Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Things You Miss The Most

This week, for the first time in a long time, I sat down and tried to write a real article. It was hard!!

I was helped by the fact that my piece would feel more like a column rather than a hard news story , but even then, I was reminded of how much work it takes to write a concise, easy-to-read article that is not a blog post.

I will admit that when I first started writing, I was a little bit afraid of the 600-800 words order... but I ended up going over!

The thing is... I usually just write. Even when I was doing more hard news reporting, I familiarized myself with the story, figured out what I wanted to say while I was still in transition from location to desk, and just sat down and wrote. Sometimes, I would have to pause half way and re-assess my intentions for the piece. I would take this time to make a few edits and trim a few superfluous words.

Then, I would probably tweak my lead a bit and keep writing until I got stuck on the ending, which is always the hardest part for me to write.

Sometimes, it just works. You just know. And it writes itself. But other times - like this weekend - it didn't. I knew I should wrap it up with a reference to my lead because it was just that kind of piece, but I still didn't feel confident that I had a killer last sentence.

Then I'd do one last read-through for copy-editing purposes, or hold off until the next day in the case of a really long paper/essay/piece with a looser deadline, and that's about it.

Dust off your hands, we're done!

I blame my prose insecurities on all the job applications I've been writing. The composition style is different, to be sure, and there are certain rules that you more or less have to follow. Writing an article isn't like writing a blog either... Here, I really can just spew out a mumbo-jumbo of thoughts. Form and flow don't really matter... the words just fall into place naturally.

Perhaps the lack of facts made the piece harder to write and a press conference story would have been easy-peasy. In fact, I think I could probably jump back into press conference story writing in a jiffy - and will be for the Vancouver Olympics! - because it's something you just don't forget.

Lead. 5 W. Tell us why we should care. Tell us what we can do/how to follow up. Background info that the editors can cut for space.

That's right, the inverted pyramid is pinned to the corkboard in my mind. Thanks, J-school profs!

But it wasn't applicable in this case, was it?

So... How did I do? I'd really love your feedback, so without further ado, here it is, as published yesterday on The

The Things You Miss The Most
Going away and not keeping score

By Naila Jinnah

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where your BlackBerry or iPhone doesn’t work? What if you can’t get an Internet connection either? And to top it all off, the TV gets nothing but static!

While this may seem like an ideal scenario for many a sports widow, it’s not so cool for the sports fan.

I recently went to Cuba for a week (boo-hoo, I know!) and while it was relieving to spend some time away from the constant buzz of technology, I did occasionally wonder how the Montreal Canadiens were faring on their annual holiday road trip. And if Team Canada was kicking butt at the World Junior Championship in Saskatchewan. Oh, and hoping that no additional Canadian medal hopefuls had gotten injured in competitions leading up to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games.

It is indeed an exciting time for Canadian sports fans, but despite the high concentration of tourists from the True North Strong and Free, no one was talking hockey. There were lots of Habs shirts though, and I think I spotted a few Sens logos. And, in case you were wondering, no, I didn’t see a single Leafs’ fan.

With so many potential breaking sports stories during my time away, it was with great urgency that I turned on my BlackBerry as soon as the plane landed at Pierre Elliot Trudeau International Airport. After about a gazillion incoming message notifications – thankfully, I remembered to turn off my ringer – I immediately went searching for sports news. In times away from the computer, I have found great comfort in receiving my TSN Morning Newsletter on my phone. This was no exception.

One might assume that the first thing I would want to check was the outcome of the Habs games.

Well, you’re right.

However, after scrolling through the NHL scores, I realized that I was most interested in the other stories. The ones that usually make me go “Hmm” in the morning but only click on if the headline really captures my attention. The ones that, most of the time, I don’t necessarily care about reading through to the end and therefore stop paying attention to not long after the lead paragraph. These are the stories that intrigued me.

As it turns out, they were all human interest stories. The torchbearer getting knocked down by protesters in Guelph. Prime Minister Stephen Harper suspending the Canadian Parliament until after the Olympics. Not just the announcement of Team Canada’s men’s hockey roster for the Olympics, but also the reactions of those selected and those left aside. The NHL and the NHLPA actually working together for once to write to the International Ice Hockey Federation about Team Russia’s potential last minute roster changes for the Games. Tiger Woods being voted best athlete of the decade, despite the ongoing controversy in his personal life.

The truth is, most of these stories could make the front page of a newspaper or lead a newscast. There was nothing especially sporty about them, save for the fact that they involved athletic events or personalities. The stories were about politics, business, and law - stories with excitement, betrayal and hope.

They were stories about our lives.

At the beginning of this piece, you probably pictured me as a hockey-obsessed fan that can’t take the risk of disconnecting and unwinding. You probably thought that I was a Leaf-hater, that I don’t watch any news other than Sports 30 and that I can’t stand being without my BlackBerry.

While that last part is probably more accurate than I’d like it to be, the point is that we are all multifaceted people. Sometimes, we forget that there is more to sports than victories and medals, and indeed, that there is more to life than sports. Or rather, sports are just another facet of life.

When I understood that it wasn’t finding out the scores that matters the most but rather reading the stories about people, I realized how much you miss when you take off for a week. Obviously, you don’t get all the live excitement, but most importantly, you miss out on the subtleties of sport, and of life. You miss Tomas Plekanec losing a tooth. You miss the horror of the Olympic flame potentially going out when the torch hits the ground – and it’s all your fault!

What else do you miss? You miss all the things that I can’t tell you about because I wasn’t there when it happened. Did Cindy Klassen grimace and stretch her legs after failing to qualify for the 1,000m speed skating race? I’ll never know.

These are the things you miss the most when your smartphone can’t find a network, you can’t get online, and you can’t find static-free TV.

You miss the moments that help shape peoples’ lives.


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