Literature in a hurry

Sports journalism has an enchanting quality to it. Nearly a decade ago, the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) talked about the big themes it covers — physical and intellectual tests, joy and heartbreak, hope and perseverance, teamwork and individual transcendence — and its philosophic discourse about human nature and our culture. While it is true that many elements of sport have a timeless quality, sports journalism is no exception to the ruthlessness of the clock. Sports reporters sometimes cite Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński’s evocative metaphor: “Our job is like a baker’s work — his rolls are tasty as long as they’re fresh; after two days they’re stale; after a week, they’re covered with mould and fit only to be thrown out.”

A graveyard shift

Two major sporting events, the FIFA World Cup in Russia and the Wimbledon Championship in England, dominated not just the sports page but on specific occasions, the first page of this newspaper too. Readers who generally call this office to complain were generous in their praise. A Twitter message read: “Congratulations to @the_hindu. The second semi-final of the football World Cup must have ended past 130 am this morning. Yet the photo of the winning shot made it to the front page of today’s Hyderabad city edition. Any other newspaper in India did this?”

K.C. Vijaya Kumar, who heads the sports section of
The Hindu
, explained how his team managed to cover these two mega sporting events. Ever since the FIFA World Cup commenced in Russia a month ago, the sports desk has been grappling with the challenge of churning out pages at different time slots just to ensure that the newspaper has the latest match reports/ results. “Usually the first edition is sent at 10.30 p.m. and the late city edition at 12.30 a.m., with an error margin of 10 to 15 minutes. But with the second match often going way past midnight, the desk adopted a graveyard shift. Thankfully, diverse departments — pagination and circulation — with the active support of the Editor and CEO agreed to have a split edition for late city,” he said.

What does this mean in terms of page making and printing? The late city edition, which closes generally around 12.30 a.m., was supplemented with an additional late city 2 edition, which closed around 1.45 a.m. The additional late city 2 edition had the latest match report or result and catered to various cities across the country while the initial late city edition catered to the suburbs and the Tier-2 towns located around printing venues. The Wimbledon men’s semi-final between Kevin Anderson and John Isner, which lasted six hours and 35 minutes, put additional pressure on the sports team.

The sports desk coped with the varied deadlines. Editor Mukund Padmanabhan, who is covering Wimbledon, and Sportstar Editor Ayon Sengupta, who is covering the FIFA World Cup, had to file their reports within 15 minutes of the matches ending. Both sent their reports on tight deadlines. The desk, adroitly manned by R. Narayanan, coped with multiple pages and different layouts. With Srinivasan Ramani and his data team giving relevant statistics, and the graphics team lending aesthetic support, we were able to deliver multiple pages with the latest sporting news.

The flip side

However, this arrangement did have its flip side. Some readers read the same updated report on two successive days due to an overlap between the core city areas, and suburbs and nearby towns. This was because on two successive days, the reader got to read the late city 2 edition and on the next day, late city 1. If split editions are to continue in future, we need to fine-tune both the print schedule and delivery mechanisms to address these glitches.

Gary Andrew Poole, in his CJR essay, said that sports are “part of people’s dreams, of how they define themselves.” According to him, the sports pages hold the honour as one of the best-written and best-reported sections in a newspaper. Despite the growth of live television and the spread of the Web, these writers are able to not only sustain readers’ interest but also enhance the pleasure of reading. At a fundamental level, sports journalism reiterates the idea that good journalism is celebrated for its intrinsic value of being literature in a hurry. The sports pages of the last fortnight stand testimony to this value.

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