The Assignment

Here's the assignment section to David Moffit's 1979 guide on how to cover football for UPI.


But, wait, that's still nearly a week away. Without sound pre-game planning, you probably will spend more time fumbling than filing at the end of that game. And, you'd better believe it, such fumbles can be just as costly to you as those fumbles were to the losing team on the field.

Reporters, like Scouts, should Be Prepared. This is especially true in sports coverage where the past and the future sometimes play as important a role in your story as the present.

it may not be enough to simply report that Johnny "The Zip" Roadrunner dashed 90 yards in the closing seconds to enable Podunk to beat State, 20-17. Your readers also want to know if tht has happened before, and if so, when. they also want to know how that loss affects State's chances for such things as a conference championship, a bowl game, and the national rankings.

To Be Prepared, you've got to do your homework. You are not going to have the luxury of checking out those sort of facts after the game. Many of those writers around you who work for newspapers may be hours away from their deadlines when the game ends. Yours is NOW!

On the Monday preceding the football game, New York Sports will advise regional NewsCenters what it wants in coverage. Generally, that order will be for a 300-word story, scoring summary and the team statistics. That order may be expanded if the game is being nationally televised and/or features a high-ranking team.

The NewsCenter will relay that request to your bureau with instructions on whether the copy is to be filed through your bureau or directly to the NewsCenter. Regional requirements may call for more wordage than New York requested...and your in-state needs may require even more copy than that.

Your first order of business is lining up COMMUNICATIONS. You are going to need a telephone, preferably located at your seat in the press box. If the game is at a stadium where UPI will be covering a number of games, that phone should be installed several days before the first of those games and remain in service until after the last.

Whoever is responsible for having that telephone installed should make sure there are no last-minute goof-ups. The staffer assigned to cover the game should all have the number of that phone -- in advance.

Counting on someone else to provide a phone is risky business. A maybe is not good enough. Sharing a phone with another writer isn't good enough if there is any doubt that you will get first crack at that phone. A phone so located that you have to leave the press box (or go anywhere you do not have a clear view of the action on the field) is not good enough. You must be able to use the phone when you want to with no break in your ability to keep up with the progress of the game.

Most schools provide comprehensive pre-game reports on each football contest. These will give you most of the background information you need and also help you write pre-game advancers. UPI usually provides Friday PM and Saturday AM preview stories. You will have a better chance of getting these used if they have a featurized angle and contain some quotes from coaches and/or players.

Before you set out to cover a game, make sure you have all the working materials you may need. This should include plenty of paper, plenty of well-sharpened pencils (or pens), information on the teams that are playing, and, if you plan to use a typewriter, make sure it is in good working order. Make every effort to have your press credentials -- press box passes and a parking pass -- in hand before theday of the game. Last-minute credential arrangements can sometimes turn into a disaster. What good is a parking pass if you have to get into the parking area before it is in your possession?

The Sports Information Directors can be counted on to furnish brochures (especially of the home team), game programs and other information. But take along whatever is available to be on the safe side. Also, be sure the UPI office through which you will be filing has copies of team rosters. That way, if there is any misunderstanding regarding spelling of a player's name, the staffer taking your dictation can check it out.

Allow yourself MORE than adequate time to reach the stadium well ahead of kickoff. It is far better to be an hour early (you can always get something to eat after you arrive at the game site) than to roll in even minutes after play has begun. (It would be just your luck to have someone run back the opening kickoff for the only touchdown in the game.)

There really is no such thing as getting to a game too early. Too late, yes. Too early, never. You can never be certain about traffic flow, a mechanical breakdown or some other cause for delay. It takes only one fender-bender and a band of rubber-neckers to add 30 minutes to what was supposed to have been a one-hour drive. (Auburn to Atlanta is a two and a half hour drive, but there have been Saturdays when it took that long just to get out of Auburn.)

You want to be in the press box in ample time to get your work materials arranged at your seat and to make sure that your phone is in working order. (Remember Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong probably will. Servicemen have been known to remove phones in error and press box attendants have even been known to lose phones.)

It is best to take along an assistant, someone who can sit next to you and help you keep track of the action -- especially in the closing minutes when you are in to your story. Your assistant can start dictating your story while you are busy finishing it.

While UPI mainly is using telephone dictation for most football coverage, there may be occasions when you will be filing either on a UPI computer terminal or on one that belongs to SportsCom or some similar service. However, don't hold your breath. UPI's general usage of on-the-scene terminals appears to be in the still distant future. SportsCom presents several problems, one being the fact that the equipment is not totally compatable so copy that needs to be tabulated must be adjusted at the UPI receiving point. There was a time when UPI depended heavily on Western Union for football coverage, but that company has all but abandoned its sports communication business.

Next: During the Game