November 24, 2020

News-Leader high school football coverage plan 2020

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When I was hired by the News-Leader full-time in August 2017, I left behind a job that I was looking forward to doing as a student at Missouri State.

I was going to be the editor-in-chief of The Standard — MSU’s student newspaper. While my first love was sports writing, I found that I also had a passion for working with and helping other student journalists. 

Three years later, I’m a graduate of the university and still working the sports reporter job that I’m obsessed with, but I’ve missed working with a sports staff.

JAMBOREE COVERAGE

But this year we’re going to introduce something new with our high school coverage that will benefit sports readers along with up-and-coming sports journalists at our local universities.

The News-Leader will have a pair of college student freelancers this year who will be working closely with me. We will have frequent meetings and they will work with me as we cover high school athletics in southwest Missouri.

The two college freelancers are both from Missouri State University. They are Amanda Sullivan and Stephen Terrill. As required, both have been heavily involved with their school newspaper and are experienced.

I’ve shared press boxes with them and they are both talented, passionate storytellers and are the perfect two reporters to help launch this new program.

My hope is to continue a program like this for years to come and to also incorporate other aspiring sports journalists from not only MSU but also from Drury and Evangel. Once they graduate, the idea is that we will rotate in the next batch of deserving reporters throughout different high school athletic seasons.

This will be a big help for me, but will also benefit readers and student-athletes across the area. There are so many kids with great stories that are waiting to be told. We can’t wait to share more with you.

Here’s what you can expect from us with football kicking off Friday night:

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More stories from more games

Having more reporters available, we’ll be able to spread out across southwest Missouri and hit up more games.

That means we’ll have more stories and more kids’ names in the paper every week.

The best way to get to know the athletes and coaches is to have face-to-face interactions after their big victories on Friday nights. I’m a believer that the best and most emotional stories are also found in defeat.

More: How will high school football look different this year with COVID-19? SPS AD weighs in.

With more reporters at more games, we’ll be able to establish new relationships that would’ve been impossible to create on my own. This will turn into better feature stories about the athletes in the present and future.

We’re also going to be able to get to some of the biggest games in the area — instead of going to a game to chase a specific story. Big-time conference matchups and rivalries will make for some entertaining coverage and we’re excited to bring it to you.

Having more boots on the ground at fields around the area will open a bunch of new possibilities as we enhance our coverage. 

How you can help make us better

Inside the online stories that come from us on Friday nights or early Saturday mornings will be embedded interactive widgets that will allow you to submit player of the week nominees and statistics.

This will create an easier way for readers to submit other nuggets that we were not able to cover because we still can’t be everywhere. You will also be able to submit story ideas and give feedback that will go directly to me.

As always, my phone number, email address and Twitter handle are at the bottom of each story I write. You’re always welcome to reach out to me at 417-371-6987 and wwheeler@news-leader.com.

Player of the Week voting

Our “Player of the Week” voting will continue this season with nominees and stats submitted by readers and coaches along with what we’re able to gather when we’re at games on Fridays. 

The votes will go online Mondays with voting ending early Wednesday mornings. Top performances will lead to athletes being recognized weekly and considered for “Player of the Year” honors at the end of the season.

More: ‘It’s going to be a challenge’: Health department bracing for start of fall athletics

Feel free to submit those top performances through the interactive widgets on our articles along with emailing them to me before Monday mornings throughout the season.

We’re going to get creative with coverage

Not every story you read from us on Friday nights will be the conventional “gamer” stories you might be used to reading. We’re going to be creative with the presentation of our stories and let you know what happened in different ways.

We’re going to do this to figure out what you like to read the most. It will also give the student freelancers different experiences as far as headline writing and different styles of sports writing.

I have the numbers to know what you’re reading online and what is being consumed the most. With more articles from more places, I will have the data to see where you want us to be and what you want us to write about.

More: Here are the Springfield-area high school football players to watch out for in 2020

Another part of getting creative will allow us to have fun. We’ll gather notes from different athletes and venues throughout the season to be able to give readers some entertaining content over the course of the fall. 

As we did with the story “‘We’re playing ball’: Here’s how high school football in Springfield looked during a pandemic,” the two student freelancers and I combined for a triple byline story to offer more views and more perspectives across the area. You can expect us to have more stories together going forward.

Reminder on deadlines

It isn’t my favorite thing in the world that we’re not able to get Friday night football coverage and scores in Saturday’s print, but you can find it all online Friday night or early Saturday morning. Friday night coverage will be in Sunday’s print newspaper. 

That’s something that is out of our control and isn’t what you’re used to. It’s not what I grew up on, but it’s something I’ve had to accept.

More: What to know about MSHSAA’s guidelines for opening athletics and activities in the fall

My goal is to give you enough quality content to make up for it. By having no deadline on Friday nights, we’re able to put more time into stories and we’re not rushed. This past week, I stayed in the newsroom until 1:15 a.m. to make sure there were good stories waiting for readers when they woke up and checked their phones a few hours later.

I appreciate your understanding and it’s just going to make us work that much harder to give you the quality storytelling and content you deserve. 

Wyatt D. Wheeler is a reporter and columnist with the Springfield News-Leader. You can contact him at 417-371-6987, by email at wwheeler@news-leader.com or join the conversation on Twitter where his handle is @WyattWheeler_NL

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