ESPN.com users are getting a sneak peek at the long-form storytelling that will be the calling card for TheUndefeated.com, ESPN’s new site focused on sports, race and urban culture, by reading senior writer Jesse Washington’s profile of NBA Hall of Famer and Turner Sports analyst Charles Barkley.
Titled “Up from Leeds: The People, the Place and the Privilege that Made Charles Barkley a Role Model,” the 9,000-word piece which features more than 50 interviews, with reporting by staff writer Ryan Cortes, paints a definitive profile of one America’s most sought-after television commentators on social issues and sports.
Front Row caught up with TheUndefeated.com editor-in-chief Jason Whitlock, who discussed the first piece commissioned by the new site.
Why use this approach rich in contemporary and historical context?
Because Mr. Barkley’s voice and perspective have risen to a point that he needs to be taken seriously and framed in context of what has come before him. The reporting and research led us to Booker T. Washington, another boot-straps African-American leader with a connection to Alabama.
– Editor-in-chief, TheUndefeated.com,
Were there challenges you faced with the depth of reporting for this piece?
Honestly, not many. Mr. Barkley declined to let us contact his wife, and we respected that request. What Jesse and Ryan discovered is that, for the most part, journalists had previously allowed Mr. Barkley to drive much of the narrative about him. Mr. Barkley is so compelling and transparent that a reporter can be fooled into thinking there’s no more story to tell; Mr. Barkley has told it all. To their credit, Jesse and Ryan wanted to go much deeper. They wanted to find out what everyone around Mr. Barkley saw and felt.
How often do you see your site going this deep into a subject?
We’re going to do a wide variety of things to engage our target audience. Most things won’t be 9,000 words. But when the opportunity arises, we’re going to peel off and try to tell our readers a rich story that will give them a new perspective on a person or topic they thought they already knew. Jesse and Ryan turned this story in a month.