Ask A Pro
Examples of Work
Rally Extra High School Football Preview cover
Rally high school sports section
For once, too many fish
Karen E. Wall
Asbury Park Press, Neptune, N.J.
What inspired you to
become a journalist?
I decided to go into journalism specifically copy editing because I enjoyed working with words. I realized I was good at working with words, and in looking for a job where I could work with them, I found journalism. Once in the business, I found I liked the aspect of learning about new things, new people, and the variety that goes with this job. I began my career working on the news copy desk, but moved to sports in 1994.
Please describe your
My title is scholastic editor, but it's misleading; I'm actually one of two people responsible for our high school sports coverage. We produce two pages of high school sports coverage daily; a weekly 8-12 page section named Rally that is devoted to high school sports coverage, and anywhere from two to five pages of high school sports coverage for the Sunday paper. This is my job nine months of the year, while school is in session. During the summer, I help to coordinate our local sports coverage, work as a rim editor, and I write a Sunday column on fishing called "Tails from the Deep."
What's the best part
of the job?
During high school season, it's hearing from parents and players about how much they like Rally. It's also a lot of fun to put together a big splashy package when we have teams competing for state titles. In March we had two teams playing for the overall state title in girls basketball. It was a blast, not only doing the pregame package, but the game-night package as well.
How do you handle deadline
Sometimes, not very well! The pressure is there all the time, and my work as a copy editor is far more complex now; I not only write headlines and photo captions, I do the production work, paginating the pages. On the downside, it's a lot to do, especially during the winter when all the high school events are at night. But on the upside, it gives me some flexibility and room to do what I want (within limits) with the pages. It's a lot of creative freedom, in that respect. We try to laugh as often as we can, and on the high school sports staff in particular, we've got a pretty good sense of team, with everyone pitching in to get the job done.
How do you avoid cliches
when you write headlines?
Generally by rejecting the cliches when they come to mind. Our focus with the high school coverage is on the kids, so as often as possible I try to get a kid's name in the headline. It violates a basic rule of headline writing in that the names are not always the most recognizable. But because of the nature of what we're doing high school sports it's acceptable to break that rule. My headlines aren't the most flashy on the planet, and I try to stay away from puns because they fail as often as they work. But sometimes it's better to keep it simple.
Is it hard being in the
newsroom most of the time instead of being out on a story?
Absolutely. But not because I wish I were a reporter; I like being a copy editor, I like what I do. The reason it's hard for me is it's exciting to watch these kids competing, and watching in person is a lot of fun. High school sports are still a little bit more pure kids aren't getting paid huge contracts to pay, and many of them play simply for the joy of playing. To see the excitement when they win a title is almost as exhilarating as winning one yourself. And that's one way my fishing column helps; I get out of the office and get the opportunity to write, which I feel helps sharpen my editing skills. And who can beat getting paid to go fishing, get a tan and write about it?
Do you work a lot of
nights and weekends?
Yes. My only consistent day off is Sunday; my weekdays vary depending on the sports season. And in the two seasons I've been working on Rally, I have taken just one Friday night off - and that was because my father was having surgery. I have taken a few Saturdays off, but those are rare as well. But I don't mind working nights. I have never been a morning person; getting up before 10 a.m. (which I must do these days with a young child in the house) is difficult. The most difficult aspect of sports, from a schedule standpoint, is the way they impact the holidays. Scheduling family get-togethers can be very difficult. For example, last Thanksgiving, due to staffing problems, I covered a high school football game in the morning, went to my brother's home for about two hours for dinner, and then went to the office to produce the high school sports pages (yes, I edited and wrote headlines on my own story). That was not fun. But it goes with the territory to a certain degree.
Are you a sports junkie
when you're not working?
To a degree. My husband is a big sports fan, too, so we usually have some sporting event on. I don't dwell on statistics, but I do try to keep up on what's happening with my favorite teams. I guess the best way to answer that question, however, would be to note that our daughter, Emily, knows the difference between golf and tennis, baseball and football, basketball and soccer. Although she's young, she's very aware of the different sports to the point that on a recent Sunday she asked to watch baseball, and got mad because I wanted to watch football.
What advice do you have
for aspiring sports writers and editors?
First and foremost, be prepared for crazy hours and a crazy life. Schedules change constantly in this business, simply because of the fact that sports go on nearly 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Be prepared to sacrifice weekends, and don't expect to be covering the glamorous sports from the opening gun. You learn a lot more covering a high school football game, keeping your own stats and standing on the sidelines in the mud listening to the coaches talk to the players than you ever will sitting in a warm, dry press box watching the game on a television set and listening to the writers around you kibitzing. Be willing to listen to what other writers tell you, but don't take everything they say as gospel. Find yourself a mentor, and try to learn as much from that person as you can. Be willing to work hard, at any assignment you're given. I've run across a few too many students in the last couple of years who want things handed to them on a platter and who're looking to be entertained and told every single thing they should do. Lastly, if you do not know something, ASK. Ask lots of questions. I'd rather have someone ask me a question than sit doing nothing because they don't know where to start, or make an error in judgment because they were afraid of sounding foolish and inexperienced. Being inexperienced is nothing to be ashamed of, and if you say to a coach, "Hey, I'm new at this; can you please explain what that defense is?" in most cases, you'll not only get an answer that you can understand, but you'll gain their respect as well. It's when you try to pretend that you know more than you do that you get yourself in trouble.