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Between the Lines: Sports and You

By John D. Banusiewicz
National Guard Bureau

WASHINGTON, April 3, 1998 – The humming you hear is the messages zipping through cyberspace on a new e-mail forum for people involved with military newspapers.

It's called MIL-EDITORS-L, and its first days have featured a great deal of discussion and debate on a variety of issues. To become part of the action, send an e-mail message to LISTSERV.DTIC.MIL with SUBSCRIBE MIL-EDITORS-L and your name as the body of the e-mail message. You'll quickly receive a couple of welcome messages with tips and further instructions.

Once you join, you can post e-mail messages to the entire membership, and you'll see those posted by other members. Nearly 150 people joined in the service's first week of operation, and the list grows every day.

One of the early "hot topics" was sports coverage. Participants discussed whether covering professional and collegiate sports is consistent with the charter of military newspapers -– it isn't -– but the debate originated with and occasionally returned to the question of how we can improve the sports coverage in military newspapers.

As with anything else worth doing, it takes some work, but the results make it worthwhile.

Think about it. When you consider the numbers of people involved in varsity sports, intramurals, recreational leagues, the over-30 circuit and youth sports, that's a lot of folks. Add to that their friends and families, and you can easily see why sports are worth the space and the effort. And as someone who once tried to stop running a quarter page of agate bowling scores, I can tell you my readers made it resoundingly clear to me that running them was a good thing -- and not running them was a bad thing!

Sports coverage is a great way to get more names and strong photography into your paper. It promotes fitness and contributes to unit identity and cohesion. It lets your readers know they're part of a vibrant community that doesn't roll up the sidewalks at 4:30, and it encourages them to participate as players or spectators instead of becoming "barracks rats." It's a win-win situation for your readers and for your publication if you take the time to do it well.

Too many military sports "sections" consist of four-day-old standings and some line art, or maybe a stand-alone photo of questionable quality. Perhaps there's a column in which a newspaper staff member presents his or her views on whether the National Football League should use instant replays to settle disputed officiating calls.

Meanwhile, our bases teem with activity every evening and all weekend long, involving hundreds of participants, and we largely ignore these activities. Part of the reason is that our staffs are limited and these events take place mostly after duty hours and on weekends. In some cases, no one on the newspaper staff is interested in sports, so it's easy to forget that hundreds of our readers are.

And every time I see a column about pro or college sports in a military paper, I see a writer who probably knows how to be a sports fan but doesn't know how to be a sports reporter. Clearly, there's plenty to comment on and write about on the installation's sports scene if someone's willing to do the unglamorous grunt work that's the earmark of "real" sports writers: getting around and talking with people to get first-hand information and insights.

If you don't have the staff to enable you to have solid sports coverage and get the rest of your paper's work done, enlist stringers. You'll find a willing sports correspondent probably has a pretty good feel for how a sports story should sound -– a much better feel than a typical stringer would have on a news or unit feature story. Toss a roll of film to a volunteer photographer and emphasize that part of the job will be identifying people in the photos.

Take advantage of the network of volunteer parents who make your youth sports programs hum and ask for short summaries of the games. And have you ever seen a youth sports game without a lot of cameras on the sidelines? Make it known you welcome good action photos and you'll have no shortage.

Don't just run standings. The prior week's results and the following week's schedules probably are available to you, and you don't need to run them in your standard body type. Bump the type down and you'll be able to pack a lot of information into a relatively small amount of space. Run what you get.

If someone calls to wonder why you don't run the rec league results, gleefully inform him or her that it's because you haven't had a correspondent for that league –- until now. See if the caller will volunteer to provide you with the information. If you're relying on stringers, don't worry at first about which teams or leagues you're neglecting. Someone will speak up soon enough, and your corps of correspondents will grow.

Personality features can bring your sports pages to life. You undoubtedly have someone at your installation who's known as "The Ref." This person seems to officiate at least one game every night of the year, regardless of which sport is in season. What makes that person tick? Why would someone go out there night after night to get yelled at by players, coaches and fans? There's probably a youth sports coach who stands out among the rest. Find out from players, officials, other coaches and parents what makes that person special. Once you start looking, you'll find plenty of people worthy of having their stories told in your sports pages.

Sports shouldn't be an afterthought in our papers. There's more than enough interest, and the effort required to get solid coverage rolling will pay dividends.

(Banusiewicz is Editors Course coordinator at the Defense Information School.)

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