How Audience-Centricity Plays a Role in Bears/Packers Coverage

When the oldest rivalry in the National Football League began its 195th meeting Thursday night, two people integrally involved in the “Dynamics” books were on each side of the battle. Ryan Wood, who covers the Green Bay Packers for the USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, and Pat Finley, who serves as the Bears beat reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, watched a 35-14 Packer victory, saw the game delayed by a lightning storm and included the usual chippy play that happens when these teams meet.

Wood has been featured on the blog before and offered his “Professional Thoughts” for the basic reporting chapter in the “Dynamics of News Reporting and Writing” book. Finley talked here about his use of social media (including his viral sketches of Bears’ practices) and also contributed his “Professional Thoughts” to the second edition of the “Dynamics of Media Writing,” which comes out next year. Both journalists have repeatedly stressed that in all they do, serving the audience matters most.

This fortuitous happenstance of having both of them covering the same event from different sides gives us a chance to see how they applied audience-centricity to their work. Consider this “core theme” paragraph by Wood in his game story:

The Packers trounced the Chicago Bears early and didn’t look back, winning 35-14 on Thursday night at Lambeau Field. Before the Bears had their second offensive snap, the Packers led, 14-0. The first half ended with the Packers scoring three touchdowns, and the Bears providing three turnovers.

Finley has a similar set of information, but a different approach:

(The Bears) lost 35-14, a margin that somehow failed to properly capture the particularly putrid stench of the game. The Packers reclaimed the all-time series lead, and, just four days after winning their first game of the season, the 1-3 Bears again appear in disarray.

When it came to other key plays, each author focused on aspects that would be of most interest to his audience. Finley looked a turnover in the context of quarterback Mike Glennon’s poor performance and a growing drumbeat among Bears fans to bench him in favor of first-round draft pick Mitch Trubisky:

Glennon, perhaps playing for his quarterbacking life, dug the Bears in yet another hole. Down 7-0, he was sacked by Clay Matthews on the team’s first offensive play and fumbled. Jake Ryan recovered at the Bears’ 3-yard line, and Rodgers threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb three plays later.

Wood’s look at that same play included a key interest element: oddity. Clay Matthews’ sack made him the all-time franchise leader in this department:

On Chicago’s first snap from its own 25-yard, outside linebacker Clay Matthews crashed the left side and sacked Bears quarterback Mike Glennon 14 yards behind the line of scrimmage. Matthews’ sack, which pushed him to first in franchise history with 75 in his career, jarred the football loose from Glennon.

For anyone watching the game, the scariest moment of the night came when the Bears’ Danny Trevathan struck Packer receiver Davante Adams in a helmet-to-helmet collision that knocked Adams out and sent his mouth guard flying across the field. Finley ends his story including this bit of information:

The Bears’ defense raged against the Packers’ field position advantage all night, but were responsible for its most horrific moment — a helmet-to-helmet Danny Trevathan hit that sent Davante Adams off the field on a stretcher and to the hospital with a head and neck injury. Trevathan could face suspension.

Wood, on the other hand, noted the “cheap shot” in several paragraphs in his game story and also wrote an extensive sidebar on the event, which you can read here. One of Finley’s colleagues also wrote a piece on the hit, which places emphasis on different aspects of the event and uses a different tone than the one Wood used.

Additional coverage came from both writers’ colleagues, with Packer coverage focusing on the team’s 3-1 start and the success of its patchwork offensive line. Finley’s publication had multiple columnists calling for the start of the Mitchell Trubisky era.

Both writers (and their publications) told stories about the same event, but from different perspectives based on what they thought their audience would want to know. Bears fans don’t want to hear about how great Aaron Rodgers is or how Clay Matthews broke a record at their team’s expense. Packer fans don’t want to hear about the carousel of quarterbacks that the Bears have seemingly been riding since Sid Luckman left town.

This is the main goal of good journalism personified: Know your audience and tell them what they need to know in a way they want to hear it.

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