Published on October 12th, 2011 | by Busta Armov0
SPORTS!!! Inviting the media to cover your games.
In 2007, the focus of all media coverage of roller derby was about how this group of women playing this heavy-hitting sport all have normal lives with “mousy” careers.
A group of us – fans, ex-refs, current-refs in some cases, and other superfans who came out of league volunteering – started writing about roller derby games with sports style reporting. We wanted to show the world how roller derby could be reported on as a sport.
Four years later, the vast majority of articles written by/for/in traditional media are still “by day/by night”. The big problem with this kind of article is that this type of reporting emphasizes the hobby aspect. BDBN stories are also “one and done”. Once the report is released, there is no reason for that reporter to come back.
Doing recaps of games in a sports style isn’t like the other kind of coverage derby gets. You have to focus, take a lot of notes, try to write the lineups of all ten skaters on the track every jam (since there is occlusion of numbers on the line, you can rarely get a full lineup), and write brief notes about action and exemplary performance while more action is unfolding.
When you write your report, you attempt to unravel mysteries. How did this result happen? What was exciting about the game? What were the exceptional feats of athletic prowess? Was there a pattern of play that gave a team an advantage? Did penalties highly affect the game for one team or another?
Outside of specialized sites like Derby News Network, you don’t see much sports reporting on roller derby. Why?
Because the people who wind up reporting on roller derby aren’t sports reporters.
And sports reporters aren’t really interested in new sports. They don’t even like reporting on soccer in the U.S. Whether they think modern derby is legitimate doesn’t matter, they’re just not interested in roller derby as a sport. Not yet.
Start with the bloggers
Bloggers are the DIY version of the media, whether it’s text/photo/video blogging, or a podcast. They are in the trenches with you. And they’re a little more flexible or malleable than more traditional press. They might write for sites like the various Examiner.com roller derby sites, …ist sites (LAist.com, Gothamist.com) the various VilliageVoiceMedia.com sites (…Weekly and …New Times), or other local and DIY media. They might just be someone who has a friend on the league and a zillion Facebook friends. This is all considered media today.
While their reader numbers might not be large, their reports will show up on your Google search resumé. They’ll certainly get more traffic once your league’s skaters post links to the blog/video/podcast on Facebook. Win for everyone.
Creating new sportswriters
Creating new sportswriters means starting at the bottom. Converting prospective reporters from entertainment to sports reporting. They have to be educated, and they have to come back, game after game.
The premise of the “Press Kit”, is that it never hurts to assume that reporters are lazy. Which in turn presumes that that they don’t know much about modern derby coming into your games. There isn’t a reporter alive who hasn’t copied and pasted something straight from a PR release, and you want to cater to that side of their work.
Bloggers might be too proud to do something so shameless, but that just means they’ll rewrite the information in their own words.
Leagues haven’t given me a special “Press Kit” in my last four years of derby recapping. Requesting previous game results for the teams involved in the current season and the past year, attendance figures, who’s new to the team and who left (and why if it’s due to injury), easily provided rosters listed in number order, post game stats…
…is treated as a grave inconvenience. So I spend a lot of time doing research, making my numbered rosters, sometimes using error prone notes instead of official stats. The stuff you don’t see anyone outside of derby doing.
Suppose you just gave the reporters this info that I spend so much time researching?
Invite the press, but discourage gate crashers
Some people show up after doors open and claim to be “media” to get a free pass or special treatment. Don’t fall for it. Only issue press credentials and privileges to people who you are in contact with before the day of the game, and make sure you see some proof that they actually do publish something you want to be associated with. Sometimes it’s someone with a legitimate press ID, but it’s a good bet they aren’t there to work. Deadline to request tickets or press passes should be the day before the game at the latest.
“Press Kit” contents
The purpose of the “Press Kit” is to get reporters to look at the game as experts, to focus their attention on the details of the game both to give it the respect it’s due, and to clue them in on what to look for. You need them to understand and to be able to convey what they are seeing on the track to their audience. Here’s what you can provide to give them the material that might encourage them to report on the game or at least report how seriously the skaters take it, rather than the “scene”:
Game history related to this game, rankings, scores, new skaters, departing skaters.
Explanations of the following:
Team strategy with scenarios.
Penalties with scenarios.
Job description for game officials.
Pictorial breakdown for referee hand signals from most used to least.
Samples of roller derby sports reporting. If you’ve had no recaps of your games, include what you do have sparingly, and add samples of roller derby sports reporting and label them as such.
Offer a copy of the full rules, or lend the press a copy (and don’t forget to tell them where to return it).
History, ranks, stats, lost players, new players
The “Press Kit” should be exactly what it says it should be. Like a kit you buy where all the parts you need are supplied, and you put it together yourself with the glue of your mind.
That means packaging information in a way that makes a game report write itself. Provide the research that a reporter would normally do for a DNN recap, and hand it to the reporters when they walk in the door.
Let’s break down this recap: #4 Denver Gets Revenge on #6 BAD, 133-104
The headline: The # refers to the DNN Power Rankings. If you’re ranked by the WFTDA, DNN or Flat Track Stats, figure out which you feel best suits you, and mention it with the context “out of 25” if that makes you look better.
“In a rematch of one of 2010’s most memorable games” refers to game history. That means past relevant games, scores, statistics of exemplary performance or failures.
“Denver jumped out to an early lead on a leadoff 3-0 to Heather Juska” references a player. Make it easy to line up numbers with names by providing rosters in number order, numbers that start with numbers first, numbers that start with letters second, and numbers that start with symbols (still done in many places) last.
The rest is description of the game. Which contains a casual familiarity with rules, strategies, and attention to penalties.
Let’s look at a couple of sentences.
“…which Denver jammer Caitlin Krause was boxed; on the followup, Bay Area’s Chantilly Mace was able to take lead even though BAD muffed an attempted knee start.”
Why is it a big problem for a team when their jammer goes to the box?
What is a knee start, and why is it an essential tactic?
“…got their first points of the half on a powerjam”. What is a “Powerjam”? Familiarize your reporters with as much common nomenclature as possible.
“…Denver put on their signature trap and slowed the pack to a crawl for a big 19-0”. What is a “trap” or “trapping the goat”, and why does a team do it?
Explain everything your league knows about strategy in two typed pages, maybe with an FAQ style Q&A.
You want reporters to be aware of what the skaters are doing, and you have to tell them in advance what to look for.
Officiating is what makes the game legitimate
You don’t have a chance of truly comprehending, or respecting, the game unless you understand officiating and the penalty system. While a simple explanation is usually provided for spectators in the program, it is insufficient for reporters. You don’t want reporters thinking refs make arbitrary choices or have a role in predetermining the outcome. You want them to give their full respect to the officials.
What is the penalty whiteboard? What do all those people inside the oval do? Why do the people in penalty boxes have multiple stop watches?
What are those hand gestures the referees are using? Provide a picture representation for it, and put the pictures and explanations in the order of frequency that they happen (track cutting, back blocking…).
What is the signal for “no-pack”? What’s the signal for minor accumulation? What’s the signal for “out of play”?
You finish with arms, above the shoulders and low blocking gestures.
Explain the penalty system
What are minor fouls and why are they enforced? How are they enforced?
What kinds of records are kept? How is it communicated?
Does the penalty system itself promote tactics that exploit it?
How is “clock management” related to the penalty system?
What are the most common types of penalties that cause a box trip? Especially for jammers?
How do teams manage penalties strategically? Why “poodle”?
Why does the jammer go to the box immediately when cutting, sometimes, but not others?
How is “back blocking” called?
What does “foul out” or “ejection for accumulation” mean? Why do skaters avoid it if there’s a certain amount of aggrandizement to it?
Offer to arrange access to the stats post game
A copy of the jam lineups and jam by jam scores with running totals gives a writer a huge leg up – both on completeness of notes, and accuracy of information. The penalty sheets might also be helpful in identifying players who went to the box if it had a big effect on score.
The three ways I’ve accessed these records is: copying them by hand, photographing them with a pocket camera and having them sent to me via email. Photographing them with my little Casio Exilm has been reliable, fast and the least troublesome for leagues.
Treat your media as “guests”, and be “good hosts”
It’s customary to provide +1 on free tickets to the media, when you are in contact with the media person before the game.
Once you invite reporters/bloggers to your game, and they are in the doors, they are your guests, and you are their hosts. They aren’t fans, they aren’t friends, and they aren’t family. They are there to work, hopefully for you. You invited them, don’t forget to act like you want them there once reporters arrive.
Everyone gets thirsty. Providing free soft drinks in a cooler and snacks is generally appreciated. A beer is practically a contract (but use careful discretion).
The press needs good enough seats to see the numbers of skaters on the line. If they’re using a laptop, offer assistance to make their life a little easier, within reason. If you can offer wifi, offer it.
Check with them to see if they need anything. Access to AC to charge laptops, a safe place to secure their goods if they want to wander around during halftime or use the bathroom, explanations of anything.
We’re trying to get the message out with a gentle shove, not a shoulder check
Not everyone will use all or any of the materials in their reports, and some may not do reports on the game at hand at all, but anyone who sees the nuts and bolts of the game can’t help but have respect. The more DIY derby-sports-blogs/podcasts/video-shows we can encourage, the more derby sports-reporting becomes the standard that displaces the “by day/by night” roller derby story.
The materials you provide are certain to be read, because there are stretches when it’s a good way to pass the time. You can’t be disappointed if you don’t see your dream results right away. Every game is a new jam in a very long bout.