Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Show and Tell

I read a lot of New Yorker and New York Times profiles ranging from Taylor Swift to Michelle Obama to Paul Higgis and Scientology. None of the profiles really gave me a sense of the "real" person behind the fame, which is something that I look for in a profile -- a deeper sense of the subject.  So I kept looking for something else and stumbled upon "Notable Narratives" from the Nieman Storyboard website. From 2006 to 2010, the Nieman Narrative Digest featured "outstanding examples of narrative journalism drawn from newspapers, magazines, radio and television." I pulled a few articles here and there and finally found one that hooked me.

"Remember His Name" by Gary Smith was published in Sports Illustrated in 2006, about Pat Tillman's service/death in the military told through the lens of Tillman's friend Russ Baer. Tillman played in the NFL for the Cardinals and enlisted in the Army after the 9/11 attack, and was killed in friendly fire in 2004 that was covered up by the military.

What I finally found in Smith's story, that I couldn't find in the profiles I had read, was a sense of character. Smith really uncovers the complexity of Tillman -- he wasn't your average red-blooded patriot that you would expect from someone who leaves a lucrative football career and joins the army. He was an atheist, and he didn't always (if ever) agree with the political situation in Afghanistan. This article isn't the best piece of narrative that I've read -- at times it can be a little jarring as it is told through the lens of Tillman's friend, and it is quite long -- however, the sense of character is incredibly strong and well done. Smith always does a good job in recreating scene weaving in elements from Tillman's past, military involvement and Russ's present situation.

Although using Russ as a lens was at time a little confusing, as I mentioned, I also thought that it was a really interesting way to frame the story. The beginning and the ending are strongly linked and I really enjoyed the overall setup. I always struggle with ledes and how to enter in to in article and Smith has really given me a lot to think about. 

Here's the link in case you want to check it out:

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