An Experiment in Experience Journalism

JUPITER, Fla. — During my senior year at Mizzou, I finally got to take a class I’d been eying since entering the School of Journalism. I don’t recall the number — it was somewhere in the 300s — but I do remember the unofficial title we had for it: our immersion project.

An exercise in long-form journalism, the semester’s assignment was to plant yourself inside a story, wallow in it for more than a month, and then emerge with a deep, penetrating and, in some cases, personal story about the experience. In short, the idea was to immerse yourself in the story. Today, we might call this embedding. Students would work at shelters. They would ride along with a high school team for a season. They’d go through a round of cancer treatments with the family of a patient. I spent my semester entrenched in the Kenny Hulshof campaign for Congress, and by the end I was able to chronicle from behind closed doors how a Republican won Missouri’s ninth district for the first time in more than Continue reading

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A Computer’s Coming for My Job

TOWER GROVE — Over the past couple weeks, I’ve spent some time updating the book I wrote on the Cardinals for a new edition that will include the 2011 World Series and Tony La Russa’s retirement. The final update was completed last week from a hotel room in Curacao, which is fitting because some of the previous book was written off the coast of Greece. The book is more well-traveled than it deserves.

The trick with the update was to write something I’ve written dozens of times before — hey, did you hear that the Cardinals came back from 10 1/2 games back in August? No, seriously, it happened! And Game 6, wasn’t that great? — with fresh sentences. I kept stumbling into familiar phrases. Unforgettable. Underachievers. Unexpected. These were verbal blankies that I kept wrapping around my copy because they’re cozy and reliable. I was unable to avoid all of them because there are only so many ways to peel the same onion.

That said, I hope I was able to keep from sounding repetitive. The worst thing to do would be to become so numbed by writing about the events (again) that the emotion, thrill and drama is sucked out of the description. The writer has to remember the reader may be visiting these stories for the first time, and the writer owes that reader the same verve.

Or else, the story will seem … well, robotic.

There’s that word again. Continue reading

The Day the Picayune Was Born

TOWER GROVE — One afternoon in Lafayette, La., I had some time to kill before meeting New York Yankees great Ron Guidry at his night job with the Bayou Bullfrogs and, as luck would have it, the Cajun capital had a bookstore built for killing time.

This was my first full year out of college and my first full summer at The New Orleans Times-Picayune. A news tip from a friend who knew about my dream of covering baseball had taken me west over the Atchafalaya to Lafayette and Guidry’s home for a story on Louisiana Lightning’s unexpected role with an independent league baseball team in his hometown. By sheer luck, the day I spent with Guidry was the 20th anniversary of his 18-strikeout game in 1978, the centerpiece of one of the best season’s by a pitcher since Bob Gibson set the standard in 1968. Gator was a colorful host and we agreed to meet at the ballpark so I could sit in the bullpen with him “and his boys” during the game. He just needed a few hours to clean up, finish chores … fish, whatever. The hours I spent with Guidry are a story for another day.

This is about the hours I spent away from him — and the book I found as a result. Continue reading

The Ballad of a Fallen Newspaper Box

LOUISVILLE, Colo. — As a kid one of my daily destinations was the entry into our subdivision at the corner of Hoover Avenue and whatever that length of Cherry Street was called that week (Bella Vista?). There, every morning, no matter the weather — rain, snow, sleet or sun-drenched — I found a new gift to unwrap. I could count on it being something different every time I went. Sometimes it would contain a surprise or two. And, as I opened this present each day, I knew it would contain exactly what I wanted.

On that corner was, of course, a street box with that day’s newspaper.

To be honest, there were three boxes — one from each of the area’s big daily papers: The Rocky Mountain News, The Denver Post, and Boulder’s Daily Camera. On summer days, I’d grab a quarter from my Thundercats change cup and pedal my bike or ride my skateboard to the street box to buy the morning paper. If I didn’t have a quarter, I’d (ahem) borrow one from my father’s change dish. I had to have enough to buy the Rocky. That was the purpose of the trip. If I happened to have a few extra quarters that day I’d buy the other papers as well. You never knew if that was the day the Post would run a picture of a New York Yankee on its baseball page. This was my routine. It became my inspiration.

My trips to the newspaper boxes, or “single-copy” boxes, at the corner of Hoover and Cherry is a foreign concept to my son. Why ride when you can log on? Before the Internet, the Web and the one-click access to the world’s newspapers that everyone has today, this was the only way to get the info I craved. I could wait a week or so for my subscription to Baseball America or USA Baseball Weekly to arrive, or I could go get the morning paper and have access to the stats and standings and pictures from the previous day’s games (minus those pesky late games in Oakland and Seattle). The morning paper met me at the single-copy box. In modern terms, I was the Foursquare mayor of that corner.

I came each day for the box scores.

I came to love the newspaper. Continue reading