3 sports coverage tips from December’s DFMie winners

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In the first of a four-part series on December’s DFMie winners, we take a closer look at the winning sports entries from across Digital First Media. The DFMie winners here include Sean Bowley of GameTimeCT.com, Scott Wolf of Los Angeles New Group and Tony Ciniglio of the Daily Breeze.

Sean Bowley, GameTimeCT.com

Sean Patrick Bowley

Sean Patrick Bowley

Sean Patrick Bowley, editor of GameTimeCT.com, won the DFMie for the Northeast cluster by engaging high school sports fans in selection of plays of the year in high school football.

Bowley “used a strong combination of linking to other services, polls and user-generated content to put together his high school football plays of the year nomination post,” the nomination said.

The project started with a call for nominations, then a user vote. It will culminate shortly (delayed somewhat by snowstorms) with the final plays of the year.

The nomination elaborates:

The original post was simply links to the 13 segments of Plays of the Week, which we allowed the public to narrow down for the final post.

This post was the result of a season’s worth of work and innovation. What started off as a few plays in Week 2 (all staff generated, with two complementary videos taken from school websites), quickly began to grow with user-submitted videos sent to us via email and social media as you can see in Week 10 (with 13 of 17 submitted videos).

Even those that didn’t have actual video could suggest a play after we discovered hudl, a service used by high school teams and players to store game film and highlight packages for both game preparation and recruiting. Many coaches were fine sharing their usernames and passwords as long as we weren’t sharing their trick plays!

Judges loved the project:

This is a great example of how a newspaper could interact with readers on the subject that you know local viewers/readers are excited about. Staff and user-generated videos, as well as descriptions of each play, offers a complete list for viewers to choose from. In this case, the videos were a key to making a successful site. Using a poll to interact with viewers is one thing, but being able to offer what they are voting for in a video took the nomination poll to a whole new level. I enjoyed seeing well-edited footage, which even had instant replays. How cool is that?

Another judge:

This seems to be to be a perfect blend of engagement and multimedia, which ended up being a fun way to relive the highlights of the season with “best of” video clips. Sean was also able to leverage a new digital game film service, hudl, to source clips suggested by readers. It was a great idea that looks like it got a lot of attention from hard-core prep football fans, extending the season and the conversation into January.

Inside Thunderdome asked Bowley for any tips for colleagues from his plays-of-the-year project:

This was the first big idea with GameTimeCT and we needed to make a statement after our launch. Originally, we crowdsourced the videos and, of course, took our own. It got a nice response from viewers, but — to me — we really didn’t get the reaction that we needed to make a true splash with the project: to get the best plays from ALL of Connecticut for that week.

So we had to pay attention to all the games reported, looked on Twitter to see if there were any big plays worth getting. We’d create a wish list of plays and then ask coaches or other media outlets (almost all said yes) and ripped the footage from their Hudl sites using screen recording on QuickTime, or just ripped them from YouTube using a free program. After some time, some coaches gave us inside access into their Hudl accounts so we could just grab what we wanted when we wanted.

The rest was just uploading into an editing platform and cutting them down.

The idea was to convey that GameTimeCT is here to cover the entire state of Connecticut using the prevalence of videos online. We didn’t want to just say who the top performers were, we wanted to show everybody who came to our site. I think we achieved that with the project.

Scott Wolf, Los Angeles News Group

Scott Wolf

Scott Wolf

December was a turbulent month for USC football with the hiring of coach Steve Sarkisian, the same-day resignation of interim coach Ed Orgeron and the Trojans’ appearance in the Las Vegas Bowl. Wolf excelled all the way to win the DFMie for the Los Angeles News Group.

The nomination detailed his extensive coverage:

When the news of Sarkisian’s hiring broke, Wolf tweeted, blogged and quickly had a story up across Los Angeles News Group websites. Staff quickly followed with photo galleries, storify reactions (players and fans), story on potential fallout at UCLA, opinion.

Wolf’s Inside USC blog, which was constantly updated throughout a fast-moving day of news received 90,000 page views that day and nearly 1 million views for the month. He also stayed late on campus to pick up this tout of Sarkisian’s arrival:

But more impressive were some of the numbers following the coverage. One of our most-viewed pages throughout the coverage was: “Latest tweets from Scott Wolf” which demonstrate how the day unfolded and that Scott was on top of every moment.

Scott also regularly allowed readers to ask questions about the coaching change and the fallout around college football – numbers were impressive each session.

Since October, live chats involving Scott Wolf have totaled more than 1.7 million engagement minutes, and it’s not surprising readers come and stay, given the large personal following and depth of Wolf’s knowledge in the program. He’s able to give insights no other reporter has and has been connecting directly with the audience.

Judges’ comments about Wolf’s work:

As someone who covered the upheaval at Penn State and seen firsthand how rumors, intense emotions and the impact such a decision can have on a community, I was impressed with how Scott Wolf brought all his tools to the table to keep the public informed of on going changes in a 24-hour news cycle for such events. Using Tout and Twitter and opening himself up to a public engagement with fans, he covered every aspect of this story in a very thorough way. Well done!

And another:

Scott Wolf had every square inch of a month-long story covered, timely and across multiple platforms; it was the epitome of “Digital First.” The 1 million page views his Inside USC blog garnered are astronomical to think about. The writing is crisp, clean and engaging.

More to the point, Wolf’s commitment to getting the story, be it in print or in a Tout, was unparalleled and such that even coach Steve Sarkisian lauded the reporter’s moxie for waiting late around campus to capture a short clip. Presumably, the reporter waited more than 45 minutes for a fleeting, 45-second moment while still juggling all the other demands that come with beat reporting.

Wolf’s advice:

My only advice is to try to make anything new fun and find your own voice whether you are using Twitter, Tout or blogging.

Tony Ciniglio, Daily Breeze

After a heated girls basketball game between crosstown rivals Leuzinger and Lawndale, Ciniglio waded into the post-game fracas with his Tout app rolling:

Judges awarded Ciniglio the ToutBout for videos shot in the Tout app, with these comments:

I really have to hand it to the brave soul who ventured onto the basketball court in the wake of the Lawndale-Leuzinger game. The Tout perfectly illustrated the mood and the chaos the writer described in print.

Another judge:

Sometimes just writing about a heated rivalry, and the emotion that the winning and losing teams feel after the game, doesn’t do it justice. This tout captured the good, the bad, and the ugliness that exists in sports.

Ciniglio’s advice:

Covering the Leuzinger-Lawndale girls basketball game taught me to be prepared for anything. Never did I expect to see a girls basketball game with two skirmishes and five ejections. The best piece of advice I can offer from that game is to always expect the unexpected.

I went on the court to document a heated rivalry victory and found myself in the middle of a tense situation. Camera rolling, I was trying to take it all in without regard for my own safety or that of my equipment. My heart sank into my stomach when the Lawndale player hit the phone out of my hands and into the air, and I braced for the worst when it hit the ground. When I went to pick it up, the phone was in good shape, the camera was still rolling and it was like ‘oh, look what I just recorded.’

This time it all worked out, but I will have a tighter grip on my phone and will keep my head on a swivel after this. The expression, ‘Good luck is when preparation meets opportunity’ certainly applies here. Always be on the lookout for a story and be ready to roll with the punches.

Please join us in honoring these DFM journalists on their work. If you have any questions or comments on the work highlighted here, please leave a comment.

Steve Buttry

By Steve Buttry

Steve Buttry is Digital Transformation Editor for Digital First Media. He oversees our efforts to transform newsroom operations and culture to more effectively pursue our digital goals. His duties include responsibility for social media and community engagement. He has visited most DFM newsrooms personally, leading workshops and coaching editors and other journalists in following the Digital First approach.

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