Monday, June 24, 2013

Mark Purdy's Sports Column Writing Tips

Continuing where I left off the other day, Mark Purdy has some of his own advice for writing sports columns. Once again, plenty of the advice is good not just for sports columns, but for writers and journalists in general.

Let me take you through the advice Purdy gave with some of my own thoughts included.

Follow your own brain waves, not the broadcast airwaves or the loud voice of anyone else.

Journalists owe it to themselves to follow their own minds, not whoever talks the most, the loudest or the most stuff you agree with. An independent mind is a good thing — the question to ask yourself is whether or not you really have an independent mind. If you find yourself gravitating to people who just tell you what you want to hear, then you don’t really have an independent mind.

Avoid the obvious the way a coach avoids the truth.

I see way too many writers and pundits play “Captain Obvious To The Rescue” and that’s not good. For example: Of course every NFL team’s goal is to reach the Super Bowl. So don’t write about that, Captain.

Look at the whole playing field and think about who saw what or who might know what.

When in the locker room, look at the person no one’s talking to; he or she might have the most interesting things to say.

The two tips go hand in hand. The small details that make a difference in the outcome of a game can be more important than you think. Additionally, you may find more interesting tales from the people nobody talks to — particularly because the players who reporters are more likely to talk to, are going to know how to deal with reporters and not share much.

Pay attention all the time; you never know what may come in handy.

I’ve found this happen several times when covering athletic contests — some of them examples I shared in my book. (Blatant plug.)

Don’t be afraid to propose an idea, but make sure it’s backed up with good information that makes sense.

This is the type of writing you will often find at It’s All Over Fat Man, an independent Denver Broncos website. Ted Bartlett does a good job at this and Doc Bear will do this from time to time. And none of what they write about it is telling coaches what to do, but viewing trends they see taking shape and how they believe coaches might react to them in the future.

Cultivate relationships with sources where you can ask on background, “What do I need to know before I write this?”

The best relationships you can develop with a source are the ones in which you can ask them to explain something to you and they’ll give you what you need to know because they trust that you will be able to explain it to others.

Listen to radio talk shows in small doses for a general sense of discussion topics, but if you listen in large doses, they’ll only make you more stupid.

Purdy passed on this advice from Ray Ratto, a San Francisco Bay area sports writer. The one thing to remember is that a radio talk show is closer to two guys in a bar having a conversation. They may know what they like and don’t like, but you aren’t likely to get the best insight.

If everyone is agreeing on a certain thing, a red flag should go up. There’s always another side to the story, no matter how absurd that other side may be. And you owe it to yourself — and your readers — to at least consider it.

This doesn’t mean you give into conspiracy theories, but it does mean you need to ask yourself if there might be some valid points from the side that isn’t getting attention. This is especially good advice in this day of the narrative that’s pushed by my many who work in media today.

When you’re stuck for a column, go back to your reporting skills. Then dig deeper into them. Then dig even deeper.

There’s a reason why columnists need to get their feet wet in the world of journalism, even if their intent is to become a columnist.

Take chances. The best part about writing a daily column in a newspaper is, if you write the worst column in the history of journalism, it will be in the garbage the next day.

And I will add: If you say it on television, it’s likely to be forgotten about in a week, or if you write it on the Internet, it’s going to get shuffled into the archives.

Don’t bask. Move onto the next idea fast. The worst part about writing a daily column in a newspaper is, if you write the best column in the history of journalism, it will still be in the garbage the next day.

I’ll add the same advice above.

Have fun.

Don’t have too much fun.

That’s actually good advice for life in general.

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