gary smith

LESSONS LEARNED: From role models and inspirations

I am on vacation — and out of commission — for the next two weeks, so I wanted to use this space as a vehicle for reflection.

Since I started the Telling The Story blog last winter, I have written extensively about lessons about storytelling. Many of those have come from fellow journalists and storytellers, who have been great sources of inspiration throughout my career. Here are three of the moments that stand out to me, along with brief snippets from the posts themselves and minor edits for clarity:

Saying goodbye to Gary Smith, this era’s greatest sportswriter: Many journalists crave the thrill of the deadline, the immediacy of breaking news, or the access of being at the center of a giant story. Others, such as myself, feed off of something else.

We feed off of depth.

We feed off of the desire to tell as full a story as possible and to examine a person or issue from as many viewpoints as we can find. We want to tell the whole truth, educating and informing while bringing our world a little closer.

Any journalist who fits that description, and who knew about Gary Smith, had no choice but to envy him.

Smith wrote just four stories a year for Sports Illustrated. But those stories were always powerhouses because Smith, by the time he wrote them, had become such an expert on their subjects. Rick Reilly once wrote that Smith “has a rule. He’s not done researching a subject until he’s interviewed at least fifty people. That’s why [his stories] are often the most unforgettable of the year. They are meticulous in their depth of reporting, nearly preposterous.”

For most journalists, “preposterous” seems accurate. They would love to interview 50 people for a story, but they don’t get the time. They also don’t get the space to unpack the knowledge such expertise would bring. Smith wrote stories that filled 20 pages; most TV reporters get 90 seconds.

Thankfully, given that kind of real estate, Smith never wasted an opportunity. (more…)

PODCAST EPISODE #18: Thomas Lake, senior writer, Sports Illustrated

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Last week I wrote a tribute to the amazing — and newly retired — Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith. I mentioned how I first read one of Smith’s famous long-form, back-of-the-magazine epics as a teenager; I then rediscovered him as a young journalist.

Turns out I wasn’t alone.

One of Smith’s successors at Sports Illustrated — and one of the finest heirs to his long-form legacy — had a similar experience and has reaped the benefits of a rewarding relationship with this sportswriting icon.

That young journalist is Thomas Lake.

His career has taken him from daily newspapers to regional magazines to, currently, the most prestigious sports magazine in the world. And roughly midway through that journey, Lake got a major assist from his future SI colleague.

Lake discusses Smith’s influence, his own work, and advice for young journalists on this episode of the Telling The Story podcast. (more…)

Saying goodbye to Gary Smith, this era’s greatest sportswriter

I think of it as a rite of passage.

When I turned 13 years old, I achieved a religious milestone: my bar-mitzvah, in which a Jewish boy, upon that pivotal birthday, becomes a man. And I cherished it.

But unbeknownst to most of my loved ones – and, to be sure, my rabbi – I had experienced, earlier that year, another giant leap forward that represented, to me, a sign of growth and maturity.

I subscribed to Sports Illustrated.

And, in the process, I cancelled my subscription to Sports Illustrated for Kids.

(Technically, my parents paid for these subscriptions, but let’s not worry about that.)

I could not contain my excitement. An aspiring sportscaster and avid sports fan, I could not wait to start reading a grown-up sports magazine. Like any teenager, grasping at adulthood before reaching it, I wanted to spread my wings in every avenue possible, even in the seemingly frivolous category of magazine readership.

My enthusiasm for the sports themselves, however, was still childlike. When I opened Sports Illustrated each week, I zoomed to the quick hits, short articles, and entertaining pieces that focused on the games and players, as opposed than the stories that surrounded them.

Then I found Gary Smith.

And I read the article that altered my view on sports, sports journalism, and writing – permanently. (more…)

JFK, MLK, and the crafting of a Civil Rights documentary

Rarely, as a local TV news reporter, do I get to spend two weeks on one story.

Rarely does that story get to be eight minutes long.

And rarely do those eight minutes contain an arsenal of powerful interviews from iconic figures.

So, when I received the opportunity to work on such a story earlier this month, I knew it would be special.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington and the “I Have a Dream” speech from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. With that anniversary comes a documentary from my station in Atlanta, WXIA-TV, called “50 Years of Change”, which looks back on not just the famous march but the other major civil rights events of 1963:

  • the declaration, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever!” from Alabama governor George Wallace
  • the child protests in Birmingham
  • the nationally televised speech on civil rights from President Kennedy
  • the murder of Medgar Evers a day later
  • the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham
  • the assassination of President Kennedy

It’s an impressive list. (Last week we screened the documentary for local Atlanta leaders, and roughly three-quarters of the way through, one of the attendees turned around in his chair and remarked, “Man, a lot happened in ’63!”)

I was assigned the final story on the above list: the killing of John F. Kennedy, and what that meant for the civil rights movement. I went down to Dallas for a few days to get footage of the famous spots from the assassination (the book depository building, Dealey Plaza). I also interviewed several people who had been in Dallas that day, one of whom was a radio reporter at the time and stood a half-block away from Kennedy when the assassination occurred. Following that trip, I spent several days simply cobbling together old footage and photos — a difficult task, since most of the footage I wanted came with a price tag that exceeded our budget. Finally, I required two days to edit the whole thing, which included several hours reformatting all the old footage so that it looked consistent.

The process was exhaustive — and absorbing. But of all those arduous tasks, the most important thing I did was seemingly the simplest:

Listening.

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Appreciating the English language, thanks to an Austrian funk band

I have been away for a bit on vacation, hiking the spectacular Dolomite Mountains of northern Italy and seeing views like that in the above photo.

(Not bad, huh?)

Of course, as apparently is my penchant when I go away, I came back with great inspiration for a blog entry.

And, much like the last time, the inspiration came from an unlikely source. On my last trip I was inspired by an article in an in-flight magazine. This time, it came from an Austrian funk band.

This band.

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After the hike, my travel buddy and I stopped for a day in Innsbruck, Austria, a vibrant city whose Old Town blends ornate architecture with youthful verve. Part of that verve, during the summer anyway, comes from a series of outdoor concerts such as this one, which I passed on the way to dinner.

By “passed”, I must admit, I mean “stopped at for 30 minutes”.

(more…)