Panasonic gear helps Digital Sports change nature of high-school athletics coverage

By Dan Cowan

High-school sports coverage has been a mainstay of the newspaper world, making local students into heroes and bringing the community together. But now the pages of “Saturday Night Heroes” is moving into the new age in a big new way: the Internet. And the experience of ShoreConferenceSports.com, an extension of a new national network, Digital Sports, that focuses on high-school sports in New Jersey shore towns, typifies the revolution. From doing post-game interviews that are uploaded quickly onto the site, to a new weekly Sportscenter-esque show, the group at Digital Sports and ShoreConferenceSports.com are putting the prime-time spotlight on some of New Jersey’s brightest rising stars.

Senior Staff Writer for Digital Sports Scott Clayton, who works specifically on the Shore Conference page took some time to explain the idea behind Digital Sports and why he left his position with the Asbury Park Press to cover the same High School athletes, but in a whole new way.

Clayton says part of the reason for his move to Digital Sports this past Fall was because of the trends he was beginning to see as a High School reporter for a traditional newspaper. “In my five previous years as a newspaper reporter I was finding that fewer and fewer athletes said that they were reading my coverage, even when it was specifically about them,” he says. “With the growth of the Internet so much has changed in the decade since I was in high school and it has changed the way people get their information. It’s no secret that the newspaper industry has been in a precarious position in recent years and last fall seemed like the perfect time to catch a wave with the new medium.”

And ride into the new medium he did along with fellow former APP associates Scott Stump and Bob Badders, to cover the largest and one of, if not, the most prolific high school sports conference in New Jersey, the Shore Conference.

While all three still do the basic reporting that they were accustomed to for a regular newspaper: game story, stats, scores, interviews, etc., they are expanding that coverage by using pictures to tell the story as well as their words. Each is outfitted with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ50 camera to take stills and videos that are QuickTime ready-made for easy uploading. They capture both game footage, as well as player and coach interviews, that allow for a capture of emotion after a game that newspaper print does not allow to be seen. Even in the short time that Digital Sports has been covering the Shore Conference through this new forum, Clayton has seen his role as reporter evolve to fit the internet forum that he is now reporting on.

“From last September to now, even, the job has changed so much,” he says. “At first, we were pretty bare bones and I would basically be typing stories and e-mailing them off to others, who were more familiar with the web publishing software, to publish. Now, each of our writers in the seven DigitalSports sites are expected to deliver photo and video content in addition to our written content. While the core of the job is still delivering to the public the story/stories of what happened at a particular athletic event, as well as profiles, columns, features, picks and all the things that newspapers have been doing forever, we’re changing the way that the public absorbs that information.”

This new format of covering sports is using the new forms of information and entertainment and capitalizing on a facet of sports that have always been so passionate to so many: High School Sports. And while many sites such as Rivals.com, Takkle, and others also cover high school sports extensively, Digital Sports is taking it to the next step by covering all athletics in-depth and doing so by focusing on specific areas, such as the Shore Conference (NJ), Maryland, Richmond (VA), Washington D.C., and even as far as Oahu (HI).

Digital Sports is also taking a novel approach in covering the world of High School sports through their own Sportscenter-esque weekly show. During this show Clayton, along with Stump and Badders cover the highlights of the week, as well as preview upcoming matchups, championships, and profiles of the stars and feel-good stories of the massive Shore Conference. The weekly show, along with clips and interviews is hosted on the site using Brightcove video player, and the show as well as the various clips captured are edited using Adobe Premiere Pro software.

While they are very happy with providing clips, interviews, and a weekly wrap-up show, Clayton says he doesn’t think that live web-casting of games is in their future. “It’s been something we’ve discussed, but it never seems like it would be the best use of our manpower,” he says. “Putting together a live webcast would sacrifice a lot of the things we as writers typically are doing during an event – keeping stats, eyeing trends, jotting notes, etc. For now, video is a part of what we do, not the whole enchilada.”

As the Digital Sports network grows and includes more areas of the high school sports geographic landscape, and as the ShoreConferenceSports.com crew expands their style of coverage and capabilities, one could possibly see coverage comparable to that of college or even pro teams. “It’s obvious that the internet is a major force in the way people get their information, and in many ways it’s the youth of today that is driving that. Seeing as how that is the demographic we are dealing with, it seems like a simple marriage. We also rolled out a text-messaging score service during football season, and I think we are equipped to utilize other new technologies that come along. Expect to see some examples of this on our site soon.”

While Digital Sports and the Shore Conference site are in business covering high school athletes, they aren’t only exposing their great feats without giving back to the schools and the community. Digital Sports is actually built on a revenue-sharing model that works with the company and the school systems that are covered. Clayton explains that in this partnership in which each school and team within the conference has a specific page, and part of the advertising costs that are paid to Digital Sports goes to the schools and teams whose pages are viewed. The design behind this, Clayton explains is that, “It is our hope that DigitalSports sites become the first place that student-athletes, alumni, parents and fans go to get everything (stories, stats, schedules, etc.) they could possibly want to know about their teams, so that in turn advertisers follow suit,” he says.

Since the inception of the Digital Sports Shore Conference outfit, the response has been positive and overwhelming as both students, coaches, administrators and families love seeing the new coverage of their everyday sports heroes in new and interesting ways. As the Digital Sports umbrella grows and ultimately so does the Shore Conference specific site grows who knows what the future holds as far as coverage and capabilities of covering and profiling the newest up and coming superstars. Just as professional sports coverage made the leap to HD broadcasting because of the new technology and demand for greater quality, so is Digital Sports doing the same jump, just in a different way, with athletes playing not for money, but pride – and that is the greatest athletic achievement to capture.