Friday, October 2, 2009

A higher standard

Dave Kindred makes the case for improved storytelling in one of sports journalism’s fundamental practices, the game story.

Although a staple of sports coverage, when crafted poorly, the game story contains some of the worst sentences found in print or online. (Believe me, on multiple occasions, I have been a guilty party.) However, Kindred searches for a higher standard, something that strives beyond “the numbing monotone of play-by-play” and delivers memorable prose.

Some have criticized Kindred’s column as idyllic – yes, deadline realities might prevent the application of some suggestions – but no one can argue the piece’s basic premise: Readers are interested in evocative storytelling. They want “to see” and “to feel” an event and have its importance analyzed.

I am glad Kindred referenced The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan. Before studying Harlan’s work on the Washington Nationals beat, I had never considered the game story to be a “chapter” in a team’s narrative. (In fact, I questioned the game story's existence, as I wrote here.) I considered the game story to be about a single event, making myself reliant upon play-by-play that choked my copy. For the longest time, I failed to include narrative elements to make my pieces entertaining as well as informative. Basically, my copy was boring.

Storytelling has a place. No matter the assignment, the medium or the deadline, if a writer crafts something memorable from the seemingly mundane, then he or she has served readers well. To this day, I try to include “something different” in each of my stories – whether it be a scene recreation, action or a creative turn of phrase – if only to push myself. Of course, I sometimes fail. Of course, I have a lot to learn. But we should all want to grow. Each assignment presents an opportunity to do so.

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