First off, congrats to Michaela and Clara on publishing stories. I’ve started a list, linked on the home page, to collect the class work. Got something you loved/are proud of and want it up there even if it doesn’t get published? No problem: Edit, revise, and post on Medium. It will be a slicker version for linking to clips/sending to referrals (or parents).
Moving forward, here’s what’s on the docket:
File your personal essays by 8 PM. Guidelines:
- Either tell a personal story that becomes universal (“the turn”) in some way, as I attempted to do about my dad and basketball, or write a personal story off a shared/universal/news event, as Greg Howard did with Obama.
- Write at least 700 words and no more than 1,300. I’m holding you to that upper limit. Write more for yourself, if you’d like, but turn in 1,300 max. Writing short is a skill.
- Need inspiration? Here’s Roxane Gay on weight loss surgery. Kyle Korver on white privilege in the NBA. Henley O’Brien (a pseudonym) on competition and coaches (one of my favorite first person essays in the sports overlap category, or elsewhere). Dan Kois on biking in a place where everyone bikes (Daniel alert!) Jill Lepore on loss. Or revisit our friend Rohan’s essay.
- Need help with structure? Start with the most dramatic moment in your personal anecdote/history, leave us hanging, fill in context and backstory, then take us forward, resolve it and make it universal.
- Or, seen another way: This happened to me (the specific personal stuff) and here is what I learned from it or how it changed me/my outlook (the universal) that might apply to other lives (the larger truths/realities).
- No class.
- By the end of the day, I should have heard what you’re hoping to do for your first two-week story, or we should have at least exchanged ideas. You’ve had months to prepare, so no excuses.
- File a written idea pitch to me by 10 AM for your first two-week idea (or four-week idea) and prepare to pitch it in front of Mirin as well.
- Prepare for our guest, Mirin Fader, a talented, dogged longform writer at B/R. She’s early in her career, is a narrative journalism junkie, and finds and writes the kind of stories other journalists wish they’d written. You can find her site and bio here and she’s here on Twitter.
- Read the following stories from Mirin, as we’ll take the opportunity to do a deep dive on process and structure. Here are her descriptions:
- Women’s soccer and brain trauma – A good society one, and also a lesson in dogged reporting because the big stars like Wambach, etc, who donated their brain, weren’t ready to talk, so I had to work around them and vet tons of women before I found the right stories to include. A lesson too in not just featuring ONE woman, but 3–a multi-voice narrative, 3 generations of women, because sometimes when you include one person’s story, it is easy to dismiss as, oh it’s just this one individual case. But when you have 3 age groups of women, and their stories, you start to realize this isn’t just one person’s story. I got so many emails from women’s soccer players saying, omg, this is my story, thank you for sharing what I’ve been experiencing. I’ve felt alone and in the dark. So I think this is the goal of writing, right? How can we tell stories that are human and can speak to universal themes. Include science, but not let the narrative be swallowed by science/academic treatise tone.
- A May story on Roberto Aguayo. Students who aren’t sports geeks don’t need to know anything about football to understand this story. Just the basic premise is inherently human and societal: how devastating it can be to fail on a public stage, and how ashamed a person can feel when they are trying to cope with being ridiculed publicly. At it’s core, it’s a redemption story. This is a good one to talk about, because, you can’t get to the core of WHY someone failed, in say, a 15 minute interview. He himself was trying to process, these last 3 years, the answer to that question. Why did I fail? Why can’t I kick–this one thing I’ve THRIVED at my entire life? And so, as a reporter, you have to know that the answer to that question is going to take hours and hours of building trust. And you might not ever get a direct answer to that question, but you’re trying to take the reader on a journey inside someone’s mind. So, this was spending every minute with him for 2 days, and could be good to talk about how to interview people about deeply sensitive topics, how to get them to open up and trust you, essentially when they have hated media, and have never told anyone their story before.
I think there’s synergy between women’s soccer and Aguayo. It’s really hard to get people to talk about things they are ashamed of, whether that’s failing in the NFL, or, admitting ‘weakness’ as a result of brain injury (I found a lot of women didn’t want to go on record because they thought if they talked about their pain they’d not be seen as tough, and that’s what women have been fighting to be seen as, for a while in athletics). It’s also about finding topics people aren’t talking about. You want to enter national conversations from fresh vantage points. With CTE and brain trauma, people were only talking about men, about 45-year-old men, about former NFL players. I realized there was a whole other cohort of people dealing with this, they just weren’t being talked about. And then with Aguayo, everyone wants to focus on the bright young stars, the ones who ARE succeeding. People don’t really want to profile failures, but, there is something deeply universal. We all know what it is to fail–we just don’t have to do it publicly like this guy does.