3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Cleveland, graffiti, & Moneyball

Every week, I shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Cleveland mayor Frank Jackson says arbitration process keeps bad cops on police force (2/27/15, Cleveland Plain Dealer): As the city of Cleveland continues to face massive local and national scrutiny for the actions of its police force, its largest newspaper showed a great way this week of elevating the discussion with informative coverage.

The staff took what could have been a simple daily news story — the mayor holding a press conference and speaking out against the arbitration process on disciplined officers — and turned it into something deeper. In addition to the straightforward recap of the mayor’s comments, the newspaper focused on five specific arbitration cases and broke them down in a meaningful way.

News outlets are constantly looking for these kinds of “see for yourself” applications to major stories. The Plain Dealer included on its web site both summaries and the actual documents from the selected arbitration cases. This is empowering information for anyone who chooses to use it.

Richmond District gets ‘love letter’ on wall of abandoned building (2/25/15, KTVU-TV): Here, on the other hand, is a TV news piece made marvelous by its beautiful simplicity.

Noelle Walker of San Francisco’s FOX affiliate reports on a giant white sheet that partially covers a boarded up wall at a seemingly abandoned Richmond District building. On the sheet, someone wrote in giant letters: “BEFORE I DIE”, and ever since passers-by have written their responses.

This is one of those make-you-smile stories of a community connecting, and Walker adds to it with her elegant writing. Beyond that, photographer Ryan Oliveira uses some sharp shooting and editing techniques — namely fastening the camera at one wider vantage point and then dissolving between people’s interactions — that bring a crisp energy to a touching story.

Moneyball II (2/26/15, Grantland): Of the many talented voices on the Grantland web site, Bryan Curtis always seems to impress me the most.

He presents well-thought discussions about topics you never knew needed discussion, and for the third time in this space, I find myself praising his work.

In this case, Curtis expands upon the latest salvo in the debate over analytics in sports: Charles Barkley’s takedown of “smart guys … with no talent” who “came up with analytics”.

But he doesn’t just offer his take. Curtis brings the conversation to another level by dissecting its subtext: the push-and-pull between athletes and journalists. Much like his “Donating Your Body to Sportswriting” piece from last year, Curtis deftly describes the uneasy interplay between these groups:

One thing that’s hard for sportswriters to understand is that writing an article is by its nature an aggressive act. Every time we write, we are claiming a piece of the game for ourselves: I understand this in a way that you, the athlete, do not. This is no less true of the guy who uses sabermetrics than it was of the guy who sat in a drafty press box, pulled Camels out of his wide-lapelled sports coat, and used two fingers to peck away on his Underwood.

This is honest work. Even noble, in a certain light. But it’s also part of a power struggle. And using numbers to say someone ought to be unemployed doesn’t make the news go down any easier. “If anything, it’s tougher when someone does it with numbers, because it has at least a patina of objectivity,” said Neyer. The writer insists it’s not personal, but the athlete sees it as highly personal.

Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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