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Apr 17 / King Kaufman

Lessons for sportswriters from the author of a classic soccer book

The Columbia Journalism Review remembered Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano this week with a piece by Anna Clark headlined 4 things sports writers can learn from Eduardo Galeano.

Galeano, who died Monday at 74. Here’s how the Guardian described him in its obituary: “Although Galeano wrote novels, he was a radical journalist by trade, a poet and an artist, and a brilliant editor. He was famous for pioneering a form of political essay built on his encyclopedic knowledge of Latin America’s past.”

But, as Clark notes, “He also wrote one of the signature books in all of sports literature: Soccer in Sun and Shadow.

Here are the four lessons sportswriters can learn from Galeano, according to Clark:

1) Longform isn’t the only way to write an epic sports story

2) You don’t have to choose between cynicism and idealism

3) Be transparent about what you don’t know

4) Don’t be afraid of deep history

As this piece by Atlantic editor James Bennet notes, we’ve made a virtue of length in the digital age, with “longform” becoming its own niche in journalism, a category of stories notable for, well, their length. Galeano wrote in short vignettes, which together formed a whole. Readers find themselves jumping rapidly from one point of view to another. Clark writes:

These quick pivots show how a sports story doesn’t need the padding of rhetoric to be about large things. It is a welcome contrast to the legions of journalists who believe that the only way to go more in-depth with a sports story is to write long. No doubt that feature-length work can be extraordinary—Grantland and SB Nation Longform are two of the most welcome additions to the sports media landscape of the last decade. But too often, word count is seen as a shortcut to substance. As Galeano reveals, sports writers should take account of all their storytelling choices before automatically opting for a 4,000-word think piece.

That’s a lesson I learned fairly recently, that there are lots of ways to tell good, and even deep, stories. It doesn’t only have to be a “magazine” piece, a long narrative.

Clark expands on the other three lessons in the piece as well, and those points are worth exploring.