Innovation in Sportswriting: 10 Columns, 10 Hours and 1 Day to Do It

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Mark Purdy (left) with Giants’ coach Ron Wotus during the 2014 World Series. Photo via Nhat Meyer, Bay Area News Group

As a Bay Area sports fan (favorite teams: Warriors and Sharks), I’m a regular reader of Mercury News sportswriters. My favorite Merc columnists are Tim Kawakami, Daniel Brown, Mark Purdy, Marcus Thompson and Curtis Pashelka.

10 Columns in 10 Hours (in One Day)

In a recent column, Purdy told us that he planned to write (and publish!) 10 columns in 10 hours during a single day. Purdy called the idea “10x10x10,” since the selected date for the endeavor was March 10.

As a writer myself, I was intrigued. After all, my eventual calling could be as a beat reporter for my favorite baseball team, the Yankees (note: I’d also consider offers from the Warriors or Sharks 😉).

So on March 10, I checked the Mercury News website. Because I visited in the evening, all ten columns were available (i.e. similar to binging an entire season of your favorite show on Netflix).

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The 10 columns published by Mark Purdy in a single day.

That night and into the following day, I read them all. The articles covered the local teams, of course, but branched out to include the NFL and painkillers, a local Little League and a tongue-in-cheek piece tied to WikiLeaks.

About Mark Purdy

Mark Purdy has been a sports columnist at the San Jose Mercury News since 1984. He is also a regular guest on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area’s television shows. A native of Celina, Ohio, Purdy is a 1974 graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He has covered 14 Olympic Games, more than 30 Super Bowls and World Series and many other high-profile sports events.

In the Bay Area, he is known as the columnist who gave the name “McCovey Cove” to the body of water behind rightfield at AT&T Park as a tribute to former Giants’ slugger Willie McCovey.

In 1989, Mark was a member of the Mercury News staff that received the Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the “World Series earthquake” that struck the area just before Game 3 at Candlestick Park.

Follow Mark Purdy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/MercPurdy

Q&A with Mark Purdy

Mark was kind enough to do an interview about 10x10x10 and related topics. The interview took place via email.

Did you do anything special in the days leading up to 10x10x10?

Sure. I made a list of possible column topics, as I do every week, but I just brainstormed more and listed even more ideas. I also looked at the calendar and checked what events might be happening and tried to anticipate news stories that might break: not entirely successfully, although that’s how the Warriors’ column idea developed.

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I also did my Mike Pereira interview on Thursday (and transcribed it but did not write anything else) so I would have at least one interview “in the bank” as I rolled out the columns on Friday.

The idea for the Patrick Dennehy murder documentary column was spawned by an email from Showtime’s flack that I had received earlier in the week, then pulled out of my email queue on Friday afternoon.

Note: Find links to all ten columns.

What was the biggest challenge in writing the 10 articles?

Keeping up the adrenaline for 10 straight hours and watching the clock to keep the timing on schedule. I did phone interviews with three people that day: the San Jose State football coach, former NFL player Reggie Williams and the interim president of the Little League that had lost its president because of a murder.

The San Jose State coach and Reggie Williams interviews involved cold calls or texts, then leaving messages and asking them to call me back at the top of the hour — any hour — so that I could spend 10 minutes or so with them before starting to crank on the copy that I wanted to finish by the end of that hour. And fortunately, the Little League interim president picked up my call on the first ring when I called her.

What was the biggest surprise?

That I really could pull it off. Obviously, while I have written columns on tight deadlines before this — those hockey sudden death overtime Game 7’s are particular challenges — I don’t know of anybody who’s tried to do 10 reasonably readable columns (or stories) in 10 hours.

Although I’d bet some young web content producers probably do it every day. For a 64-year old legacy newspaper guy, it’s definitely a different mindset.

What’s needed to have other journalists try experiments like this?

Just the energy and desire and will to try it. I hardly think that my journalism/writing skills are at the top of the journalist bell curve. Anyone in the profession who has met a deadline can figure out how to meet 10 in one day. It’s just a matter of thinking it through, making some compromises for quality and drinking lots of caffeine.

What benefits would you see 10x10x10 having for businesses who publish content?

Well, more traffic. That was the general idea. As it turned out, we had six times (although not 10 times) as many viewers for my combined multiple columns that day as we did for a normal single column on a single day.

I also know we had more return visits to the sports web page than usual on that day from people checking out what I was doing, and I imagine some of them went to other content on our page and spent more minutes on our site.

Getting more eyeballs to the site was a principal goal. So was finding out which column topics at which times had more appeal, And the biggest goal was building connective tissue with readers who might return on days when I wasn’t doing 10x10x10.

[Note: I contributed to the increase in return visits and have consumed more Mercury News content lately!]

After 10x10x10, what did your fellow writers and your editors have to say about it?

I think they were still mystified by why I even did it. At our operation, it’s possible for writers to post directly to our website without any editors intervening. I still kind of can’t believe that. So I took advantage of that — none of the 10 columns were seen by any editor’s eyes before they were posted, although some editors did jump in and make changes after they were up on the site.

I was grateful for that because, like all good editors, they found some tweaks and fixes that I’d missed and I didn’t have time to go back in and fiddle with, because I had to get going with the next column I was writing.

Note: Read Mark’s personal reflections on the 10x10x10 project.

What’s the future of sportswriting?

The real answer is, I have no idea. It likely involves being nimble across all platforms and being prepared to produce content 24 hours a day, seven days a week. It’s going to be exhausting and I’m not sure what the economics will be.

But I am sure some younger journalists will thrive and pursue it. I believe there will also be some long-form sports journalism that survives in some fashion. I hope so. Sports is regularly scheduled drama and people do love to take the ride with their favorite teams and athletes. That will never change.

I’m just happy that I caught the right wave of daily newspaper sports journalism at its peak in the 70’s and 80’s and was able to ride it for a while. I’m also happy to be 64 and to be retiring sooner rather than later. I’m sure the next generation will invent ways to cover things that I can’t even imagine. The 10x10x10 thing is really kind of primitive when you think about it.

Keep up the great work, Mark, and thanks for your time!

⚽️ 🏀 🏈 ⚾️ 👍 🙏

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