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What do I do at the paper? That's a sporting question

February 24, 2003|by MARK KELLER

I used to get the question all the time.

"Don't you work at the newspaper anymore? I never see your name on a story."

Since I started writing a weekly column a year or so ago, I don't hear that question quite as often as I did in the past. I guess seeing a picture above the name helps. At least those who ask know it's not a ghost writer doing the work.

The question, however, does usually prompt another inquiry.

"So ... what are you doing down there then?"

And that's a fair question, too. Many of our readers really don't know just what it is we do in the sports department on a nightly basis.

The sports department is really unlike any other department in our newsroom in that, on a given night, I or another of our editors/reporters will have as many as six major tasks to perform in order to put out the next morning's edition.

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Around 4 p.m., the day starts by checking the Associated Press wire for breaking stories and consulting the news digests in order to plan the section for the day.

This includes looking at our area schedule, deciding which stories will go on which page and which local call-in might lead our roundup.

On an average night, one person will stay in the office to begin layout on pages. The others are out and about, either working on feature stories or, mostly, covering local games. The game could be right around the corner from our office or, during playoff time, 150 miles or more away.

So, while the reporters are off gallivanting around the area, one guy is left to his devices in the newsroom. He continues designing pages, he edits stories from the wire and he does some writing of his own.

He also helps our editorial assistants field those local calls that start rolling in heavily at around 8:30. Some calls last a minute, some last five.

Each call is important, yet each takes that editor away from some other equally important task and makes our deadline crunch even tougher.

Around 9 p.m., the reporters start straggling back into the office. They give the lowdown on the game they saw, find out the inch count needed on their story and start jockeying for an angle.

As they write, the calls keep coming, and they keep coming steadily until 10:30, when our editorial assistants, most of whom are in high school, pack up for the night.

At that time, we start into our heavy editing for the night, sifting through anywhere from five to 35 game results, checking spellings and confirming rankings and scores.

When the reporters are through with their stories, their job is not finished. They pick up pages that have already been started or, in some cases, start on a page just a couple hours before our deadline.

When a page is completed, we send a hard copy to be proofed. It's here where we catch any spelling or grammatical errors we missed in our initial editing. Unfortunately, we don't catch them all, but we do our best.

The completed and corrected pages are sent to the pagination department, where they are printed and prepared for the press.

On a good night, we hit our 12:35 deadline (or 11:15 on Saturday night).

There are also bad nights, but I'd rather not talk about those.

Hopefully, this explains what we're doing when we don't have a byline in our section. It's not exactly hard labor, but we can't keep our feet propped up the entire night either.




Mark Keller is sports editor of The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, extension 2332, or by e-mail at keller@herald-mail.com.

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