Always Be Counting

I know there has been some rumblings the past day or two about how to do live reporting.  There are different schools and different approaches, that is for sure.  And I am being sincere when I say that they all have merit.  There are multiple perfectly valid approaches to the task, which is not an enviable one. It is an expensive endeavor. Each event you not only need to pay the day rates of people familiar with poker and the players on the Circuit, you also have to get them to the tournament and put them in a bed while they are there.  Most sites don’t include food per diem for their writers and many reporters are asked to do more than just report. They are asked to take photos, find Tweets, send Tweets, conduct interviews on breaks, and write recaps.

I admit that, as someone who employs live reporters for our Circuit events, I ask a lot of them.  I would like to think they are reasonably compensated, but there are nonetheless long days that can take their toll on people.  I value the work they do more than I can ever put into words.

I thought I would put up a part of the content guide I passed along to our live reporting team just to add to the conversation and share my point of view about the way I like to go about live reporting. There is a lot more beyond this, but this is what I call “Jess’s Three Commandments of Live Reporting”: 

Trying to cover an entire poker tournament from start to finish is no easy task. Much like the game of poker, the game of tournament reporting is one of incomplete information. Unlike poker, our job is not to hazard guesses about the pieces of info we don’t have. Our job is to do the best to tell the story of the tournament using only the information we have. We don’t prognosticate, we don’t editorialize, and we never assume to know anything.

Before we get into the specific stylistic approach of WSOP Live Reporting, here are three key points about our larger approach to covering a poker tournament:

1. ABC: Always Be Counting Consider this my version of the Glengarry Glenross speech. When you are covering a poker tournament, you should always be counting chips.  The entire tournament is about acquiring and holding onto chips, so being aware of how many chips people have is top priority. Don’t go out to the tables searching for hands. Instead, go searching for chip counts. Pick up where you left off the last time on the floor and just keep counting until you inevitably come across a hand worth watching. There is no division of labor on this team. We all chip in (heh, no pun intended) to do updates and counts. No one is above counting chips. Not even Ty Stewart.

Oftentimes, you’ll find a story much more interesting than a hand by focusing on chip stacks. You’ll notice someone doubled up and can inquire where their chips came from, which is much more interesting than a 12 beeb pot that involves two players you recognize.

2.     No One, and I Mean No One, Cares How You Think a Hand Was Played

This may seem harsh. It is intended to be. It is true though. The players don’t care how we think they play, they just care we get the action right. The readers at home don’t care how you think a hand was played either. While there are plenty of updates sites that use an (oftentimes very entertaining) editorializing approach to recounting hands, this is not something we do. As the official live updates of the WSOP itself, it is of the utmost importance that we remain completely impartial in how we report on hands.  We do not comment on whether a play was good or bad. We do not comment on how we would play it. If a hand is terrible, those reading it can conclude it is terrible without us telling them as much.

That is not to say we don’t encourage color. If one player at the table berates another player at the table, type it on up. While we do not comment on people’s play, we can report when someone has an opinion about a hand.  The color of live updates is in these exchanges. Calling the flop anything else but the flop isn’t going to make the hand more interesting. Capturing the dialogue, a player’s nonverbal actions, and the action of the hand will though.

3.     Live Updating is Bigger Than One Hand at a Time

Live updating a poker tournament isn’t just about finding a hand and then another hand and then another hand. These micro pieces of content add up to a bigger picture, and each day of the tournament that picture is going to look a little different. On Day 1, the big picture is the story of who is there, how many players there are, the history of the event, and the fun stories of prop bets and table talk that we don’t often get on the later days.  On Day 2, the focus shifts to prize pool, the money bubble, and the quest to make the final table. By Day 3, it is all about the action, which is why we will do everything in our power to capture every play at the final table.

In order to convey those big pictures on their respective days, the small pieces of the puzzle need to change accordingly. On Day 1, tracking bustouts takes precedent over hand histories of small pots. We would rather see photos of friends sitting together than a blind vs. blind battle when they check it down. On Day 2, the hands become easy to find, but that doesn’t mean we should lose sight of things like POY or Casino Champion races.

Moral of the story: Every time you write a post, be it a hand update, a bustout, or an embedded Tweet, ask yourself how it is helping to tell the larger story of the tournament. Don’t ever feel like you need to post something just to post something.  Your micro post should help tell the macro story.

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