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New Idea: Times’ writers told to be interesting

NOTE: On Sunday the LA Times will publish a letter telling subscribers there will be no more baseball box scores, game stories of the Dodgers, Angels, Kings, USC and UCLA or any effort to get anything happening in sports into the newspaper if it happens after 3 p.m. The Times will be printing the newspaper in Riverside beginning in February necessitating the early deadlines. The San Diego Union-Tribune, enjoying the same ownership and press considerations, has elected to not make these changes until after the baseball and football seasons.

By T.J. Simers

In anticipation of the changes in the LA Times’ sports section and the decision to place a greater emphasis on its website, sports editor Iliana Limon Romero recently gave her staff printed instructions on how to write.

They are now being told to write interesting stories.

You can imagine the concern of soccer writer Kevin Baxter, columnist Helene Elliott, and Lakers’ writer Dan Woike. It will mean a whole new way to write.

This radical move is not being designed to save the printed product, but instead to improve the LA Times online with the newspaper expecting a lot of subscribers to cancel their paper after the changes have been made next week.

It might be more telling if most people do not cancel their subscriptions. Or, if they do and do not go online.

This new-found emphasis on quality and giving folks what they want, assembled by Austin Knoblauch on behalf of Romero, begins with stories that typically do well for the Times.

  1. Exclusive breaking news
  2. Breaking news that is published quickly
  3. Investigative reporting
  4. Features with strong topical, societal and pop culture tie-ins (take it off the field; don’t have to be all about sports). Deep dives into individuals. More unique, previously unreported facts in a story, the better, Focus on specifics, not broad strokes. Relevance and timeliness are important here
  5. Hyperlocal news stories with topical, societal or pop culture tie-ins.
  6. Analysis about breaking news or controversial news (what happens next? What’s the bigger impact? How will this affect players, teams, leagues, etc) Rely on our expertise as reporters…

You can see where Angels reporter Sarah Valenzuela had trouble reading on.

The columnists were instructed to write “columns taking a hard or unconventional stance.” Thus, Plaschke following orders and sucking up, told the Dodgers to trade for a starting pitcher Friday morning.

By the way, the reporters learned that “how to watch big event stories tend to be high in page views.” I guess Times’ online readers don’t know much about sports and require help.

The “how to write more interesting” handout suggests reporter/columnist roundtables on topical athletes, events, actions. Look for those soon with the expectation here they will disappear a short time later.

The handout suggests the Times’ writers focus on unknown athletes who are standing out all of sudden. Just think how good the Times might be if the reporters had been told that earlier.

The handout suggests Times’ employees write about news stories with strong pop culture and societal connections that have viral potential. Do you think the Times’ culture critic Tyler R. Tynes read the handout?

The Times’ writers were also given a list of content that tends to struggle on the web site, such as stories about athletes/teams having a “good” offseason or they’ll be better next season. This is known as the WOIKE RULE.

Times writers are now being urged in bold type in the handout to “bolster your social brand and footprint.” I might have just said, Tynes, David Wharton and Brady McCollough need to write more.

The fifth-grader primer goes on and on like this blog: “On post-game takeaways,” the writers are told, “focus more on the so what portion of the story. Don’t look back so much-advance the story.” So much to learn for writers.

But as you can see, once the writers learn how to write interesting stories, the Times’ web site is really going to make up for the less-than-fulfilling newspaper.


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