on Wednesdays and Sundays -- and those usually average out to around 3,500 words. As I said, I sort of settled into a pattern last season -- weekend picks on Wednesday, notes on Sunday -- that made it a tad easier.
The Alabama/Auburn coverage for our paper used to be a bigger deal, I think, than it is now -- with the AP access we have, plus The Star (our big brother) right up the street, we don't spend much time on the collegiate ranks. We do usually make it to the biggest games in a given season, and print special emphasis pages to preview the Auburn-Bama matchup in November. But that's about it.
The more delicate balance for us occurs during race week in October, when we have to be full-time reporters at the track as well as on the local fields. Typically, we need extra pages, more stringers and we each carry a suicide capsule -- you know, just in case.

11. How does a Friday differ from the rest of the week?
Ummm ... well, there's no difference at all unless you count the fact that we usually work ourselves silly until around 1 a.m., then wobble home and attempt to avoid a fiery car crash that winds up on the news the next day.
Other than that, it's exactly the same.


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