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Dec 15 / King Kaufman

ESPN’s Van Natta’s Sunday Long Reads: 10 great pieces curated weekly

Pretty soon we’re going to start seeing lists of the best sportswriting of 2014, and I’ll try to collect them on the B/R Blog so you and I can make sure we catch up on any great writing we’ve missed.

One way to get a pile of great writing every week year-round is to follow ESPN senior writer Don Van Natta Jr.’s Sunday Long Reads. It’s a list of 10 great pieces of long-form journalism chosen by Van Natta and Jacob Feldman, a Harvard undergraduate who writes for the Crimson.

This week’s list includes three sports stories, if you count pro wrestling as a sport. Either way, The Legend of Panther Girl, by Jeff Maysh in Victory Journal, has the top spot. The other two sports pieces are Jordan Ritter Conn’s Grantland profile of Tommy Gaines, a basketball legend turned drug addict, and Seth Wickersham’s ESPN story about Scot McCloughan, a wildly successful NFL talent evaluator who’s out of the business.

Other pieces cited cover ISIS, neonaticide, the mess at The New Republic and more.

You can subscribe to an email newsletter of the weekly list or just check Van Natta’s Twitter feed every Sunday.

A good first goal would be to read all 10 stories every week. A good second goal would be to make the list. Good luck.

Dec 12 / King Kaufman

Digiday on five major trends in the media business in 2014

Today’s entry in keeping up with the media biz is a Digiday piece headlined What we learned about publishing in 2014. Writer Lucia Moses runs down five big trends in the industry, which are:

  • Journalists don’t like to be “disrupted” and shoved into a “vertically integrated media company.”
  • Social hasn’t been the death knell of publishers—at least, not yet.
  • New business models flourished.
  • It’s a native world—as in native advertising.
  • The pageview’s not dead, but it’s got competition.

Moses elaborates on each of the five. It’s short, and worth the brief read.

Dec 11 / King Kaufman

Bleacher Report writer Kelsey McCarson fights undefeated Jermell Charlo

Kelsey McCarson, a boxing writer for Bleacher Report and The Sweet Science, got into the ring last week for four one-minute rounds with undefeated junior middleweight contender Jermell Charlo.

And lived to tell the tale.

“I didn’t expect to be able to think as clearly as I could,” McCarson told me via email. The writer, who is, uh, a heavyweight, worked out hard for six weeks at the same Houston gym where Charlo trains. “I thought once he punched me I’d lose my composure, but that never really happened. The first round was the most anxious of the four, but that’s because the adrenaline hit me and I was flustered about how fast he was. He was so fast!”

In the Boxing Channel video of the sparring match, there’s a great moment when McCarson walks back to his corner shaking his head after one of the rounds. His trainer chuckles, “Yeah, he’s fast.”

Charlo and McCarson traded leather as a fund-raiser for 6-year-old Corbin Glasscock, a friend of McCarson’s from Tyler, Texas. Corbin was diagnosed with bone cancer in October, and he and his family were at the match, according to Boxing Channel. The event raised about $8,000 for the family, McCarson said.

Donations are still being accepted at GoFundMe/TeamCorbin.

I asked McCarson what it was like to get in the ring with a world-class fighter in his prime.

“I knew how much better he’d be than me, so I wasn’t surprised about that,” he said. “But I still thought he wouldn’t be able to be so close to me and not get hit very much. But he could pretty much do whatever he wanted in there.”

McCarson said Charlo clearly went easy on him, though the fighter did land a straight left that snapped McCarson’s head back, “and he landed some pretty decent body blows every round.”

McCarson said his ribs hurt the day after the fight, but when we spoke three days later: “My nose hurts. My neck hurts. My shoulders hurt. My back. It’s bad. I liken it to whiplash after a car accident. It’s that bad, bordering on excruciating at times.”

Well, you have to suffer for your art, or in this case, your sweet science.

Once the pain subsides, the lefty McCarson will always have the memory of landing a double right hook, to the body and head. “I’m pretty sure he didn’t expect me capable of throwing the combination, so that’s why it landed so well,” he said. “That was my shining moment!”

Dec 10 / King Kaufman

PBS MediaShift on getting sportswriters out of their comfort zone

As a followup to yesterday’s B/R Blog post about how journalists should prepare for the future—by acquiring deep knowledge—here’s a piece on PBS MediaShift headlined “How to Teach Sports Journalists to Get Out of Their Comfort Zone.”

Writer Molly Yanity, a longtime sportswriter who now teaches at Quinnipiac University, is talking to other journalism teachers, but as I wrote yesterday, anyone with an eye to having a future in media, which means a career of adapting, can benefit from the advice.

Let’s start by not letting a sports team be a beat for class and suggest the student cover an issue related to the entire department instead. Maybe it is gender issues and athletics. Or, perhaps it is law, university policy and the athletics program.

This forces students out of the routine and into a completely different mindset. The student must identify complex story ideas, conduct difficult interviews, analyze public documents, consider different forms of media for presentation and still search for feel-good stories not found in press releases.

It also guides students to think unilaterally about a topic that sustains their attention for a long period of time.

It forces them to care.

Imagine if a major news outlet assigned a reporter to the NFL & off-field issues beat. The stories would be diverse, informative, ahead of the breaking news curve and serve a real purpose in society outside of fantasy football.

Yanity also suggests that writer be aware of historical context, and that they find ways to care. That is, work on stories that actually mean something. She cites Kate Fagan’s Brittney Griner profile for ESPN, “Owning the Middle,” as an example.

Dec 9 / King Kaufman

ASU professor: The key journalism skill of the future is deep knowledge

Bleacher Report NFL writer Michael Schottey passes along a Chronicle of Higher Education piece headlined To Prepare 21st-Century Journalists, Help Students Become Experts.

The piece, by G. Pascal Zachary, a professor at Arizona State’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is aimed at other journalism educators, but any “21st-century journalists” can benefit from its ideas. Zachary argues that journalism educators who are responding to changes in the media business are putting too much emphasis on teaching students how to use new digital tools. This has “become a new orthodoxy, a meek response to the radical changes in who journalists are and what they do.”

The truth is that good journalism depends on expertise that arises from subject-area mastery, deep engagement with rigorous disciplines, and interdisciplinary skills. As journalism schools embrace digital tools as a solution to threatened extinction, journalism consumed by the wider public is increasingly created by experts who reach mass audiences directly through TED talks, blogs, articles, and tweets, for example. Think of Paul Krugman, an economist now best known for his journalism on economics, public policy, and world affairs. Or Nate Silver, who also holds economics degrees and is among a handful of the hottest journalists on the planet.

Zachary writes that when he began his career in the 1970s, he “thrived on a kind of arbitrage. I went to City Hall and observed a meeting. I went to the police station and got a report. I acted as intermediary between a star athlete and his fans. The days of arbitrage journalism are long gone. Journalists instead need deep knowledge.” He concludes:

The creative destruction of journalism as an occupation remains in full swing. Much is uncertain, but this much is clear: In an era of pervasive digital networks that instantly deliver news with scant human help, the successful journalist will be, above all, a knowledge maker.

Food for thought, and it leads to an important question: What do you know?

Note: “Scant human help” refers to algorithm-generated journalism.

Dec 8 / King Kaufman

News as a “product”: What does that mean? No, really: What does “product” mean?

You may have been following the story of the bloodbath at The New Republic in the last week.

Here’s a Huffington Post lede to get you up to speed if not:

NEW YORK—Dozens of staff members and contributing editors at The New Republic resigned en masse Friday morning, less than 24 hours after top editors Franklin Foer and Leon Wieseltier quit over a dispute with management over the magazine’s direction.

New Republic owner Chris Hughes and newly installed CEO Guy Vidra announced Thursday they were repositioning the 100-year-old magazine to become a “vertically integrated digital media company.” They hired Gabriel Snyder, who previously ran Gawker and The Wire, and was most recently at Bloomberg Media, to be its new editor-in-chief.

We don’t need to get into the guts of the dispute between Hughes, a Facebook founder who says TNR must modernize to become a sustainable business, and the old-school journalists who quit as a group, accusing Hughes of replacing journalism values with, in the words of a person quoted by the Daily Beast, “Silicon Valley jargon.”

But it’s worth reading two pieces that get into the use of the word “product,” which we talked about on the B/R Blog recently.

Jay Rosen of NYU created a Storify around some tweets that he says shows a disconnect between how journalists and technologists understand that word. I’ll stitch four of Rosen’s own tweets together to show his central argument:

Technologists tend to ask what the “product” should be, and they know what they mean by that. Product = “what the users interact with.” To technologists, “product” is always changing because tech changes, platforms rise and fall, user habits shift, what works evolves, etc. For journalists, “what should the product be?” is an EASY question to answer. Should be great journalism! Big stories. Brilliant writing. Because of this disconnect around “product,” technologists and journalists talk past one another. Result: “dinosaurs denounce buzzwords.”

Dave Winer, a pioneering software developer and writer who used to do a podcast with Rosen called “Rebooting the News,” writes that as a technologist, he thinks about “product” exactly how Rosen says technologists think about it. Addressing “news people,” Winer writes:

Maybe The New Republic editors were a little hasty? Maybe it was just a language disconnect. I think perhaps you guys just realized there is a world out there that doesn’t think the way you do. Is that really so bad?? For all of our lunacy tech really has produced some good stuff, over the years.

I can’t tell you whether you should embrace a so-called Silicon Valley approach to journalism or stand and fight for old-school journalism. But whichever side you’re on, I think it’s worthwhile to work hard at understanding what everyone involved is really saying, and, as Winer suggests, considering the possibility that someone else’s way of looking at the world might be valid.

Innovation is the dominant theme in the media business in the last decade or two, and innovation always starts with someone looking at the world in a different way.

Dec 5 / King Kaufman

Good news for writers: Writing can be good for your health

Here’s some feel-good good news, writers: Writing is good for you. That’s according to this piece at mic.com by Rachel Grate.

She writes:

No matter the quality of your prose, the act of writing itself leads to strong physical and mental health benefits, like long-term improvements in mood, stress levels and depressive symptoms. In a 2005 study on the emotional and physical health benefits of expressive writing, researchers found that just 15 to 20 minutes of writing three to five times over the course of the four-month study was enough to make a difference.

Grate also writes about studies that show that “people with asthma who write have fewer attacks than those who don’t; AIDS patients who write have higher T-cell counts. Cancer patients who write have more optimistic perspectives and improved quality of life.”

She’s talking about “expressive writing”—writing about your feelings or about a trauma or illness you’ve suffered. I’m unaware of any studies showing that writing, say, an NBA draft prospects slideshow will have physical and mental health benefits. But maybe nobody’s thought to study it yet.

Another thing about expressive writing, though, even 15 to 20 minutes of it at a time: It’s got a good chance of making your sportswriting better too.

Dec 4 / King Kaufman

NPR editor admonishes wordsmiths: Abnegate ostentatious locutions

Good advice in a memo by NPR standards & practices editor Mark Memmott: When Looking For The Right Words, Beware Of “Imagined Elegance.”

The phrase comes from that old standby, Strunk and White, quoted here from the entry on the word “transpire”:

“Not to be used in the sense of ‘happen,’ ‘come to pass.’ Many writers so use it (usually when groping toward imagined elegance), but their usage finds little support in the Latin ‘breathe across or through.’”

I have all kinds of problems with Strunk and White, and I would ask in this case: Who cares what the Latin anything has to say? We’re not speaking Latin. The old slavish devotion to Latin, a language that is, not to put to fine a point on it, dead, gave us dumb rules like not splitting infinitives.

But, to end the digression, “groping toward imagined elegance” is an elegant way of describing what we do when we reach for a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do, in the supposed words of Mark Twain, also cited by Memmott in the memo.

Memmott rightly points out that “There are times to use $5 words.” Sometimes le mot juste is a fancy one. But here’s a better point: “There is a real—not imagined—elegance to clear, simple story-telling.”

Dec 3 / King Kaufman

Users moving away from open social media to closed platforms: What does it mean?

Think you’ve got a pretty good handle on social media? Good! But it’s getting disrupted.

John McDermott of Digiday writes:

The social media pendulum is in full swing, and latest trends do not necessarily bode well for the likes of Facebook: Internet users — especially young ones — are starting to shirk large, inherently open social media platforms for the sanctity of more “closed” platforms that allow for more private, one-to-one and group messaging.

And that has potentially profound implications for social media distribution: If Internet users continue to shift their sharing activity to messaging apps, then brands and publishers will also have to shift their focuses away from Facebook and Twitter, and find ways to interject themselves into supposedly private conversations. Indeed, Twitter recently made it easier to use its direct-messaging feature, seemingly to combat this trend.

Leading this transition are WhatsApp and Snapchat, two multibillion-dollar businesses built upon allowing hundreds of millions of users send one another text, photo and video messages.

McDermott offers a closer look at four leading messaging apps—WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Snaphat and Kik—including “a breakdown of how people, publishers and brands are trying to take advantage of them.” He also takes a quick look at “the best of the rest,” Line, WeChat and Frankly.

Dec 2 / King Kaufman

Journalism.co.uk recommends 10 Firefox add-ons for journalists

I’m not always conscientious about staying up to date with all the apps, extensions and add-ons that can make my life as a writer, editor and all-around content producer easier and better and happier. Every once in a while I’m an early adopter and I feel smart. Far more often, I try something after people have been talking about it for ages and I find myself thinking, “Why didn’t I try this years ago?”

I’m looking at you, Evernote.

I’m hoping to at least feel smart, even if I’m not an early adopter, after I run through the suggestions in 10 Firefox add-ons for journalists at the British site Journalism.co.uk.

The add-ons include tools for boookmarking, image searching and editing, social media management and more. I’ve never used any of them, so I guess what I’m hoping for, as I set out to test drive them, is 10 shouts of “Why didn’t I try this years ago?”