Weekly McAlester News-Capital Roundup

When it comes to teams, what can and can’t a sports journalist do? Can he or she accept a gift from the booster club? Partake in the hospitality room before the game and get a free meal? Wear a team’s logo while at a game or in the newsroom?

A journalist is supposed to be impartial, covering each game as honestly, accurately and spin-free as possible. But when it comes to accepting gifts, there’s no hard line after which a journalist is considered officially compromised.

As a reporter, I’ve eaten my fair share of free meals on various teams’ dimes — a phenomenon widespread at both the collegiate and professional levels. And I’ve been given a couple of team T-shirts and hats, which I refuse to wear while working but have no problem wearing outside of work.

I’m also one of the only people in my newsroom who never wears his black McAlester News-Capital shirt, which has our logo on the back but a gold buffalo, the McAlester mascot, on the front. So far, I don’t think anything I’ve done has compromised my integrity nor led me to dishonestly report a story.

But now I face a new dilemma: pickup Ultimate games.

By now just about everyone ought to know Ultimate (a.k.a. Ultimate Frisbee) is really the only sport I play well, and it’s certainly the sport about which I’m most passionate. For about three months I’ve been playing with a group of (mostly) adults in Quinton, but last week I discovered a group of players in McAlester who play pickup games multiple times a week.

Some of these players are on McAlester sports teams and are kids I’ve written about. I haven’t yet written about them playing Ultimate — though I might at some future point — and I kind of think making them more comfortable with me will make it easier to interview them later.

I might have to hear it from one of them if I write something negative, but one of my bowling teammates sent me a very angry email six months ago, and we get along fine now. Were I to write something disparaging about a player, I might get yelled at (or possibly kicked out) at an Ultimate game, but I don’t consider that a big enough risk to justify avoiding a game I dearly love.

I’ve learned that the more you write about a team, the faster you can change the story and get people talking about something other than a bad article. But I could be wrong.

So how about, readers? Do you think I’m compromising myself? What should I do?

While you ponder that, here’s everything I wrote last week.

Weekend Update: Frink-Chambers makes State

Grant Sontag helps the offense go

Lady Dawgs top Lady Buffs

Sarah White leads Lady Buffs

Buffs Replay: McAlester vs. Claremore

Jarome Smith stands small, plays big for Buffs

Ariana Garner tightly bound to Lady Buffs

Region Roundup: Jarrett leads Cougars past Warriors

Know Your Foe: Buffs head to Noble for district-opener

Buffs dominate Bears in district-opener

Box score, McAlester 51, Noble 7

Hank Brown runs his own race

Madison Taylor flies high with Lady Buffs

Weekly McAlester News-Capital Roundup

Sometimes I have weeks where I’m kind of scrounging for stories for certain publication days — Tuesday mornings year-round and Thursday mornings when it’s not fall being the best examples. But this past week I had no problems filling the week’s worth of B sections, even submitting some decent content for Thursday, which should’ve been a light day due to a furlough.

Always nice to have a lower-stress week, and with two player interviews not yet used, I should I have no problems keeping the streak going this week as well.

Here’s what I wrote!

Weekend update: Crowder baseball goes 4-1

Nick Porter works his way back

Cowgirls wrap regular season with win

Buffs Replay: McAlester vs. Booker T. Washington

OSSAA announces district baseball and softball locations

Know Your Foe: Buffs host Zebras in first 5A game

Okla. State report flawed, still revealing

Buffs run away from Zebras

Box score, McAlester 59, Claremore 35

Region Roundup: Bulldogs overwhelm Diggers

Photo gallery: MRHC Mustache Run 5K

McAlester cheer qualifies for State

Saturday scores for McAlester United games

Weekly McAlester News-Capital Roundup

Friday’s McAlester-Booker T. Washington football game drew some attention from the big city. A crew from a Tulsa television station showed up several hours early, interviewing everyone from players to cheerleaders to tailgaters, and a Tulsa World reporter drove down to write up the game as well.

I’d met this reporter last year, when he came down for McAlester-Bishop Kelley. With not much else to do and an hour until kickoff, I went up to the press box to talk to him.

It turns out we disagree on many aspects of our job. While I see features as a time-saver that balances out the workload against three-hour football games, he said gamers are far quicker to write, and they tend to be less “over-written” (not sure what he meant by that).

He also spent the entire game in the press box (something I do for baseball games but not other sports), while I was down on the field shooting video. When I explained my reasons, he kind of dismissed me, saying, “What do I know? I’ve only been doing this for about 50 years.”

Granted, staying in the press box allowed him to simultaneously keep a play-by-play log and a stat sheet, while my strategy demands an additional hour of work post-game to figure out the stats. That also allowed him to do more updating of the paper’s website at halftime, whereas I basically posted a photo to Facebook.

But I read the story he wrote, and while it was a bit tighter than mine, it contained a major factual error: On the Buffs’ final play of the game, quarterback Dalton Wood targeted a played in the end zone different from the one this reporter indicated.

As of Monday night, that error is still there.

Messing up the recipient of a 5-yard pass in the middle of the second quarter. But this play was without question one of the five most important plays of the game. And because I was much closer to the action and active in my coverage, I got the play right, and the other guy got it wrong.

And for that, I feel pretty good.

Here’s what I wrote last week.

Weekend Update: Savanna wins Tushka Fall Classic

Durant hands McAlester first district softball loss

Buffs Replay: McAlester at Stillwater

Cade Harkins wins the one-on-ones

Region Roundup: Savanna beats Beggs JV

Know Your Foe: Buffs welcome Hornets to McAlester

Hornets stun Buffs in second half

Box Score: Booker T. Washing 47, McAlester 45

Seth Burke back stronger and more mature

Courtney Smith passes down Lady Buff spirit

Weekly McAlester News-Capital Roundup

I got back from McAlester’s first football game of the season at about 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. I could’ve gone right to sleep at that point, but instead I chose to put in an extra hour and half of work, figuring out stats for the game and submitting one of the three articles I write for every Sunday paper of the fall (McAlester gamer, McAlester box score with stats, regional summary).

I finished at about 3 a.m. Unsurprisingly, I slept through my alarm going off in the morning and didn’t get in until after 10 a.m.

When this happened to me last fall, it usually meant I turned in my stories late, then turned in my pages (I also do layout for the Sunday sports section) much later than the deadline. More than once my boss had to finish my pages for me to get them in on time.

This time, however, that didn’t happen. I turned in all of my content with enough time for my editor to approve it, then quickly started on layout.

I turned in my fully paginated sports section within 15 minutes of my normal Saturday deadline. Both my editor and another reporter working that day complimented me on how good the front page looked.

In my first year as a reporter, I’ve learned how to manage a beat, how to quickly come up with ideas (and backup ideas) so as to submit multiple daily stories, how to form good relationships with coaches, how to interview quickly and succinctly, and how to best make use of my limited number of work-hours.

I’ve also gotten faster — something I had wanted to do but found difficult to determine if I had succeeded. Whereas it used to take me more than three hours to write two 750-word stories, it now takes about 2.5, and maybe even a bit fewer if both stories are recaps.

If I’d overslept last year, it oftentimes would’ve meant disaster. Now, I’m a fast enough writer to be able to recover and still make my deadlines.

Here’s what I wrote since Wednesday.

Know Your Foe: Buffs open season at Stillwater

Wood leads Buffs past Pioneers

Box Score: McAlester 47, Stillwater 34

Region Roundup: Miners upset 3A Henryetta

Adams leads Buffs cross country at Henryetta

Savanna wins Tushka softball tournament

Noah Rose leads Buffs cross country

Weekly McAlester News-Capital Roundup

I got a nasty call from a reader a few days ago, demanding to know why I hadn’t covered a junior-high softball tournament in which one of her kids had played. These kind of questions always make me feel defensive, but I explained I’d been covering a McAlester High School football scrimmage, and as the only sports writer, I couldn’t be in two places at once.

Unappeased, the woman basically accused me of having a bias against her particular small school. After I politely told her the second sports story that would run that Sunday was a small-school softball story, she muttered something incoherent and hung up on me.

I can tolerate people questioning my coverage choices, though I’d prefer they tell me about an event beforehand instead of yelling at me after, because I don’t know everything. But I have a far harder time accepting the defensiveness and accusatory tone some people take when they call. Sorry, but yelling at me doesn’t help your cause.

If I can’t cover your team, it doesn’t mean I have anything against your sport or your school. But I have to fulfill two obligations each week: submit two articles of approximately 750 words (or one of 1500) for each edition of the paper, and do so without working more than 40 hours in a week.

When I choose which games I’ll cover, I base a lot of my choices on those two demands.

If a local team is playing at home, that helps. If the team is playing a double-header or a three-way, that helps even more, especially if at least one of the other teams is local as well.

I have to cover McAlester football on Friday nights, and when the Buffs are on the road, it usually means at least three hours of travel, plus three more for the game. So unless it’s the playoffs, there’s no way I can justify traveling for a small-school road game.

I don’t even travel with other McAlester teams except in the playoffs.

Because of travel concerns, I’ve pretty much abandoned live coverage of two high schools ostensibly in my coverage area, because even their home games are 40 minutes away. And in trying to stay on top of the other 10 high schools in my area, plus doing occasional community features, I just can’t cover junior-high sports in any real capacity.

In my entire first year of coverage, I think I did maybe seven stories exclusively on junior high athletics, and with the exception of a baseball doubleheader and a track meet, all of those stories were based on 15-minute interviews instead of live games, which can take upwards of two hours.

I just don’t see a way to fit comprehensive junior high coverage — and especially of non-McAlester teams — into my daily workload.

Sorry, but I just can’t fit it in. But that doesn’t mean I have anything against your school or your team.

When people call to discuss coverage with me, I just want them to approach the conversation with calm and politeness, not anger and accusations. Here’s everything I’ve written since Aug. 27.

Weekend Update: McAlester Volleyball gets first win

Hornets swept in home three-way series

Pitt 8 Softball Tournament on Thursday

Skyler LeFors sets for success

Savanna wins fourth straight Pitt 8 Tournament

Know Your Foe: Buffs head to Norman for final scrimmage

Buffs survive frustrating Norman scrimmage

Buff alum coaches best summer team in nation

Disc golf mini-tourney Saturday

Weekend update: Second-ranked Savanna wins Pitt 8

Mustache run and Wellness Center Health Fair on Sept. 21

Lady Buffs undefeated in district