Organization site - Fall 2001
Issue: 2/20/01

Book Reviews
By Carol Ziehm, Saddleback College

Conrad C. Fink, "Sportswriting: The Lively Game."
Iowa State University Press. 2001.
303 pages.
ISBN 0-8138-2246-7

While every author strives to hit a home run when writing a book, many end up with a bloop single instead.

And although Conrad C. Fink's thorough "Sportswriting: The Lively Game" comes much closer to a four-bagger than a cheap hit, the reader is left wondering why no photographs or infographs were included or why such little effort was spent designing an attractive cover.

In fact, the book may be the perfect metaphor for journalism instructors who engage their students in the debate of content versus design when discussing why consumers choose a certain newspaper.

Luckily for Fink's readers, once they get past the sickly chartreuse outer wrapping and dearth of visual treats inside, they will encounter a beautifully written, well-organized dissection of the American sportswriting world, and how to succeed in it.

Fink, who joined the journalism faculty at the University of Georgia after working his way through the ranks of the Associated Press, scores well in the areas of readability and straightforward prose. The book's logical organization will please those who seek specific material. With six sections containing 12 chapters, Fink also has not overwhelmed readers with minutiae.

The book would be ideal for teaching a course in sportswriting, with each chapter containing a summary, exercises and a list of recommended reading. However, one of the few flaws in the book is its lack of practical advice for student sportswriters, as Fink instead concentrates on helping those considering a sportswriting career or those who are just embarking on one.

Perhaps in future editions, Fink could incorporate a list of tips for those sportswriters who find themselves working for their high school or college newspapers.

For example, Fink's finest chapters address column writing, one of the most desired assignments for any budding sportswriter. If Fink were to encourage them, as most faculty advisers do, to concentrate their column-writing efforts on campus athletes, not those in the professional ranks, it would help rookies avoid a common mistake.

Fink does serve his readers well by offering sage advice on ethical matters in Chapter 2, instead of burying it at the end of the book, as have many journalism authors.

Readers also benefit from the inclusion of a style addendum, with helpful references to correctly assembling sports stories and statistics. Fink aptly points out, "It's imperative that you learn style," and while the addendum is a useful tool, he properly advises readers that there is no substitute for an AP Stylebook.

Another helpful section covers what Fink refers to as The Majors: a chapter each on football, baseball and basketball. He provides plenty of useful tips in covering the sports that most sportswriters think they already know.

The following section, titled "Covering the Others," deals with hockey, golf, soccer and tennis. Fink's insights on these sports prove insightful and informative, as he offers real-life examples from a variety of newspapers and sportswriters, not just those in the Southeast, where he makes his home.

The book would make a wonderful gift for an aspiring sportswriter or as a handy desktop reference for somebody already in the profession. It could also prove especially valuable for stringers trying to get started in the business.

Instructors who are adding a sportswriting class to their journalism curriculum or who already offer the course should give the book serious consideration as a class text. Having one on hand in the newsroom for those times when the staff comes up a little short in the sportswriting department might not be a bad idea either.

Another potential readership group could be those journalism advisers who find themselves less than well-versed in sports knowledge or interest, as Fink's easy-to-read style serves both the sports nut and sports novice equally well.

His efforts culminate in a useful guidebook for those seeking success in the sportswriting world, explaining in today's terms what those new to the field will find once they get there and how to do things the right way as they begin their journey.