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Ramona Shelburne’s three tips for writing a “tick-tock” news story

Ramona Shelburne chronicled the forces at work that led to LeBron James (23) becoming a Los Angeles Laker. (Scott Clarke/ESPN Images)

There’s a bit of artistry to writing an impactful “tick-tock” of a major news story. ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne has substantial experience in the format and her latest example takes readers through LeBron James’ decision to join the Los Angeles Lakers and how it impacted not just the Lakers and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but the entire NBA.

For this project though, Shelburne did most of her reporting over the phone.

“I usually travel and parachute into whatever scene we’re writing about (Cleveland in 2014, for instance) or wherever people I need to talk to are going to be,” Shelburne said. “But that’s not an option at seven-and-a-half months pregnant, so I just did phone calls with everyone.

“It made the conversations deeper, I think,” she said. “But perhaps the scenes weren’t as prominent as I have done in the past. In this case though, it didn’t matter because I live in LA and know it well.

“I have a sense now of the format and what I’m looking for, she said. “Each story becomes its own entity because you really just write what you have. Best stuff wins!”

Shelburne shared a few tick-tock assembling and writing tips with Front Row.

  • When I’m reporting in real time (for SportsCenter and The Jump), I file away what I know I will use later for the longer narrative. Then I make extra calls to flesh out the important scenes.
  • I record the quotes and scenes after the initial news rush then I know where to look for more depth, since I’ve already been talking to so many people during the news rush.
  • I have a lot of conversations with my editor on the piece, Cristina Daglas, about the main themes we’re going to hit and how to do so. That’s where the piece takes shape into a narrative, instead of just being a collection of news nuggets.
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