3 GREAT STORIES: Starring “Mercer 78, Duke 71”

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.

A significant role of the media is to chronicle the major events of our society.

If something captures the attention of the nation this week, I should ideally be able to look back in five years and remember how we all discussed and covered it.

And I should also be able to relive how the various spectacles and sideshows that surrounded it.

In the moment, though, we tend to share the spectacles and sideshows as much as the actual events.

This past Friday, 14-seed Mercer stunned the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Online the following day, I saw a slew of articles getting shared about it — not about the game, but about what made it more than a game.

Here are three such stories that did their job exceedingly well:

Duke loses, world wins (3/21/14, New Yorker): How strange for staffers at the New Yorker to see this article atop its “Most E-Mailed” list.

Despite some strong competition in the Top 5, this was Number 1.

Web writer Ian Crouch writes a short-but-sweet reaction piece … from the first-person perspective of a Duke fan. If the rest of the country is basking in the schadenfreude of Duke’s loss, Crouch writes, he can at least play his part as the fan everyone loves to hate:

Being a fan is foolish, and yet, as your scorn has grown over the years, rooting for Duke has felt more like an expression of a fraught identity than a simple sports preference. Still, I am not asking for your sympathy, or even your understanding. I’d hate me, too. So, until next year, go Mercer!

Crouch smartly avoids playing the sympathy card, instead choosing to focus on the pathos of life as a Duke fan. He is a deft writer, too, which only helps this enjoyable entry.

A stunning upset, but what was that dance? Meet the “Nae Nae” (3/21/14, Slate): This article seems ready-made for the read-it-and-share-it model.

At the end of the game, a Mercer player named Kevin Canevari did an impromptu performance of a recently viral dance, which turned that dance into an even bigger craze.

Aisha Harris of Slate’s Culture Blog helpfully puts together a visual history of the dance, from its origins in Atlanta to its current widespread fame. Filled with links to and videos of performances, one can consume this piece in a few minutes and claim a great deal of knowledge.

And, much like the dance itself, the article is simply fun.

A dance spreads joy for Mercer (3/21/14, New York Times): But then, there’s this.

In the New York Times’ article about the Nae Nae, writer Jon Caramanica submits one of the best lead sentences I have read in a while:

In Mercer’s 78-71 upset victory over Duke on Friday in the N.C.A.A. tournament, the senior guard Kevin Canevari had zero points, one assist and one spontaneous outburst of joy gone viral.

Caramanica chronicles the dance’s history with a much more literary approach, adding some perspective to the hysteria. To me, a journalist should always seek to provide context, and while many of today’s click-bait providers forget that, credit the Times and Carmanica for remembering that long-term goal.

His second-to-last paragraph is nearly as strong as his first:

Five years ago, a dance like the Nae Nae might have been a regional dance craze that would have taken time to seep out to the rest of the country, and into pop consciousness. But now a few young men in Atlanta can create a dance that in weeks becomes a lingua franca to legions of young people. Their region is the world.

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

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