By Dan Spears
Third Vice President

When it comes to your annual special section and preview content for fall sports, editors should prepare early, make a decision and stick with it — those were the big takeaways from the APSE Small Paper Hangout on Wednesday, May 1.

Brett Vito has been the main editor for the Denton Record-Chronicle’s fall football preview, which has been honored by APSE for more than a decade. Vito, who also writes the University of North Texas content for the section, said that you can’t talk about the preview early enough; they begin just after basketball season and already have some things started for the 2019 version.

Denton has used lots of different themes for its magazine-style presentation. Each section (UNT, Denton high schools, area high schools) gets its own cover photo to separate things, and each school then has its own feature with fresh photos — meaning between 20-30 photo shoots are scheduled. They’ve gone with quarterbacks, and local success in college recruiting as successful topics, but he said it’s really about getting unique stories on each team that drive its success — with readers, the advertising department, and APSE.

For John Shifflett at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va., it’s not as much about theme but letting athletes and readers know how important things are through branding. The Daily Progress created an “All Central Virginia” name for its content, gave it a separate page on its website and puts out separate smaller special sections to announce those teams each sports season. They don’t always have a theme, he said — if the stories lead that way, great. But they won’t force one that isn’t there.

Shifflett also said his team uses its Athlete of the Week function to tell full stories of local athletes that go above and beyond statistics — a girl who returned after breaking her back, athletes who are recovering from cancers/illnesses. It’s given that content more weight and another opportunity to know the athletes at a personal level.

Other successful ideas:

— For players to watch, find a way to emphasize their best attribute and make them into “the perfect football player” (Head, heart, shoulders, feet, etc.)

— David Folse in Louisiana has two female kickers in his coverage area, but the two don’t know each other. Bill Kiser at the Virgin Islands News suggested getting them together and have them talk football, which could make for a good video, and a great story.

— Don’t be afraid to use data to make a big story. Vito said he’s done stories about the success of his area in recruiting, and the Fayetteville (NC) Observer won the most recent APSE Category C project reporting division for its football preview series about recruiting in North Carolina.

This was the fourth Small Paper Hangout of 2019. The next one will be just after Memorial Day. If you would like to be added to the invite list, email third vice president Dan Spears at



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