Red Sox Reporter Offers Tips on Writing Well
Providence, R.I. — Brian MacPherson, who covers the Boston Red Sox for The Providence Journal, spoke to Providence College students about writing well, quickly, and efficiently under a deadline.
His lecture, sponsored by the Writing Center of the Office of Academic Services (OAS), drew 50 students to a classroom in Harkins Hall. OAS Writing Specialist William J. Toner said the goal was to “get students thinking about writing in all capacities. Once you leave here, you’ll be writing, no matter what career path you take.”
The ability to write proficiently is also a key component of the College’s new Core Curriculum, which takes effect in September.
MacPherson is a 2006 graduate of the University of North Carolina, where he was sports editor of the campus newspaper, The Daily Tar Heel. Before joining the Journal in 2010, he wrote about the Red Sox for The Manchester Union-Leader in his home state, New Hampshire, for ESPNBoston.com, and on his own blog.
MacPherson discussed the challenges of covering the Red Sox, where a typical game ends at 10:30 p.m., leaving him 45 minutes to interview players and write a story for an 11:15 p.m. deadline. Because of competition from television, radio, the Internet, and Twitter, it’s not enough to simply report who won and lost, MacPherson said — he must find a different angle each night to interest readers the next day.
Here are some tips from MacPherson:
• The sooner you know what you’re going to write about, the better off you are.
As a college student, MacPherson covered a basketball game between UNC and Indiana University in Indiana. It was a homecoming for UNC’s Sean May, who grew up in Indiana and had been expected to play there. May was harassed constantly by fans and had an uncharacteristically bad game, which MacPherson recognized as the story.
His job was to write 600-700 words by 12:30 a.m. He began writing at halftime and had 400 words written when the game ended at 11:15 p.m.. He got out of the locker room interviews at 11:45 and wrote 200-300 more words. When he sent the story to his newspaper, “they didn’t even have the box score in yet,” said MacPherson. “It was a big point of pride for me.”
“You have to prepare when you’re going to have a deadline,” MacPherson said. “Those were the harshest deadlines I ever had, and I was 21 years old at the time.”
• Learn to write concisely, and love verbs.
“Sometimes writing short is more difficult than writing long,” MacPherson said.
MacPherson wrote a profile about Red Sox pitcher Daniel Bard, who is making the transition from reliever to starter. He gathered material from coaches throughout Bard’s career and submitted a 1,800-word story — only to have his editor ask him to trim it to 1,500.
A professor once told him to learn to “love verbs,” MacPherson said. There is no need for adjectives or adverbs if you choose the right verb, the professor said. “Don’t say in five words what you can say in three words,” added MacPherson.
• Substance wins over style seven days a week.
MacPherson went to the Super Bowl this year for the Journal. By halftime, it had been decided that he would write about how the Patriots’ defense performed.
When Mario Manningham made a crucial sideline catch for the Giants, MacPherson thought, “OK, this is the play. ... But everyone saw the play. You knew it happened and you knew it was important, but I had to wait until after the game to tell people something they didn’t know.”
When the game ended, MacPherson scrambled to the locker room, got the quotes he needed, and raced up eight flights of stairs to the press box to finish his story by deadline.
“Nothing matters as much as information,” MacPherson said.
MacPherson discussed his typical day during the Red Sox season and answered questions about the team’s new manager, how he builds relationships with players, how he deals with stress, and what he thought about beer and chicken in the Sox clubhouse.
He encouraged students who want to be journalists to get experience by writing for the college newspaper or their hometown newspapers, which he said is more important than having a journalism major in college or a top grade point average.
That advice was welcomed by Angelo Marciano ’15 (Lattingtown, N.Y.), who said he would like to be a sports writer one day.
“I think it was good that the Writing Center had this program,” said Marciano. “It was very informative about his day-to-day work. I liked that he talked a lot about writing, and not just baseball. It opened my mind and was very informative.”
— Vicki-Ann Downing