tom-hallman-advice

I received an email recently from a young journalist named Mitch Galloway. He’s a senior at Olivet College in Michigan, and he was looking for advice. I asked if he was comfortable if I turned to those who come to my blog. I told him my long-range goal was to build a community of creative types where we can share ideas and inspire each other.

Here’s his email:

I love voice in writing. Like you said, it’s more memorable this way. Unfortunately, I find a lot of editors hate, or discourage, voice. My professor and I were talking about this the other day. We had a copy editor come into our class last semester. He spoke about how narrative writing and alternative story form are “esoteric” forms of writing.

Frankly, it was discouraging as a young writer to listen to. Reading Rick Reilly, Mike Royko and you, I’ve come to appreciate when writers go against common conventions. 

 To me, journalism isn’t dead; print isn’t dead. 

 Good journalism still exists. It may be in the cracks of a dilapidated neighborhood, but it’s still there. It’s still breathing. People will still stand on those cracks. 

Here is a piece I wrote on deadline the other day for a medium-sized paper in Michigan. I’d love your thoughts. Often, I feel like I’m bordering too much voice. 

The questions I liked answer: does this piece have too much voice? If so, what needs to be toned down and why? When is the best time to use voice in an article?

Here is his story:

Children are screaming outside the forest-green press box of the Grand Rapids Thunder field in Allendale, Michigan.

Inside the booth on another Saturday afternoon, Travis Oberlin, 21, holds a black Michigan Sports Network (MISN) microphone in his left hand. Notes are spread out across the maple-stained desk. Thunder-orange screams are still rising through the airwaves as a young girl drops a concession-stand hot dog in her once-clean lap below the dilapidated press box.

None of this bothers this broadcaster, though; a Bellevue-native, Oberlin’s eyelids move over the typed-out notes like a mouth moves over an apple. He’s digested the first-string quarterback’s favorite target, the man-to-man coverage the defense likes to run on third downs, and the way the coach untucks his blue polo when the game isn’t going as planned.

A journalism and mass communication student who is entering his senior year at Olivet College, Oberlin believes broadcast journalism is where he can best display his talents for the semi-professional football Battle Creek Coyotes.

“I notice most broadcasters have great vocabulary and flow, but struggle to add their own opinion when calling games,” Oberlin said. “Even when there is a color commentator next to me, I love to transition from describing the previous play, add my two cents, and then send it to the color guy for further insight. Now, I may not add my opinion on every play, but it gives the viewer a sense that I’m not just a play-by-play commentator. They (the audience) can tell I’ve actually played and have knowledge of the sport. That’s when you know it’s real.”

It’s this insight — this wrinkle — Oberlin brings to the broadcast field.

Jeff Matthews, 28, public relations director of the Battle Creek Coyotes with 15 years of sports broadcast experience, sees a growth in each game telecasted by Oberlin.

“If you work with Travis you will be blessed by his humor before the game, seriousness of purpose during the game, and a genuineness about him that makes you like him even more at all other times,” Matthews said. “When it comes to interns, we have been truly blessed with the group of dedicated individuals from Olivet College that help us to do the wonderful things we are able to do for our beneficiaries.”

Fox Sports announcer Gus Johnson is Oberlin’s favorite on-air personality. His baritone voice and catchy one-liners — “he has getting away from the cops speed.” — are traits Oberlin fell in love with as a child.

“Travis has worked extremely hard to become a more well-rounded broadcaster and makes each game enjoyable to watch through his combination of enthusiastic broadcasting, knowledge of the game, and a knack for setting the stage on every play,” Matthews said. “He gives our fans a friendly and excited voice to listen to when they watch our games and has quickly become a fan favorite in the broadcast booth.”

By studying film before and after games — and studying the way other broadcasters narrate a game — Oberlin, according to his colleagues, has put his career where his mouth is.

And, in terms of being a broadcaster, that might be a good thing.

***

Editors, writers and teachers: What would you tell Mitch about narrative and storytelling? And, please, critique his story.

4 Comments

  1. Caleb j Grummet says:

    No artist can become prolific without Voice. Witch’s writing is as irridescent as a young Hemmingway. Good work.

    • Tom says:

      Caleb:
      I agree with your comment.
      One other bit of advice — be patient, Mitch, and other your writers. Finding your voice — and the word “your” is critical here — takes time.

  2. First, I want to tell you how excited I was to find this story (sort of) set in my hometown (Grand Rapids), so of course, I felt an immediate connection to it.

    Overall, it came across as a little academic, meaning more like a paper for class, than a feature news story. You gave us some good visuals – forest green press box, notes on the maple-stained desk, hot dog-stained clothes–but that’s not necessarily where I wanted to see the color of the story. Or to put it another way, the story seemed to be lacking color where it really mattered.

    The most important part of the story is where Oberlin critiques other sportscasters, and says he believes he’s got a calling and implies that he stands out among the lot with his commentary. This is THE spot where I wanted to hear an example of his commentary, not so much about what he thinks about his commentary. Not that what he said about himself and his observations about others was out of place or wrong to include, but let’s hear it. Let’s hear some of the things he says on the air during a game. His opinion about his commentary is the angle, the lede.

    The Jeff Matthews quote was pretty dry and I would have dug a little deeper for something the readers could connect with emotionally. Here, an example from Matthews about Oberlin’s humor, for instance, would have had more power than his list of vague things he came up with for a quote. On that same note, asking the fans what they thought of Oberlin’s commentary would have added some credibility to all of these statements about Oberlin’s alleged awesomeness. 🙂

    Lastly, the end of the story doesn’t really jive with the rest of the story. Up until the last two sentences, we were reading about Oberlin’s commentary style. Suddenly at the end, we’re reading about how he studies, which is fine and relevant, but that should have been somewhere in the middle. I might have wrapped the story up with another example of something he actually said on the air. (I did like your your voice at the very end end though)

    I like your voice. You illustrate your curiosity and ability to combine the macro and micro elements of a story. You can set up a scene for us nicely, but just be careful to stay on the journalism side. This piece had a little too many metaphors and descriptions, and not enough news.

    Nice work though, and I mean that. There’s always ways to tighten up a story, but you’re on the right track.

  3. Fantastic. Watch too many colors or label type words, but you paint a fantastic picture and your voice is nice and crisp. I often think of the page as prime real estate and try to use that space wisely. You do an excellent job of packing a lot of information into your sentences with style. Man, what a bright future ahead of you! Good luck.

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