This is not an exit

Educational opportunity: Register-Guard’s Civil War coverage

In Uncategorized on December 5, 2010 at 1:25 pm

 

Oregon coach Chip Kelly and D.J. Davis celebrate the Ducks’ victory over rival Oregon State on Saturday. The win at Reser clinched Oregon’s spot in the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz.

Don’t let the headline fool you: We’re not delving into newspaper archives and analyzing coverage of a 160-year old war. Although that would be a fun project. Let’s put it on the list, shall we?

No, we’re talking about The Register-Guard‘s coverage of the Oregon football team’s win over rival Oregon State for a shot at the Bowl Championship Series title. Sports and football haters might scoff at the amount of attention that the Ducks have garnered over the last month. Heck, I would have been right there with you about five years ago.

But this is history. It’s kind of a big deal. Even if the folks at the Guard didn’t care for football, much of its readership does.

In the end, that’s what really matters in the journalism game: What do your readers want? And it’s not just about the coverage. It’s not merely the words you write, the stories you tell or the photos you choose to accompany both. It’s about the whole package. The individual pieces need to work seamlessly together in order to create an appealing product.

But how do you present it? How should it flow? Where does each story belong?

Well, the big news here is the fact that, for the first time in school history, the Ducks are going to the BCS title game in Glendale, Ariz. Because of the sheer nature of newswriting, Ron Bellamy is required to merely speculate this will be the case, but we’ll see come 5:15 p.m.

A nice feature story covering fan reaction to Oregon’s Civil War win helps anchor the front page of the Sunday Register-Guard. And that’s the shortest conversation the editors and production team at the newspaper had when putting together today’s issue. What’s the big news here? Oh, right. History. National championship. Done and done.

Moving into Section B, there are no huge spreads. No photos of the game or headlines screaming “Ducks win Civil War.” If you lived under a rock and only got the City/Region section of The Register-Guard occasionally, you wouldn’t even know the University of Oregon had a football team. Unless you read Bob Welch’s column, that is. It opens simply enough: Welch and his son shooting hoops after Oregon clinched a Rose Bowl bid in 1994. Picture the opening scene of Space Jam and you’ve got the idea. It’s less a column about football and more a story about how important it is to shoot for the stars — the column’s headline is “We must remember to dream big,” after all.

Guess what anchors the sports section? Rob Moseley’s game coverage and George Schroeder’s sports column, of course. Here are the nuts and bolts of Oregon’s win at OSU and what that means from a sportswriter’s perspective. It’s the same subject we covered on page one, but from different angles. There’s more than one side to every story, after all. And there’s an inside spread with analysis of the defense and offense of each team with photos, stats and the like.

And that’s just the print product. Online, you’ll find players’ perspectives, slideshows and a bit more technical coverage of the game.

In all, The Register-Guard sent six reporters and at least three photographers to cover the game.

Student journalists have limited resources, however. We often stick with straight coverage because of the limitations we have in staffing. But with proper planning, it’d be possible to pull off a package like this.

After all, we know the Civil War’s going to happen. And we’d be following the team through its season. So, little by little, the package should come together as the story itself unwinds. For the team at The Register-Guard, this package was at least 10 weeks in the making, ever since Oregon took its 72-0 win against New Mexico.

My assistant photo editor has a saying: proper planning prevents piss-poor performance. And I wholeheartedly agree. Each Register-Guard correspondent had a different mission at Reser Stadium. Rob Moseley, Bob Clark and Adam Jude watched each play, analyzed and wrote. George Schroeder gave us the story as it unfolded on the sidelines from the coaches’ and players’ perspectives. Ron Bellamy got the effects of the game’s outcome on the Oregon program. And Mark Baker, I think, had the best job of them all: he talked to the fans.

Baker, Welch and Schroeder give us the human element of the event. Baker talked to the people who were just as invested in the game as Chip Kelly and his players. After all, the fans are the reason this victory is such a milestone.

Welch recounts similar sentiments, telling us what a national championship bid means to fans who were around before Oregon became a big name in college sports. Schroeder delves into the minds of players and coaches to give us what it means to them. Every single one of these articles serves to give us a bit of insight into the minds of everyone involved in the event. And that’s what we need to keep in mind when we’re looking at event coverage.

Who’s working behind the scenes? Who’s got something to lose from the failure of this event? Who’s got something to gain? Journalism is more than just the chronicling of an event. It’s about breaking down its many aspects and getting the human element behind it (kind of like Jerry Allen’s reaction to the win.) The feature story is just as important as the play-by-play.

The game coverage is just the tip of the iceberg.

The work Kelly and his players put into the last year in order to make it this far, the reactions of the fans at ground zero in Corvallis and the lasting effects of the Duck victory are what give weight to the whole thing. And that, as journalists, is our ultimate mission. We’re tasked with going beyond the looking glass and figuring out why exactly this is such a big deal.

If it’s important to your readers, it should be important to us.

But what do YOU think?

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