Wednesday, July 23, 2008

“suddenly I’m in Florida having to act in a Scottish kilt.”

Sportswriter Bill Pennington and I are walking through the 2nd floor of the brand new (and apparently climbable) New York Times building, a bright and airy workspace that serves as the turf for the Times’ sports section. Throughout my unofficial tour, at least three of his coworkers approach to congratulate him on being such a good cheater.

What they are referring to is “On Par: Golfing with Bill Pennington,” a collection of articles and web videos (posted on the New York Times’ website) on recreational golf that Pennington is working on until Labor Day (to answer Laura's comment, the articles are also published in the newspaper). One recent article, “Shaving Strokes and Integrity,” features a video in which Pennington plays that guy – you know, the one who uses his toe more than his club to get the ball closer to the hole (please excuse my rudimentary understanding of both the game and its terminology; I’m the only person in my family who doesn’t play golf).

Pennington came up with the idea to feature recreational, as opposed to competitive, golf about five years ago. At that time, however, the paper didn’t know how to approach this sports/health/arts hybrid.

“The editors weren’t sure where to put [the articles] – we cover competitive games, not recreational sports,” explains Pennington.

Such is the nature of a physical, ink-and-paper publication: its sections are pretty rigidly set, and how could they not be? Newspapers can be messy, what with so many pages folding and crinkling all over the place and ink getting all over your fingers and rubber BlackBerry cover (happened to me yesterday, very unsettling). Sections provide a content-based way to physically organize a newspaper.

However, now that there is a successful, multi-media website supplementing the Times, Pennington’s editors were able to find a medium in which to publish his unique idea.

“The website enables video and interactive comments. When I did an article on the 10 most annoying thing golfers do on the course, I got 266 responses from readers adding to the list – they loved it!” Pennington says.

This blend of text, video, and interaction presents an appealing package to readers and advertisers alike: Pennington finds that he has inadvertently brought in more advertisers from his successful project.

After being a writer for 20 some-odd years, Pennington suddenly finds himself doing voice-overs in a soundproof booth, writing scripts, and acting onscreen in a Scottish kilt (long story…).

Scripts aren’t too hard for Pennington to write because, interestingly, he notes that a lot of the principles of script writing – “words must support images and everything must be succinct to keep the story moving” – are applicable to print journalism as well. Though the end product is a bit different, it appears that writing is writing is writing (unless it’s poetry, in which case all the aforementioned rules go out the window).

However, video journalism differs from print in that the creative process is much more collaborative – think two producers, multiple videographers, and audio editors all bouncing ideas off each other versus Pennington sitting alone in a corner of Yankee Stadium clicking away at his laptop.

“I’m used to working with other people with similar backgrounds in reporting,” Pennington says of this new, eye-opening experience. “The guys and women from Hollywood have very different views about…journalism.”

Though one could argue that too many cooks spoil the broth, it’s also true that opposites attract (when in need, I like to pick clichés out of a hat). Judging from the success of Pennington’s project, it seems opposite ideologies not only attract – they create wildly popular articles on recreational golf.


Laura said...

ah, the old clichés out of a hat trick. it's like i always say, beware of snap dragons. anyway, this is a great idea. i really like that feedback is immediate and is more expansive than a bunch of letters to the editor. but is pennington's work limited to the page? is there a corresponding article in print? i'd really like a certain amount of interaction between online (is that is different genre of broadcast?) journalism and print and not just formatting articles for the website. and one last thing: do i get to hear the story about the acting in a scottish kilt?

dgold911 said...

as a golfer (and i use that term very loosely), i find pennington's articles (in both the paper and on the website) to be informative and very funny. a great addition to the times. and a good way for us "golfers" to maintain a sense of humor... crucial if you want play the game and not lose your mind!