Think Like an Editor blog by Steve Davis and Emilie Davis, S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications, Syracuse University

Big sports news — and big opportunities

By · Tuesday, September 20th, 2011

There’s a big local news story — with a lesson in journalism wrapped inside as well.

The story here in Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University and Pittsburgh are leaving the Big East athletic conference to join the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sure, that is a big deal in the sports world, because some classic basketball rivalries will be swept away by the switch, Syracuse vs. Georgetown probably the biggest among them.

This is not just a big sports story, though. It is a huge local story, a story that transcends the hard-core sports fans and touches the casual fan and the non-fan, too. It’s quite literally front-page news. Sports, especially in today’s culture, can often make 1A, or the top of the Web “front,” and when it does, there is a special responsibility for reporters and editors to make sure that the stories are making sense for everyone.

Otherwise, some readers will be left saying what my blog co-author muttered this morning:

“I’ve read all these stories and I still don’t understand what’s going on.”

Some readers will come to this story with a lot less understanding than others. Some will get it right away: ACC spells bigger and better football, and bigger and better football means more money and better health for SU sports, in the long term. This is also part of a larger trend, as schools consider jumping their current conferences for bigger ones, to chase the mind-boggling money being paid these days for TV contracts. (Check out Pete Thamel’s New York Times college blogpost, for an example of how today’s sportswriters are being challenged to report well beyond play-by-play.)

At Syracuse, where the football team has struggled in recent years, it makes a lot of sense to consider a more secure future where it can do well in revenue-sharing scenarios, whether the Orange is excelling or not. And timing is important. The school does not want to be left behind while others jump conferences.

Alert reporters and editors will make sure that the average fan and the casual fan get a good dose of explanation — the kind that might seem unnecessary to the insider or to the editor and reporter who might be a little too close to the story to see that there is an important constituency that needs more information.

Stories like this are also an opportunity to take advantage of all the content tools to tell the story effectively for all platforms:

Stories like this are not just big stories.

They are opportunities to seize, to serve readers and also to win new fans for your news operation.

Steve Davis

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