Editorial Ramblings

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A long-time HokieCentral.com/TechSideline.com reader emailed us last night to
give us a hard time about not running a news item on the Yankees’ donation to
the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Steinbrenner’s boys donated a cool $1 million to
VT, the largest single donation yet to the Fund. That’s big news, but we didn’t
cover it here on TSL. It’s an editorial decision we have struggled with: As a
sports web site, how much hard news should we report, and how much coverage
should we give to the April 16th tragedy and follow-up news?

This question actually goes hand-in-hand with a larger question: How much
“hard” sports news should TSL cover? Is TSL a sports-news related
site, a commentary and analysis site, or both? I have to talk about that a while
before commenting on the fact that we didn’t cover the Yankees donation.

In the early days of the site, TSL (Hokie Central as it was known back then)
covered a lot of VT sports-related news. I wrote items for News and Notes — the
section of the site where we cover hard news, with little to no commentary or
analysis — almost daily.

When the site was first launched in 1996, newspapers and television did not
have much of a presence on the Internet, the Hokies weren’t an ESPN mainstay,
and the Virginia Tech athletic department, to my recollection, didn’t even have
its own web site yet.

VT sports news was hard to come by, and Hokie Central filled that void,
rehashing things I had read in the paper or seen on TV. Tech fans from around
the country and around the world eventually flocked to the site, because they
got Tech sports news that you couldn’t get anywhere else on the Internet.

Over time, though, a number of things happened that reduced the number of
News and Notes updates on the site:

  • Newspapers flocked to the Internet with comprehensive, well-organized web
    sites that covered Tech sports news in detail.
  • Virginia Tech created hokiesports.com and improved it over the years,
    leading to a wealth of VT sports news straight from the source.
  • Hokie Central added message boards, shifting some of my work towards board
    monitoring.
  • Our site added subscription content, increasing the customer service
    workload and our responsibilities to provide subscription content.
  • We added “Hokie
    News” daily newslink
    to the site in late 2000. Hokie
    News serves as a collection of VT-related sports news links from around the
    Internet. (Click “News and Info” on our menu bar and select
    “Daily Newslink”.)

Other events occurred that decreased the necessity for us to cover hard news
and also reduced our ability to produce frequent news-related items. We felt
over time, with the wealth of Tech sports news available all over the Internet,
that we would better serve our readers and subscribers by bringing a different
perspective in the form of commentary and analysis, plus monitoring the message
boards and keeping them clean.

That led to a drop in the number of New and Notes updates, though the site
was growing by leaps and bounds elsewhere. At its height, Hokie Central had 115
News and Notes updates in 1997 alone. News and Notes updates bottomed out with
just 38 in 2002 and 30 in 2003. Since adding additional in-house writing staff
(Chris Coleman), we have increased our News and Notes updates, and since January
1st, 2005, we have done 168 updates, an average of about 65 updates a year.

These days, we don’t have a defined editorial policy for when to do News
and Notes updates. Sometimes, if an item strikes us as important, we’ll capture
it in News and Notes. If other media are failing to point something out about a
news item, we’ll illuminate it in News and Notes. If a news item is released
that we want to capture forever on our site — because most newspapers revamp
their web sites every 2-3 years and lose all of their old articles in the
process — we’ll put it in News and Notes. We’re proud that every single one of
our News and Notes updates is still available on the site, going back over
eleven years and hundreds of updates.

But overall, we don’t picture our News and Notes section as the ultimate
gathering and distribution point for Tech football and basketball news. If you
take everything we do — Hokie News, the message boards, News and Notes, game
recaps, etc. — then yes, you can find just about every single news item
relating to Tech’s top two sports on this site. It requires you to check in
daily and go to different areas of the site, but if you do that, you won’t miss
anything.

Hokie News in particular is an incredible catch-all for Virginia Tech sports
news. About five or six years ago, Hokie News surpassed News and Notes as an
information resource on our site, and to this day blows away News and Notes as a
resource for keeping up with Tech sports news. Long before RSS feeds or Google
News hit the Internet, we were gathering up Tech-related articles in one place,
in Hokie News.

When the news Wednesday broke that the Yankees had donated $1 million to the
Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, we made an editorial decision not to run that news
on the site, for a number of reasons.

Though the Yankees are a sports organization, the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund
is not sports-related. The April 16th tragedy at Virginia Tech is interwoven
through our Tech community and therefore our message boards, but news
surrounding those events and the aftermath (which will go on for a while) are
not sports-related. We have made a decision, for the most part, to not cover
ongoing news related to the tragedy, unless it is directly connected to sports.

Later on that day, the additional news was released that the Yankees would
play an exhibition baseball game against Virginia Tech in Spring of 2008. That
shifted the news from non-sports-related to sports-related, but by then, the
news was all over the message boards, all over hokiesports.com, all over
newspaper web sites, and would be linked in Hokie News (by us) on Thursday.

I’ll admit that there was a feeling around our offices of “We don’t
have to do a News and Notes update on this, because how can you miss it?”
That entered into our decision not to report it in News and Notes. All kinds of
news comes out about Tech athletics all day long, and making the decision on
what should make the cut into News and Notes isn’t easy, and often, unless we
have something new to add, we don’t regurgitate what’s readily available out
there. Here’s a case where the news was everywhere, and there wasn’t anything
enlightening that we could add to it.

But many Hokie fans are very busy people, and even when something is big news
like that, they miss it. Many Tech fans count on TSL to keep them updated. They
don’t visit other web sites (including hokiesports.com), they don’t check out
TSL’s message boards, and they don’t know of the existence of the Hokie News
daily newslink. Or at least, they don’t check those sources of info religiously,
so if a news item doesn’t cycle through the TSL home page (as News and Notes
items do), they can miss it.

If I had it to do over again, I would probably run a blurb about the Yankee’s
donation. Sometimes there’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to what we do with News
and Notes. The $1 million donation is bigger news than true freshman tight end
Branden Barden transferring out, for example, yet we covered Barden and not the
donation. Go figure.

The things that we are fanatic about doing all the time and doing right are
Hokie News, recruiting coverage, message board monitoring, customer service, and
our football and basketball in-season coverage: from September to March, game
previews, game recaps, and post-game analysis are done with disciplined
regularity … mostly.

None of this commentary brings any sort of resolution to the issue, and it
doesn’t give you a feeling for our decision making on News and Notes, which can
be more than a little random. But I will make this point: If you really want to
keep up on Tech sports news, take a little time each day to check out the
headlines in Hokie News and take a spin through the message boards. We’ve also
got a neat new audio feature on the home page called “Hokie
Headlines,” provided by ESPN Radio 1430 AM in Blacksburg. They’ll give you
a one-minute blurb each day (Monday through Friday) that will hit the high
points in Tech sports news. We’ll highlight some stuff in News and Notes from
time to time, but to really stay up to date, you need to use all the features of
the web site.

Thanks, and have a good Memorial Day weekend!

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