Friday, February 6, 2009

One game, three stories

AP Photo/Kathy Willens

Two nights after Kobe Bryant scorched the Knicks at Madison Square Garden for 61 points it was LeBron James’ turn to put on a show on Broadway. He didn’t disappoint. In a 107-102 victory on Feb. 4, James recorded a double-double, scoring 52 points and dishing out 11 assists. He also grabbed nine rebounds and even swatted away two shots.

Anytime a marquee player takes the court in New York the stage is set for a lot of media coverage. Take the double-double and combine it with Bryant’s performance the previous game, James’ bid for league most valuable player, and the ongoing speculation that he will bolt Cleveland for the bright lights of New York, and you have a slew of storylines to choose from.

I read three separate pieces concerning the Cavaliers game against the Knicks: an Associated Press story from, Brian Windhorst’s piece for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, and Howard Beck’s story for The New York Times. Each included the basics of the game, but they differed in style and theme.

The ESPN piece provided the essentials of the game story, but also wrote mainly about comparing James’ night to Bryant’s. The first sentence of the article is, “Not quite Kobe Bryant.” This immediately sets the tone that this story is going to compare the two high scoring nights. A number of the quotes from James and D’Antoni answered questions comparing the two nights. The story also noted that unlike Bryant, James was not cheered loudly by the visiting crowd. I liked that, although the theme was set, they still had a sufficient rundown of the game, including key moments. One thing that I think they should have done, seeing as it was more of a “hard news” style from a national wire service, would be to have included at least one quote from a Knicks player, mentioning what it was like to guard James while he was so hot.

Beck’s story for The New York Times had a little more of the hometown flavor to it. The piece did have some of the same quotes as the AP recap on ESPN and also included a comparison of James’ and Bryant’s performances, but it also contained the successes and failures of the paper’s home team. There were more quotes from D’Antoni, as well as from Knicks forward David Lee. The story was written in more of a feature style, putting in anecdotes about how James enjoyed himself at the Garden and was playful with the arena throughout the game, even though it was a tight contest. Those insights were foreshadowing to the mention of every New York media member’s seemingly favorite story line concerning James: the idea that he could sign with the Knicks as a free agent in the summer of 2010. The story ended with the sentence, “That moment might not come until 2010 — coinciding, the Knicks hope, with a jersey change by James.”

Windhorst’s article for The Cleveland Plain Dealer was strictly done in a “hard news” style. The story stuck to game play-by-play. There was only one mention of Kobe Bryant. Staying true to the form of a hometown paper there was a quote from Cleveland head coach Mike Brown to go along with those from James, the only story of the three to include his voice. Also there was absolutely no mention of the possibility of James bolting to the Big Apple. I liked this particular aspect of the article. Windhorst really played to his audience by not writing anything about the city’s star potentialy leaving them. The Cavs’ faithful have been hearing this story for over a year now and it has to be driving them crazy. While all the other news outlets use this theme to some extent in their coverage of the game, the hometown paper made sure not to further distress its readers.

Comparing and contrasting these three published articles provides a great lesson to all journalists. Although the game is the same for everybody, there are a number of stories and themes that can be brought out from it. They key is to play to your audience. If you are a city paper, you are going to include more information about the hometown team instead of a general overview. If you are writing for a broader market, you write to the biggest storyline that the game has to offer. It is up to you to decide who your audience is and what they want.

Here are the links to the three stories.
AP recap on
Beck's article for The New York Times:
Windhorst's story for The Cleveland Plain Dealer:

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