Turkish surprise

THE esteemed ex-polytechnic at which I learned the craft of journalism (and then promptly forgot it) used to run a sports reporting exercise for its students.

What happened was this: The tutor would stick on a full 90-minute video of a football match, then instruct the students to write a report on it which was complete by the full-time whistle.

Of course, the twist in the exercise was that the game would feature a dramatic last-minute goal, forcing said students to hurriedly rejig the report. (The other twist in the exercise was that everyone in the group who had seen the match before knew what was coming, and could get their report finished inside the first 20 minutes, then go to the pub. There’s a moral about journalistic initiative in there somewhere. Maybe one day, I will figure out what it is.)

I was thinking back to this exercise last night while on sub-editing duty for a newspaper. My job was to knock the report of the Turkey v Czech Republic into shape, get it to fit into the space left for it and – ideally – keep it free of spelling misakes. Or mistakes, even.

Because this newspaper, like all newspapers, works to very tight deadlines, the journalist covering the game had to send through his report with 20 minutes of the game still to play. I had to add the last 20 minutes from the television.

Normally, this is a breeze. All you have to do is add descriptions of any late goals, and adjust the first two or three paragraphs.

But Turkey’s match with the Czech Republic was not an ordinary game. Great if you were watching at home. Not so great if you were Petr Cech, Volkan Demirel, a Czech Republic fan with a hotel booking in Vienna for Friday night or a lowly sub-editor trying to piece together a 400-word report in five minutes flat without doing permanent damage to a computer keyboard.

When I had somehow managed to distil the madness of those final few moments in Geneva into a barely-coherent mass of panic in word form, I noticed that I had misspelt the word ‘tournament’ in the opening paragraph.

But I can think of one journalism college tutor who would have watched last night’s game, and seen not only a thriller, but an opportunity.

So if you find yourself studying journalism at an esteemed ex-polytechnic in the near future, and the tutor sets a sports reporting exercise around a match between Turkey and the Czech Republic, then you can be safe in the knowledge that the following sentence will be fine as your introduction:

“Nihat – aaaaarrrrgh! Unbelievable! Oh my God, now the keeper’s been sent off! Is it a penalty? No! What next? My God! Unbelievable! I can’t breathe! I can’t think! My head’s spinning! Aaaaaarrrrgh!”

You may not get top marks for it, but your report will get more attention than anybody else’s.

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2 Responses to Turkish surprise

  1. Carl says:

    Hi Mike,
    It´s always interesting to read how you do things at British sports desks.
    I´m a sports reporter and sub-editor in Sweden, but would when I´m on desk duty never be allowed (or trusted…) to finish a match report like you did.
    Instead the reporter in the ground would be expected to e-mail the complete report, at a length that has been agreed beforehand, as soon as the game ends or a few minutes before the end. (He or she may also file the majority of the report after 65-75 minutes, but just as a back-up in case the connection fails.)
    Is it production technology that forces you to do as you do, or are there any other reasons?

  2. mikewhalley says:

    Hi Carl,

    It’s largely due to production technology. Newspaper deadlines in this country are often so close to the end of matches (sometimes as little as five minutes) that even e-mail can be too slow.

    (It has been known for early editions of some newspapers to have to leave out a match report altogether if a game has gone to extra time.)

    Of course, it only becomes a serious issue if you have a finish as crazy as the Turkey v Czech Republic game! I don’t think I’ll get a game like that again for a while…

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