SALT LAKE CITY — Mike Wise said it was his former editor at the New York Times who’d said it: “Write big” when the situation calls for it, when the game commands it.
It was the seventh game of the NBA Finals, and Wise’s editor advised him to write a game story that reflected the drama and spectacle of that night’s contest.
“You’ve got to write big when you’ve got the chance,” said Wise, now a columnist at the Washington Post and a co-panelist during Thursday’s sessions about writing the perfect game story. “People will still go the journey with you.”
Which is a growing challenge for sports section: keeping readers engaged in a social-media generation, and one of the industry’s most essential adjustments relates to the way game stories are written. Wise and Bill Price, the deputy sports editor at the New York Daily News, discussed a balance that writers and editors have to mind often. How much is too much information on the game itself? How much is enough? Too much play-by-play is a story killer, but too little sometimes can slow a story’s pace, too. And that’s enough sometimes to turn off readers.
“People will turn elsewhere,” Wise said.
APSE president Garry Howard, who moderated the afternoon session, said the key to writing a successful game story centers on identifying the defining moment and knowing how it affected not only the game but also the teams involved. Howard said the lines have been blurred now between beat writers and columnists when it comes to game stories and that he directs some of his writers at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to use games as a chance to be analytical, authoritative and, when the situation calls for it, critical.
“We call it a game story,” Price said, “but it’s not. … Some (writers) have gotten it, and some haven’t.”
Howard said some writers aren’t always comfortable with the adjustment, but he said it’s a change that sports sections must embrace if game stories are to remain relevant and interesting when events are completed and thoroughly covered sometimes long before the morning paper arrives.
“If you can get someone to get to the jump,” Wise said, “you’ve written the perfect game story.”
Howard said he attends games sometimes not only to improve communication between himself and the beat writers, but also to further understand their responsibilities – and perhaps see something they might have missed. He added that other keys to good game stories are good information and detailed observations, before and after the final whistle.
“It’s the thing you see that’s going to make it different,” Howard said. “Don’t be afraid of your writers. Their job is to challenge you, and your job is to challenge them.”