The magic of a great sports page
What I miss the most about the job that regularly sent me home at midnight
I’ll try keeping this column digestible, but no promises.
I still care about the process too much for my own good.
Or, maybe, should I go long, you’ll enjoy it even more.
Maybe you’ll tell me.
First, take a look.
As I begin writing this on a Thursday afternoon a few hours before I’m due in the Norman High Gym to cover some basketball, the newspaper page you’re looking at just appeared in my Facebook memories.
It was five years ago on the nose that I designed and wrote the top story on this page on the eve of Kyler Murray claiming his Heisman Trophy.
Not to brag, but by the time the presses ran, about midnight, I’d managed to write a second story, a short one, from the Thunder loss in Chicago.
A few months prior to this page’s arrival, I’d moved sideways at The Norman Transcript, giving up the sports editor title for that of senior sports columnist, simultaneously becoming the Transcript’s Thunder beat writer.
They even gave me a raise.
Despite that, there were times I asked, or insisted upon, having control of the pages back, the front at least, because, well, I had a vision.
That’s the background.
This page is everything I loved about working in newspapers and, specifically, working in sports.
It is everything I loved about designing pages and everything I loved about the impact I imagined, and still imagine, the front page of the sports section can have.
I love all of these things, still.
So much, I must tell you about it.
• One, all days are not created equal. Also, we couldn’t be positive Murray would take home the statue. So, if we were going to give him his due and blow it out, we had to do it the morning of the day the award would be given rather than the morning after.
• Two, that meant it was all hands on deck, each sports staffer joining the cause to tell Murray’s story: the columnist with the column, the beat writer, who happened to be the sports editor, writing the main story and the high school writer jumping in with a story of his own.
It also meant putting each of those stories together in the same package and designing it just so.
About that design, though it benefited me, I am and remain a big believer in the columnist getting top billing on any such package.
The columnist is supposed to be the wise one, the fantastic writer, the historian, the storyteller who traffics in perspective, context and gravity, so I put myself at the top.
For the record, Tyler Palmateer, whose picture and story is on this page, too, though columns aren’t his thing, is a terrific writer.
Also, the left side of the page is more prized real estate than the right side and that’s why the beat writer’s story is where it is and the moonlighting high school writer’s story is where it is.
All together, with the headlines just so, the photos just so — large square on top of small vertical — not to mention the ID bar above the whole package simply being Murray’s name … it’s screaming at you how important all of it is and how much you need to read it.
Far be it from The Norman Transcript to be there for Murray’s parents, or his biggest fans, should they want to frame the page. Nonetheless, should they want to — or, on another big day, for a state championship, perhaps — The Transcript sports section stood ready.
Finally, note the source of the pictures. They’re not from a Transcript photographer but from the Associated Press, to which The Transcript had access.
I hated running pictures more than once and we’d burned up so many of our Murray pics already and, most important, the premium should be on the quality of each element, not the source of each element.
I went with the best pics, period.
• Three, check out how the whole page comes together.
Even though we blew out coverage of Murray, and the left side of the page is the most prime space, the top art on the page remains high school basketball.
Not only can’t you miss it, it serves as a message to the high schools we covered, their fans, players and coaches that they’re not afterthoughts, but integral to our operation, even on the day Kyler Murray should win the Heisman.
I could have put the Thunder in that spot and kicked the high school coverage to the bottom, but the whole world covers the NBA and, in an 82-game season, the Thunder were bound to get lots of centerpiece coverage anyway.
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• Four, bells and whistles, man.
On the off chance our readers might not know why they’re getting a three-headed Kyler Murray centerpiece, there’s a graphic right next to my column, explaining the Heisman presentation was happening that very day and how they could watch it.
It’s added value.
Lets the readers know we’re there for them.
Makes the page look cooler, too.
Because we always tried to tell a bigger story than just the game, the headline over the high school hoops piece alludes to a bigger theme than the game. Yet, to make clear there’d been a game and we were there, the final score’s included above the picture.
Honestly, the lack of a bell or whistle with my little Thunder story at the bottom of the page is my own failing. Perhaps I was up against it on time, but it needed a score graphic, notice of a boxscore inside the section, something.
• Five, the name of the game is points of entry, never wasting a chance to hook a reader.
In the centerpiece, there was Murray’s name at the top, the Heisman ceremony graphic, a huge all caps “HIS TIME” headline and three more smaller headlines that went with it below.
With the high school basketball story, there’s the score graphic above the pic, a main headline that teases the secondary headline beneath it, which teases learning more about the game than just who won.
Also important, none of the headlines give the story away. They tease the story. Though it may not be a best practice online, it sure works on the page.
Additionally, because creating an amazing pages sometimes crowds out other local copy to inside pages, we managed to tease an OU men’s basketball story appearing inside the section below the high school story.
It serves three purposes.
One, it offers the chance, with big art and a big headline on an inside page, to bring real gravity to a story not appearing on the front page.
It also meant all three of us wrote two stories that day
Two, it gets the story noticed in the first place, giving folks a reason to take in Page 2 rather than just the pages where the other stories are jumping.
Three, it’s another element on the front, another graphic tool, to make the page look great. Like, what’s better: an out-front picture of Lon Kruger teasing more content inside or three more inches of gray copy extending down from the top of the page?
• Six, the whole dang thing.
A page like this tells readers who receive the paper product every day — a dwindling audience, yes, but still where most advertising exists — the section’s on top of things, has everything covered, will be your guide to what’s important, what really needs to be read and, beyond that, just look at it, it looks great.
It all works together.
From the shapes of the pictures, to the size of he headlines, whether they’re centered or not and how they tease into one another, to the tiny graphic that tells folks why they’re being handed a three-piece Kyler Murray centerpiece in the first place.
Online, a reader must seek it out or, at least, go somewhere the story’s being advertised and a link is offered.
On the page, you can tell them how and why each story’s important inside a package that screams they’re important.
It all matters.
It all still matters to me.
It’s like breathing.
If you run a newspaper and need a crash course on vitality, presentation, making the page look great and all the elements working together, I’m your guy.
Let me know.
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