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Nieman Journalism Lab
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AP’s extends “hometown leads” to college football, NFL

The Associated Press is expanding a popular initiative designed to help overworked sports desks that can’t staff away games.

In March, as baseball season got underway, the wire service began offering “hometown leads” — a.k.a stories about the losing club — in addition to the usual game-over story. Now AP sports writers will do the same for top college football games and all NFL games.

“Customers made it clear that they love Hometown Leads for baseball, and the No. 1 request was to expand it to football,” said Lou Ferrara, AP’s managing editor for sports, in a news release.

The losing-team leads will focus on the hometown and feature at least one quote from a player or coach. The alternate stories appear on the wire last, about 60-75 minutes after the game ends, following the tweet-length NewsNow summary, the fleshed-out game story, and the “optional” feature lead.

The AP provided these examples for a Yankees-Cubs baseball game — traditional story first, hometown story second:

Swisher leads Yankees past Cubs 10-4

CHICAGO (AP) — Nick Swisher hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the eighth inning and the New York Yankees routed the Chicago Cubs 10-4 on Sunday night in the finale of their first series at Wrigley Field in eight years.

Cubs blow three-run lead in loss to Yankees

CHICAGO (AP) — Starlin Castro gave the New York Yankees an opening, and, boy, did they take advantage of it.

Castro’s fielding lapse during the fourth inning helped New York get back into the game, and Nick Swisher hit a tiebreaking three-run homer in the eighth inning to send the Chicago Cubs to a 10-4 loss on Sunday night in the finale of the Yankees’ first visit to Wrigley Field in eight years.

The AP is responding to years of requests from editors who face receding deadlines and shrinking staffs — editors like Scott Petrak at The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria, Ohio, who spoke to the Lab in March.

“When the [Cleveland] Indians or the Cavs play on the road and they lose, or they’re not the story that night, we’re scrambling on deadline — either to rewrite the lead or move quotes up,” he said. Sometimes, if there isn’t time, an AP story is printed as is, “and the readers aren’t getting what they want,” he said.

The AP’s hometown leads for baseball were a relief for small newspapers that cannot possibly staff all 81 away games. It’s interesting that football was apparently such a popular request from editors, seeing as an NFL season has just eight away games. Are newspapers trimming sports coverage way back? Are papers no longer trying to be the one and only source of hometown sports coverage? If a Cleveland Browns fan can get stats from Yahoo, it might free up a local sports writer to focus on longer-form reporting and analysis.

                                   
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Joseph Lichterman    April 22, 2014
Four-year-old startup Benzinga is growing thanks to a free consumer site, a paid news wire, and online financial service marketplace.