I’ve read a pair of stories recently suggesting newspaper columnists and/or editors should consider writing more “how the sausage is made” columns.
No, that has nothing to do with actual sausage-making (although I am all ears for a good homemade sausage recipe, preferably spicy breakfast, hook me up!). Instead, the stories suggested from time to time readers enjoy a columnist using his or her space to explain how and why decisions at the newspaper are made — why was a certain story written the way it was; why was this wire report chosen over another one; why did we decide to cover this game instead of that one.
It’s this last one I thought I’d write about today.
A small chunk of any sports editor’s inbox is from readers wanting to know why the sports department wasn’t able to have a reporter on site for a certain event, a certain game, a certain meeting, a certain banquet, a certain what-have-you. In general, we treat these with a return email or phone call explaining what went into the decision, apologizing if an apology is warranted and thanking the person for reading and valuing what we do enough to spend their time reaching out and expressing that they missed having us there.
Most people are understanding, and even if they disagree with a decision or a reason given tend to be civil about it. Some aren’t so civil ... but we shan’t dwell on them, shan we?
At the crux of the issue is this: almost all newspapers’ sports departments cover far more teams than they have reporters available at any given time. For example, we have a great team here at The Times — what I feel is, quite frankly, the best team of sports reporters of any small-city newspaper around — but at the end of the day we have over twice as many schools in our coverage area than we have bodies to send to them. Seeing as each of those schools has two, three, five, six sports teams competing in any given season, the math can get pretty overwhelming pretty quickly.
The spring sports season exacerbates this.
Whereas in other seasons different sports tend to play on different days of the week (in the winter — girls basketball heavily on Mondays and Thursdays, boys basketball on Tuesdays and Fridays in the winter; in the fall — volleyball on Mondays and Thursdays, football on Fridays and Saturdays), the spring high school sports season is pretty much a free-for-all. Baseball, softball, boys tennis, girls soccer, they play when they want to — just as often as not in the case of softball and baseball, on the same days at the same sites to save on transportation costs and scheduling headaches.
So if everything goes according to the scheduled plan, there is usually too much happening on any given spring day for a fantastic but modestly-sized sports department such as ours to get to most of it. Then it starts to rain (or snow, for that matter) and things really get nuts.
Most of those games scheduled for Wednesday when it rained and Thursday when the temperature never quite got motivated enough to inch out of the 40s? Well, the forecast looks good for Friday, so area coaches and ADs are going to be rescheduling as many of those postponed games as they can to take place that one sunny day.
The upshot? Pretty much every team in every sport at every school winds up playing the same day at the same time ... and people inevitably ask why we weren’t able to be at this game or that one.
As always, we rely on our area’s coaching staffs to help us provide coverage on those games we’re unable to attend by sending us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org sometime shortly after the game with highlights.
We definitely don’t want our readers to miss out on coverage even on those games we have to miss.