By: Mandy Mitchell
If you work in the sports department in your newsroom you have likely felt like the “red headed stepchild” or the “middle sister” before. Facts are, in a world with ESPN and scores available all over your phone, it’s been a pretty hard 15 or so years for sports people.
Stations are cutting back or using freelancers. Some stations have even cut the sports department all together.
It all centers around research and consultants. Stations go out and ask viewers to rate the importance of what they watch and they often say it’s all about weather and staying safe, then it’s about news and sports is a distant third or “not watched at all.”
I’ve worked in local sports for more than a decade and I’ve heard it all from management at the different stations I’ve worked for.
“Fans can get the scores on their phones. They don’t need you.” (hey–just a newsflash Mr. News Director, they can also get that national news you just ran a 2 minute pkg on, but I digress.)
The key is to not get mad and argue that point, but to do your best to stand out in the newsroom and make yourself relevant. You CAN do that as a sports anchor, but it takes work and effort. You won’t make an impact by staying back in the sports office and “hiding.”
Tell good stories. You can talk to me about being “hyper local” until you are blue in the face. Highlights of the local semi-pro soccer team will definitely not be on ESPN, but I couldn’t care less who wins that game. Stacking your sportscast with that, just to say how local you are, is generally a waste. You have to find a reason for me (the viewer) and the people in your newsroom, to care about that team.
Find a story there.
Find the player who volunteers as a an English teacher in his spare time. A good friend of mine used to hand out a questionnaire to every high school team in his area. It included the question “what is the is craziest thing that has ever happened to a teammate of yours?” Turns out, one of the kids had be struck by lightning…TWICE! How’s that for a story? I stole the idea of the questionnaire and it has really worked to provide some great stories.
Be your own promotions staff. Can’t tell you how many times I have heard a sports person complain about never getting a promotion for a good story. Have you even pitched that as a possibility? If you have a good story…and don’t cry wolf here…I mean a GOOD story, go see the promotions director. Tell her how you have great bites that will really work in a promotion. In fact, bring her a log of those 3 to 6 second bites.
That doesn’t work? E-mail every producer on staff, from morning until nightside, and tell them about the story you will be airing in sports. Write and cut them teases.The producers will LOVE you for this. Good producers are always looking for ways to deep tease a story and you will be giving them real substance.
You should also be using social media to promote your story before and after it airs. If that story is good and memorable, you will get website clicks and management will be happy.
Leave the sports office. This is the key to everything. I said it above, but far too many sports guys/gals spend their entire day in the sports office. I know, from experience, that this can be a very pleasant place! However, you will never make an impact in the newsroom if you never go to the newsroom.
Be personable and actually talk to people. You have to talk to producers, the assignment desk and other reporters and anchors.
If there is a big sports story in your market that is “A-block” news, offer to front it. Don’t get all ticked off and flustered when they ask you to do an extra hit. This is GOOD for sports. Work with them on coverage and how to spread out the information.
If the news director isn’t crazy about sports in the “A- block,” fight for it. Show that you are more than someone who just reads some highlights and scores and goes home. Show your “news sense” and how you care about the market and the story.
The ” red headed stepchild” treatment is going to happen. It’s not personal. It’s more of a problem at some stations than others, but it’s always there in some form. Do the best you can to be a larger part of the product than just your three minutes at the end of the broadcast.If you make a habit of this, others will tend to notice.