Handling Coaches

Showing respect to coaches is important in getting and keeping access to a team. Even if I am shooting for a home team and I have shot many games from their dugout, I always ask first for permission each game to shoot from the dugout. That space belongs to the team and the coach will dig you for respecting that. If I need to shoot from an opponent’s dugout to get a different angle, I ask, “Coach, may I slip in back here out of the way and shoot for a minute?” I have never been refused.

Also, keep your distance when a coach is having a post-game meeting with the team. Position yourself between the meeting and the dugout or between the meeting and the field house and be ready to respectfully approach the coach when they break.

Never talk to a coach or player during a game. A coach may chat with you a bit during a game, but that is just to relieve tension, but don’t ask a coach or player a question about the game during the game. When it comes time to get quotes after a game, don’t walk up and start asking questions. My best approach: “Is this a good time to ask a quick question, Coach?” It will help your access to the team and the coach.
Out At Second. I got to a game late, leaned
over the first base side fence and 60 seconds
later I took this picture. A lot of great
photography is just plain luck.
If you need to speak with a coach by phone, that is if you can get a coach on the phone, don’t begin with the questions. Always “Is this a good time to ask a quick question, coach?” and end with “Thank you for your time.”

Bury your ego. Coaches get 100% respect from players, parents, fans and other coaches and you will be an alien from another planet if you are a pesky reporter. Only once in my hundreds of interviews with coaches did I get a flat “no” and a go-to-hell look from a coach after a team suffered a miserable loss. I was flustered and said as he walked away, “Maybe I can give you a call tomorrow if that is OK with you.” I think I sounded like a scared puppy, but my respect paid off and the coach talked with me briefly the following afternoon. Come to think of it, that one time was not a varsity coach. Most head coaches know the routine and are respectful to give you a little time.

Have simple and relevant questions ready. Do not ask shallow questions like “What do you think about the win?,” and don’t be foolish enough to ask, “What do you think about the loss," or you can expect a go-to-hell look. I often take a few side notes during a game to ask a coach later based on key players or key plays. I sometimes open by asking a coach to explain a key play that helped the team, because coaches like to explain their strategy when their strategy goes right. And don't worry if you are not an expert in that sport, because you are a reporter, not a sports analyst.

Always ask permission from a coach to speak with a player. Sometimes that involves catching a player quickly after a game before you lose them. “Hi. My name is Chris from the paper. I want to ask you about that great catch you made, but first, can you come with me while I talk to Coach real quick.” Then you do a quick interview with the coach and end with. “Thanks for your time coach. I’m going to talk with Kim here about his defense if that is OK.”
Things usually happen pretty fast and interviews will differ, but be quick, be professional and be polite. I have been asked to wait outside a locker room or field house until a coach is finished taking with the team, but if you can, get your work done right after a game it will save much time.
When I was covering a lot of sports I tried to always get a couple of quotes from a coach and one from a player.
The Body of a Game Story
My game stories typically opened with an interesting synopsis of the game and final score in one or two paragraphs, like the score and how the win or loss is relevant to the season or something significant about the win like a come-back, high score, key player or winning play. I then normally get right into inside insight of the game and the main quotes. I would end with a brief of the main plays in order and the scoring order, kind of a Readers Digest play-by-play, and I would insert a coach or player quote in relation to a play.  I would often end with a brief about the upcoming game. I put insight and quotes early and play-by-play last because if it is a college or high school story, most people interested were in the stands watching and don’t need to told what they already know. However, the brief play-by-play is important to get a lot of names in the story. This is especially true with college and high school.  Also, if you are covering the same team or teams a lot, make notes during the game of players that make a difference that are not the same two or three stars of a team that get in the paper all the time.

You will figure out what works best for you and you will change it over time. My style used to be to get a quote in a story fast, like paragraph two or three. However, changed that over time and started sliding quotes in later in my stories.

A rocking reporter looks for opportunities to write sports features, but that is going to have to come at another post. Thanks for reading. Don't be stingy - share this blog.


Ice Breakers

Gloves, Water and Lifesaver Mints
An ice breaker is a small ship with a hard beak or nose, which are actual nautical terms for the pointy front of a ship. The ice breaker moves in front of a large ship in icy waters breaking the surface of the ice so the large ship can reach dock. That is why we use the term ice breaker as a phrase, word or item used to start a conversation, begin a speech or gain access to someone.
During the winter I keep a case of brown cotton gloves in my back seat. These are the cheep utility-type gloves that run about a buck a pair. During the summer I keep a case of bottled water in my truck, and when I am working I almost always have a pocket full of individual wrapped wintergreen Lifesaver mints.
A call came across the police scanner that emergency crews were being called to the scene of a water tower construction in Willow Park, Texas where a worker was stuck under the tower. The lift cage the welder used to go up under this giant tower jammed and he was stuck under the big bell for an hour in exhausting heat and nobody could figure how to get him down.
I drove to the scene, beating reporters from other media, and as I approached the police officer stopping all traffic from entering the area, I reach back and got a bottle of water out of the back seat. He held his hand out in halt fashion, and as I slowed to a stop and I rolled down my window and stuck a bottle of water right into his hand. “Hey, Thanks.” He said. “Yeah, I thought you would need that,” I said as he uncapped the water and took an eager drink. “Hey, I am from the local paper and I was going to swing in and take a couple of quick pictures if I could. I’m not going to get in anybody’s way.”  He stepped back and waved me on.
I parked away from the gathering fire trucks and police cars just as police began stringing yellow tape around the area. I was the only reporter in the heart of the action. I even stood next to and spoke in amateur Spanish with the stranded worker’s wife when she was brought to the scene. Eventually, a brave firefighter trained in high altitude rescue climbed the ladder shoot to the top of the bell, rappelled by rope down to the stranded worker, attached the worker to his body and rappel to the ground. People cheered as the worker was whisked away in a company truck so I didn’t get a chance to speak with him, but I got great pictures and and quotes no other news unit had because I used a hustle and a bottle of water.
The gloves I carry in the winter are a great ice breaker when I arrive on the scene of an accident or incident. I offer a pair of gloves before speaking to officers. I have arrived at the scene of a frigid highway ice crash and passed out a half-dozen gloves to barehanded firefighters and officers. It helps me get my story and pictures and the emergency responders remember me the next time I am on a scene.
By the way, the water and gloves I use even when I am not working. I seldom pass a homeless person or traveler without offering them either or both, and I have more than once parked my truck and walked quite a way to get to a person I spied under an overpass or in a vacant lot. That has nothing to do with being a Ninja journalist – that is just me. Moving on...
The individual wrapped wintergreen Lifesavers are a great ice breaker to get a person to loosen up and talk with me. I don’t offer them one first, because that is kind of awkward and they would say no. I pull out a handful, unwrap and pop one in my mouth and then offer them one. They usually accept and when they don’t I jokingly try to talk them into it. “Go ahead and take it. You know you want it. Besides, it's wintergreen – it sparks in the dark!” Even when they don’t take one the verbal exchange is enough to them loosen up and get them to talk with me like a friend.
Ice Breaker Part II
I was making my first visit to do an ongoing story about a multi-million dollar county courthouse renovation. The Parker County Courthouse was empty and shut down for two months and all county business was moved to another location while crews gutted the structure, so there was no way I could call the job superintendent to gain access and the county officials only wanted to talk about how wonderful they were for having the renovation done. What a drag.
I drove to the courthouse to make a “cold call” on the courthouse and entered the large, wide-open double front doors. There were workers in hard hats ignoring me as they walked with boards and buckets, but in a small room was a thin man in clean, starched blue jeans leaning back in a chair with his feet on a work table talking on a cell phone. This had to be the foreman! He had his back to the door so he could not see me standing there as he blabbed away to who I gathered was his girl friend. Should I come from behind and interrupt him and take a chance on ruining my relationship with this superintendent? I stood outside the door for another five minutes and he seemed not to be approaching an end to his conversation. I had to do something. Time to call upon super Ninja journalist powers!
The Parker County Courthouse. I used work as an excuse to take helicopter
rides several times. Ninja reporters are clever and get free rides.
I stepped outside and looked around the courthouse square for inspiration. Across the square I spotted a little market and I crossed the street not knowing what I was going to do when I got there. Inside the market was my answer – an old Coca Cola machine with real old fashioned ice cold Cokes in it. I bought two, popped the tops and marched like a confident Ninja to the closed courthouse, only this time I walked right into the room where the foreman was still yammering on the phone, sat a cold Coke right in front of his knee and took a seat in the only other chair in the room and began sipping on my Coke. Not even looking up, he said “I'll call you back. I need to talk to somebody.”
He thanked me for the cold drink as I introduced myself in a friendly manner and asked if this was a good time to talk and take some pictures of "his" work. We talked like friends about his job and my job and I remember at one point saying, “Hey, I want to make you look like a rock star in the paper. Your company is going to did this!”
I made many trips back to the courthouse over the months. The larger paper in the county seat only had bland quotes from county officials each week while I had quotes from the job foreman with amazing photographs from down in the basement to up inside of the majestic clock tower. Anytime I felt it was time to do an update on the courthouse I would call his cell phone and he would say “Come on over, Chris!”

I had access where others couldn’t go because I used my imagination and found an ice breaker – two ice cold bottles of Coke!
I milked that story for months as the courthouse was remodeled, and with my stories and pictures took the readers where they could have never gone. About five years later I gained exclusive access inside the Johnson County Courthouse during its multi-million dollar renovation. And yes, I went all the way up inside that old clock there as well. It's good to be a Ninja journalist.


Editing and Proofing

Knowing that journalist and editors read this blog and knowing how some editors are – well, you know… pompous assholes – I want to point out you are reading a blog of my thoughts and ideas, so resist the urge to edit me for journalistic excellence.  However, if I do something stupid like type a vulgar word instead of the word “truck,” let me know so I can fix it.
That makes me think of a funny story!
Edit, edit and re-edit
The worse typo or bad edit that I ever did and was printed was one of those things where you hit the wrong suggestion during spell check. I misspelled the word “balloon” and instead….
It was an article and front cover photo about child advocacy week. In honor of child advocacy week politicians and supporters gathered at courthouses across Texas and “…released ten thousand baboons...”
However, I had an editor at a daily paper that made a worse mistake with something he wrote. It was public cleanup week for people to put all their junk by the curb that usually doesn’t get picked up. He called it “pubic cleanup week” and urged readers to check with their elderly neighbors to see if they needed help.
How I edit: Always have someone proof your stuff after you believe you are finished proofing it. I edit my writing (not this blog) several times on the computer, then print off a hard copy to proof. I find that reading it off a real page is different than reading it on a screen and I pick up things I might otherwise miss. I make notes on the paper and then I re-edit it on the computer, print another hard copy and hand that to a co-worker to proof. A second set of eyes is important and may catch a mistake you miss because you can just go brain numb proofing your work over and over,  plus another set of proofing eyes may find you are not clear in an area or you confuse the reader with the way the information is presented. After that I do a final edit on the computer using that co-worker's editing notes.

Don't just edit for spelling, punctuation, etc. Edit for flow and content. Make sure your delivery fits the story. Don't be cheesy if the story is serious and don't be too serious if the story is fun. 

Do the same when you are proofing other writer's work. If you proof another reporter's story and feel like you want to know more, tell the reporter. Help each other. "Maybe you can call one of the store owners on that road and get their feelings about the road expansion. That would give the story a little color and maybe a different perspective."

If you enjoy this blog, follow it and share it with others. Oh, and look out for baboons - there are a lot running around these days, especually at courthouses.

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