On-the-job training

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By Greg Woods



One year ago I retired from teaching and became a sportswriter-in-training.

It has been an amazing year. The freedom I have to come and go almost as I please has been hard to get used to. When people ask me how I like my job I always say, ‘Hey I get paid to watch sports and write about it!’ That seems like enough of an answer to me. I can’t imagine a better job for a sports fanatic.

But I must say that it is not always easy and I have had to learn a lot. I decided I would share with you some of the things that I have learned since joining the paper.

• The freedom to come and go during the day has a cost. I don’t really have set office hours except for Mondays and Tuesdays when we are getting the paper together for publication. But I also have to be out three, four, sometimes five nights a week during the school year covering various sports. That cuts into family time.

• The newspaper business has a language all its own. The first word I learned in the business was ‘stringer’. That’s what Jonna called me when I was being paid by the story, before I officially joined the paper. I had visions of fish attached to my body the first time she called me that.

Another one is ‘cutline.’ The first few weeks when Jonna said, “I need a cutline,” my mind went back to fishing. I thought maybe she was tangled up or something. But I finally figured out that the cutline is where you put the caption under a picture.

The first time she asked me how many ‘jumps’ I would have for the week I wondered why I had to leap into the air. But I was reminded of an old coaching cliché about that wonderful kid who always did what he was told without question. “When the coach says jump, he says how high.” And so I kept my mouth closed and figured out that jumps were at the bottom of the page and told you where the rest of the story was located. So when asked how many jumps you need, you are really being asked how many pages of material you think you will have.

• When working for a small local paper, titles don’t really mean anything. While my job title is sports editor, I find myself proofreading public records every week. Now I know many of you go straight to public records each week to see who is in hot water, but for me, I have never been a fan of that particular section. It makes me uncomfortable to read about other people’s issues; I never watch Jerry Springer. The other thing about public records is the tiny type. It gives me a headache every week. But hey, I’m not the only one in the office who does something outside my job description. We all do. That is the only way a small-town paper can get published. 

It reminds me of the bulleted job description sheet that came with our teacher contracts each year. The job description was very detailed and sometimes covered more than one page. The very last bullet said, “And any other duty assigned by your principal.” Principals loved that little clause!

• Sports photography is not easy. I should say good sports photography is not easy. I have many people tell me that my pictures have improved very much this spring, which is nice to hear, but it also means that they were pretty bad in the beginning. There are so many things to take into consideration starting with lighting and focus. Lighting creates problems during outdoor seasons because most games are played in the evening when the sun is low, which means one side of the field is almost always off limits. At HCHS for instance, you pretty much have to shoot everything from the home side of the football field unless you want a bunch of shots with sun glare.

At EHS you cannot shoot from the first base side of the baseball field at most games for the same reason.

Sometimes it even happens at night when the lights are on. I remember getting a shot of Brandon Mitchell making a great leaping grab. (One of several he had this year for the Warriors football team.) When I got back to the office I found that he had been right in line with the field lights and that the glare had pretty much ruined the picture. I can’t print what went through my mind on that one!

Getting shots that are in focus is also an issue. Those darn kids keep moving…very fast. I figured out very quickly that you just had to keep clicking and hope for the best. You wouldn’t believe the number of times I thought I had ‘the shot’ only to get back to the office and find that the picture was actually a little ‘soft’ or as I like to say fuzzy.

• Finally, anticipating the action is a very important consideration. This is one area where I felt pretty good because of my coaching background. But even with that background, you never know when some priceless moment will come and go, so you have to be ready and clicking at all times. I don’t know how many times this year I have smacked my forehead because I missed something great happening while writing a note or looking at the camera screen to see if the previous shot was good.

There is a lot more that I could write about when talking about all the things I have learned but this column can only be so long… which is another thing that I am constantly reminded of by my very patient boss. That is that being ‘wordy’ is not necessarily a good thing in the newspaper business.