Rewriting the Game Story

The “game story” is broken, there’s no doubt about that. As Jason Fry argues quite convincingly on Reinventing the Newsroom, the standard newspaper-style report on sporting events simply doesn’t make any sense.

A game report is based on the inverted-pyramid style of journalism I was taught in high school. You lead with the newest/most important information and add progressively less newsworthy details at the end. The game-winning touchdown starts off the story, which “ends” somewhere in the third quarter. Fry gets this part of the argument right:

Today my audience is much more likely to have watched the game, can get a recap on SportsCenter once an hour during the morning, can see the highlights on demand from a team or league site, and can watch a condensed game on the iPhone

Given that most of your readers, if they didn’t see the game, have at least seen some highlights and know the results, it doesn’t make much sense to lead off your news story with what now turns out to be the least relevant detail. So why do old-skool game stories still get printed?

I’d say it’s because people still want to see a record of what they witnessed (or heard about). By seeing it in “print,” they can validate or debunk the rumors, and reinforce what they saw as pivotal moments in the game.

That said, the standard game story format completely sucks. It’s much better to tell it like a real story, with a beginning, middle, and end. Clearly people don’t need the story to lead with the “news” — even the news isn’t news twelve hours later. The reason they read the game story is to relive the event. A great model would be the site televisionwithoutpity.com, which simply offers extended, often snarky recaps of last night’s TV shows. Add a little reporting (“Smith’s back injury isn’t likely to keep him out of next week’s big game”) and you’ve got yourself a twenty-first century game story. It should be LONGER than a traditional sports story, offering MORE details, but in chronological order, so readers can remember what the experience of watching the game was like (or see what they missed).

Oddly enough, in a Web 2.0 world, the best thing to enhance the audiovisual experience of the game itself just might be a lot more old-fashioned narrative.

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