“Any of the essentials,” Melvin Mencher says in his book “Basic Media Writing,” “can be placed in the lead of the story.” In essence, what Mencher’s telling writers is not to be married to the score. In one of the handouts you’ve received this semester, Dan Jenkins talked about the importance of finding the key play and focusing like a laser on it.
But whatever that key play is, you need to use the lead to set it up. In Thomas Fensch’s book, sportswriters are advised to use two or three paragraphs to set up the opening to their game story.
Is Fensch right?
Perhaps … but one size doesn’t fit every circumstance. The less time a writer has to work with the more he (or she) must relay on conventional journalistic strategies, which tends to bring a writer back to the inverted pyramid.
As we move away from the latter, you ought to keep a few of Mencher’s points in mind:
- Avoid commenting in straight game stories. Often, comments reflect lazy reporting.
- Use quotes that reveal important aspects of the game. Avoid inane quotes.
- Watch out for the coach who gives the same statement every season, every game.
- Be in touch with the reader. Too often, sportswriters write for each other.
- Don’t sacrifice information for style. First, give the information. The style will come naturally.
- In anything, understate. Overstatement is the sign of the beginner.
- Don’t use sports jargon — netminder, pigskin, horsehide.
- Avoid making athletes into heroes. They’re humans, not gods.
On the latter, Mencher stresses that games aren’t battles or wars.; they are not life-and-death struggles. Athletes aren’t titans; they’re humans. Sports is entertainment — no more, no less.
While Americans have let sports define our culture in so many ways, sports journalists should, in this millennium, try to reverse that perception in people’s mind. Maybe the profession’s too far gone for that.