Saturday, September 20, 2008

Words to carry with you

This from a New York Times story on Gary Smith, the terrific Sports Illustrated writer whose pieces immerse you in the story and usually blow you away. What he says about taking judgment out of your approach to a story and trying to deeply understand your subject seems, to me, to be what we should strive for in our best work:

He doesn’t gloss over anyone’s sins, but how can he muster such empathy for all of his subjects?

“I really want to understand stuff, go on a journey,” he says. “Bringing a judgment to the subject, there’s no journey.”

Even the diver whose hubris killed his wife? The moralizing coach who falsified his credentials? The teenage basketball player who committed sexual assault?

“The more they let you in, the more glimpses you get about why they are the way they are, the harder it is to see them all one way,” he says, opening up at last. “Each person’s life is a problem to be solved, and I try to get a grasp of what problem they’re solving. You’re doing stories about people who do extraordinary things, and that usually comes out of extraordinary pressures and frictions. That’s what I try to understand.”

Gary Smith links:

Blindsided by History: Fifty years ago segregationists trying to keep black students out of Little Rock Central High inadvertently broke up one of the country's greatest football dynasties.

Remember His Name: Even as a boy Pat Tillman felt a destiny, a need to do the right thing whatever it cost him. When the World Trade Center was attacked on 9/11, he thought about what he had to do and then walked away from the NFL and became an Army Ranger....