By: Jim Rosenberg
It was hyperlocal. It was citizen journalism. It was 1938.
The hyperlocal content was high school sports results, the citizen journalist was usually a coach calling in game scores and highlights, and in 1938 Sid Dorfman was a teenager who devised an efficient way to gather and process sports results in a company that served The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. That company became Dorf Features Service, which continues to provide prep results for the paper, where Dorfman, still writing at age 90, would go on to become a legend as a sports columnist.
While Dorf Features Service continues, the new Dorf Media business uses what the company has learned in the decades since to build a Web-based content management system so newspapers themselves can efficiently process comprehensive prep sports coverage. With their new local-local-local mantra, newspapers increasingly are returning to more heavy coverage of local youth sports. What they don’t want to return to is the days of bringing in extra help to deal with the avalanche of scores and highlights.
That’s how it used to be at the Tulsa World, which on Saturdays and Sundays would pay numerous high school students to call coaches and key in scores, recalls Sports Editor Mike Strain. The World built a system in which coaches log on to a protected part of its Website and enter information into a database created by its IT staff. Results are posted online, and a translator moves them to the print side, where they are published once a week. Strain concedes “we don’t have near 100% participation,” but says there definitely is enough to make it worthwhile, and that parents encourage their children’s coaches to participate.
At Dorf Media, Gary Dorfman, the founder’s son and company president, sees an opportunity to offer his new Sports Gathering CMS industry-wide because other solutions in his view aren’t geared to the peculiarities of prep sports. It’s been a long development process: six months of talks to be sure he had the right software developer and another 30 months to create a CMS “designed by writers and editors, for writers and editors,” he says.
Borrowing from pro sports reporting systems wouldn’t work because high school sports are “esoteric,” says Dorfman, pointing out that, among other things, games’ rules and conventions can vary from one state to another. And any system had to handle the variety of sports played at high schools around the nation. Dorfman looked into them all, everything from fencing and handball to rodeo. He even expects to see cricket coverage some day.
There have been stabs at automated sports result systems in the past. In Pontiac, Mich., The Oakland Press Sports Editor Jeff Kuehn recalls a system “for football and basketball [that] went away about two years ago.” Stats were “skewed,” he says, because “we couldn’t get all the coaches to participate.”
Set up for reverse publishing, Dorf Media’s Sports Gathering CMS and its content are customizable, with component features that may be turned on or off. While coaches need only input the information once, “I can take the same game and pitch it differently for competing clients,” says Dorfman. Contributions of his staff or a client’s are as important as the system, for accuracy and context.
Here’s how it works: A coach logs on at a URL for a given client newspaper and reports results fresh from a game or adds to another coach’s existing report, with restrictions. “This can go back and forth until we lock it down,” says Dorfman. Material passes directly into editorial systems, with agate preformatted for each client. A system can be set up to route information from specified schools to certain papers or editions, with an override when needed, say, for state or conference championships.
Results entered by coaches are assigned to a writer, or to two or three preparing coverage from different angles for different clients. Copy then passes to an editor or is first bundled with coverage of other games/sports as a roundup. The system provides for a wide range of statistics and other data, including standings, schedules, scoreboards, rankings and individual performance, and has search functions and reporting capabilities.
Newspapers can contract for software-as-a-service, in which Dorf Media bundles its editorial service and hosts the system, or license the software to run locally and use only a paper’s own editorial staff.
Either way, the system always appears as the newspaper client’s system, with its name and logo. Says Dorfman: “It’s very important that the newspapers maintain their brand in this situation.”