What makes a great sports column? Beyond fancy lingo and entertaining tricks there must be a good opinion, written with the voice of authority, backed by top-notch reporting.
I think a column is less about the “who, what, why, when and where,” and more about getting to the point quickly, moving through the narrative and bridge, and maintaining focus on a linear line of thinking that does not wander. It must be topical (what people are talking about), while maintaining an edge of analysis, practicality and, if possible, allowing for emotion – outrage or humor. Oh yes, it should not be afraid to break news.
A great writer is not necessarily a great columnist. Great prose in the style of Hemingway, Shakespeare or Jim Murray, to take three of my heroes, can be the focus of the reader’s attention while diverting from the purpose of a daily column, which is to inform. The first impression of Murray is that he wowed readers with his wordplay and knowledge of history, but at the heart of his work was research, research and more research.
Good newspaper editors recognize that fancy words cannot replace hard facts. This is the daily newspaper version of the screenwriter who tries to trick the reader into thinking the story can be carried by phraseology, not character development and plot structure.
Bring wit, literacy, social conscience and pathos to the work. Sports columns that are above and beyond the merely ordinary may have some combination of great love for sports, political sensibility, historical reflection, Hollywood flare, American wit, and old-fashioned humor. Incredible knowledge is not enough, like the law student with a photographic memory and fails to analyze. It is not a substitute for the hard digging for quotes, second opinions, counter-voices and fact checking that tells readers something they did not know or think about before.
Style is intellect and love of language. Information implies reporting. Point of view, as opposed to opinion, means “where your head is at.” Without point of view a column is a flat, boring story disguised as a column. First person can be used, but only at the risk of being egotistical. The objective is to inform (report) and entertain on subjects that are timely, important, and talked about. The great sports columnist is the one sitting in the press box with the fresh, brilliant, insightful ideas that nobody else has.
Two things can cripple a column: Cliché-thinking and clichés. Example: “It’s time to fish or cut bait.” Change it to “It’s time to angle or cut the smelt.”
The most important thing is to learn from every mistake, lump, and criticism.
Books written by Steven Travers
One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed A Nation (also a documentary, Tackling Segregation, and soon to be a major motion picture)
A’s Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be A Real Fan!
Trojans Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be A Real Fan!
Dodgers Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be A Real Fan!
Angels Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be A Real Fan!
D’Backs Essential: Everything You Need to Know to Be A Real
The USC Trojans: College Football's All-Time Greatest Dynasty
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Los Angeles Lakers
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly Oakland Raiders
The Good, the Bad & the Ugly San Francisco 49ers
Barry Bonds: Baseball’s Superman
Pigskin Warriors: 140 Years of College Football's Greatest Games, Players and Traditions
The 1969 Miracle Mets
Dodgers Baseball Yesterday & Today
A Tale of Three Cities: New York, L.A. and San Francisco During the 1962 Baseball Season
God's Country: A Conservative, Christian Worldview of How History Formed the United States Empire and America's Manifest Destiny for the 21st Century
Angry White Male
The Writer’s Life
The USC Mafia: From the Frat House to the White House to the Big House
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism