Friday, November 09, 2012

What happened to the complete story?

This is just the latest in what I see as a disturbing trend - and, yes, I will use that word because I am seeing more of it and fairly regularly - of either:
  •  Reporter (and by extension editor) timidity 
  • A failure to understand a basic underpinning of journalism - anticipate readers' questions, answer them and, if you don't know the answer, simply say so.
Consider this story from today's The State.

Lower Richland's playoff hopes smashed

Diamond Hornets learn at end of Thursday’s practice they are ineligible for tonight’s long-awaited game


COLUMBIA, SC — This was shaping up to be the season for which the Lower Richland football squad had long awaited.

After earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2007, the 2012 Diamond Hornets rolled into Blue Ridge as underdogs and came away with the program’s first playoff victory since 1995.

“To see those guys’ faces last week after the win, it was a great feeling. I’m glad to be playing in Week 12 that’s for sure,” said coach Daryl Page on Thursday as his team prepared for a second-round game at Daniel tonight. “There are teams with better records that have already taken inventory.”

But at the end of their practice, the Diamond Hornets’ determination turned to despair.

They were notified that the squad had been declared ineligible for postseason play due an ineligible player on the roster.

“Even though we are appealing, we will not be able to go and play a game tomorrow night,” Page said.

Blue Ridge will play Daniel instead.

The anticlimactic end of the Diamond Hornets’ journey through the postseason does not nullify the progress they have made in 2012.

“It’s a step for us, as far as where we’re going with the program,” Page said.

The coach, who led Wilson to a Class 3A title in 2007, said his goal at Lower Richland is a state title, and this season the Diamond Hornets were headed in that direction.

As the program’s third coach in four seasons, Page met little resistance from the Diamond Hornets, whose quick adaptation to his style and expectations put them on the path to success.

Lower Richland (5-6) started the season 0-3, but went on to a third-place finish in Region 4-3A.

Page said, “Once we experienced success, we really enjoyed the feeling. But we want to move from the feelings to the expectations.”

“We want it to be a yearly thing, where Lower Richland is one of the teams that you talk about at the end of the season. We want to be a program that is in that conversation every year. Daniel is already there, and that’s where we’re aiming,” Page said.

“Instead of it being a surprise, it should be an expectation,” he said.
For the players, that was already sinking in.

“We felt like could win every game we played,” said end Alonzo Gibson, one of 16 seniors on the team. “We worked hard for it, and we knew we could do it.”

“We went up (to Blue Ridge) expecting to win,” added receiver Devonta Hampton.

And though they reached the end of the road sooner than they hoped, the Diamond Hornets expect to win again.

Even if they must wait until 2013 to do it. 
 So now a couple of quick quiz questions for those playing along at home:
  • What player?
  • Why ineligible?
  • Why was an ineligible player playing?
Were those questions even asked?

If they weren't, there are bigger problems here that the reporter and assigning editor really need to address. But if they were and there weren't any answers, well, it's perfectly fine to say so in the story. Readers don't expect perfection; they just want to know the rent-a-clue truck has passed our neighborhood.

I don't know in this specific case, but I have run into cases where reporters have said they didn't want to "pry" and put some kid in a jam. Here's the deal: We pry. That's what we do. And you don't have to ID the student. But asking those sorts of questions could lead to others, especially the one about why an ineligible player played. If the coaches didn't know, was there a breakdown in important communication? Was there some kind of lag that could jam coaches and players up again? How do things like this happen?

(And such information could even give readers an idea of whether that appeal might succeed.)

It's more than a sob story. Sometimes we actually uncover things that need fixing.

But we need to ask the questions - and then tell readers that at least we have.

Writing coach Jim Stasiowski once had a great column on this. It's only gotten worse, from what I can see.

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At 11/9/12, 1:41 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 11/9/12, 1:42 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

I suspect part of the problem is sports journalists' reflexive deference to coaches and other authority figures. That's a problem across journalism, but it's practically a job description in sports.

Also, obligatory editing kvetch: "for which the squad had awaited." Sigh.

At 11/9/12, 3:08 PM, Blogger Ira said...

Sadly, when something like this happens, it only reinforces the image of sports departments as "toy towns." I have been there as an editor when we had a situation where a team owner was arrested, we got the story on the wire, and I asked the beat writer, who was not traveling with the team, to get the story. The beat writer, a drinking buddy of the team owner, refused. I went to the city editor and asked for a city reporter to do it, which was done.

When it happens with high school teams in small communities, it seems the writers and editors don't want to upset the neighbors. Maybe the solution is no one gets to cover or edit sports without a probationary period on news-side first.


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