‘My story: What happened when I decided to run for FIFA president’ and ‘Dylan Favre’s Roller-Coaster Life in Uncle Brett’s Shadow’ Analysis
As soon as I heard that Grant Wahl and Jeff Pearlman would be joining our class, I knew I could expect some fascinating anecdotes and beneficial advice. Not that I’ve ever had a negative experience with any of the many writers that I have had the opportunity to interact with before, but I already knew these are two guys who really stand out from the crowd.
Wahl is fully ingrained in the world of soccer, which I not only appreciate as a big fan of the sport, but because its media horde is so much different – at least in America – than the more traditional sports, like football, basketball and baseball. Instead of the usual never-ending congregation of writers and personalities that come with the other aforementioned sports, every soccer media type in the United States knows every other soccer media type in the United States – or at least that’s the way it seems to me – because it’s really a pretty small group. Chances are you’re not fighting 10 other guys for the same story.
Pearlman, on the other hand, is in his own world. I don’t say that as a bad thing; in fact, I admire it. Especially for a sportswriter, the path he has taken has been a bit unusual to say the least. I think I would be hard-pressed to find another prominent journalist who left a big-time job at Sports Illustrated to go do something completely different, which he did when he left for Newsday. But from my previous interactions with him through Skype (and reading his blog), he’s not one to follow norms. That’s why he will do a story from an angle no one else will.
This leads me to my point. Each writer’s story that we read ahead of our talks with them were classic examples of what they do and who they are.
Wahl wrote a first-person account about the time he attempted a run for FIFA president. Seriously, how many times has that been done or will ever be done again? Surely, he gets an ‘A’ for creativity without even reading a word of the piece.
Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the story, though, at least from an analysis standpoint, is the voice he creates. Obviously, he’s writing a story about himself so he is literally going to be in the story, but he’s gaining practical experience in a very unique way.
Conventionally, first person outside of columns or blogs is deemed a no-no; people aren’t there to read about the writer. But in times when first person – or just the techniques in general – may be implemented, a story of this style has to help.
And somewhat unrelated, I particularly liked the answer I received about language barriers in the sport, especially when you’re attempting to build a rapport. Some of the top players in the world, or in this case top officials, speak Spanish, Portuguese, French or German but little to no English. Well, there are a couple of ways around that I learned and not just the obvious answer of simply hiring a translator. I’m not sure that this was a huge issue for this particular story, but if it had, Wahl seems to be enough of a pro about it that it wouldn’t have changed a thing from the way it turned out.
Then there’s Pearlman who went the extra mile in writing about a football legend’s talented but troubled nephew. Like his uncle Brett Favre, Dylan Favre is a gun-slinging quarterback from Mississippi, who broke all sorts of records (in high school). Dylan had a bit of the moxie and star power like his uncle, but in almost story you could find about him, one little factoid was nearly impossible to escape: Brett Favre’s nephew.
First, it’s pretty admirable that Pearlman even did this story at all. At the time of this feature, Dylan’s once bright future was almost officially at a close with few positives to pull from him anymore.
In terms of the work itself, though, the only reason it turned out as well as it did, in my opinion, is due to its structure. Rather than hoping all the different parts of Dylan’s story flowed seamlessly together, Pearlman divvied up the story into 13 sections. When there are so many layers to be told, it’s hard to avoid writing what I like to call chapters. Without them or some sort of other text break, longforms can sometimes grow tiresome or difficult to read. Pearlman prevented that from happening.
I didn’t get a chance to ask, but I’m still not entirely certain in how one should go about the process in writing these sort of chapters in a piece. Do they just occur to you at some point in the reporting process like a lede may, or can you only really plot them out once you sit down and begin writing? I like to use them myself, but I would say I probably struggle a bit on how I want to use them when I go that route.
Oh, and yes, Wahl and Pearlman did meet my expectations.