Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – May 20, 2016

Jesse Washington in the office of The Undefeated with "The Waco Horror" open on laptop behind him. (Kea Taylor/ESPN Images)
Jesse Washington works in the office of The Undefeated with “The Waco Horror” open on the laptop behind him. (Kea Taylor/ESPN Images)

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The Undefeated, ESPN’s new content initiative exploring the intersection of sports, race and culture, launched this week and one of the initial pieces was a deeply personal story by senior writer Jesse Washington. In “The Waco Horror,” Washington explored what it meant to share a name with the victim of one of the most infamous lynchings in American history. He spoke with Front Row:

When did you first become aware of the story of what happened 100 years ago in Waco, Texas and do you recall how you learned about it?
I was working at Vibe magazine about 1997 or ’98 and had a colleague, the writer Harry Allen, who understood the Internet way before the rest of us. This was before it was common to Google your own name. One day Harry emailed me a link to the photo of Jesse Washington’s charred body. I can remember exactly where I was sitting, what my office looked like, what computer I was using — everything about the moment I first saw that photo remains clear.

I never envisioned it as a first-person piece until I had a conversation with Steve Reiss, my editor at The Undefeated. I’ve spent my whole career detaching my emotions from my reporting, but Steve immediately recognized that I should immerse myself in this Waco experience to fully convey the depth and impact of the atrocity.
– Jesse Washington

How long have you wanted to write this piece? And did you always envision it as a first-person piece?
I’ve wanted to write this piece since the moment I first saw the photo, but I was a manager and editor back then and had other priorities. In 2005/2006, when I saw all the resistance to commemorating the 90th year after the lynching, I knew I had to write it. I returned to writing in 2008 when I got the race beat for The Associated Press. At that point, I started looking for the right hook. The 100th year after the lynching was the best opportunity, although it was hard to wait that long. It was a real gift for the 100-year mark to coincide with the launch of The Undefeated. And our new site is the perfect platform for this piece because the story of the how to deal with the lynching today is all about encountering defeats, understanding them and rising above them. And not just for black folks, but for the city of Waco and America as well.

I never envisioned it as a first-person piece until I had a conversation with Steve Reiss, my editor at The Undefeated. I’ve spent my whole career detaching my emotions from my reporting, but Steve immediately recognized that I should immerse myself in this Waco experience to fully convey the depth and impact of the atrocity.

How much time did you spend researching this piece, and how long were you in Waco?
I followed this story from afar for years. One of the first things I did was read the terrific book “The First Waco Horror,” by Patricia Bernstein. I read that a few times, actually. Her book led me to the NAACP online archives, which had some incredible reporting and analysis by W.E.B. DuBois. The NAACP material helped clarify the context of why this particular lynching, out of the thousands that took place, was so important. About two years ago, I set up a Google alert to monitor news about the situation. That gave me a lot of reporting leads. Finally, in April, I went to Waco for four very intense days of reporting.

What do you hope readers will take away from this piece?
I hope readers will understand that America’s past sins, racial or otherwise, cannot be buried or erased. And that once we acknowledge these sins — only when we acknowledge them — we all can heal.

SPJ hails ESPN’s Van Natta

Don Van Natta Jr., senior writer, ESPN Digital and Print Media, has been honored by the Society of Professional Journalists as a Fellow of the Society. This is the highest professional honor given by the Society and is awarded for extraordinary contribution to the profession.

Van Natta, who joined ESPN as an investigative reporter in January 2012, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. His work appears in ESPN The Magazine and on ESPN.com.

Some of his ESPN writing has included “Spygate to Deflategate: Inside What Split the NFL and Patriots Apart” (co-written with Seth Wickersham), “His Game, His Rules” (on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell) and “The Whistleblower’s Last Stand” (on the Jerry Sandusky/Penn State scandal).

“Being chosen a Fellow of the Society is an extraordinary honor, one of the greatest of my nearly 30 year career,” said Van Natta. “To be listed among such legendary journalists, all of whom are my heroes – Edward R. Murrow, Katherine Graham, Bob Woodward, Ben Bradlee, Tim Russert, as well as my first boss at the Miami Herald, Janet Chusmir – is an amazing, deeply humbling moment that I will always cherish. I’m grateful to my current bosses, particularly [ESPN Vice President, Editorial Director, Domestic Digital Content] Chad Millman and Christopher Buckle [deputy editor, ESPN.com Premium Content] for nominating me for this award and writing an incredible nomination letter on my behalf.”

– Andy Hall

Journalism on Display 5/20/16

  • During the past week, Outside the Lines has been reporting on documents it obtained that detail largely unknown allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence and other acts of violence involving several Baylor University football players. Additional television pieces reported on more fallout at Baylor and included a student’s firsthand account to host Bob Ley of reporting sexual assault to Baylor’s authorities. A piece written for ESPN.com by Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach reported in-depth on the police records findings.
  • On this week’s edition of ESPN Audio’s “Capital Games” podcast, Sen. John McCain was a guest and called for a hearing on pro sports and prescription drug abuse. The podcast, co-hosted by ESPN’s Andy Katz and ABC News’ Rick Klein, examines the crossroads of sports and politics with high-profile figures in both fields.
  • In the Sunday, May 22, SC Featured segment on SportsCenter, actor and Michigan native Courtney B. Vance narrates the story of the struggling Benton Harbor (Mich.) High School football team, which overcame tremendous odds to become a playoff contender with the help of its new 74-year-old coach. “Benton Harbor” debuts in the 10 a.m. edition of SportsCenter and will re-air in other editions of the program throughout the day.
  • ESPN the Magazine senior writer Mina Kimes has won the 2016 New York Press Club Award for Sports Feature Reporting in the magazine category for “The Unkillable Demon King,” her profile of Faker, the Korean teenager who sat atop the world of competitive gaming. The feature ran in the eSports issue of the magazine last June.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m. ET, ESPN; 10 a.m., ESPNEWS; 10:30 a.m. ESPN2) will be John Saunders (host), Mike Lupica, Pablo S. Torre and ESPN SportsCenter anchor Lindsay Czarniak, making her first appearance on the program as a panelist.
  • – Andy Hall

“Benton Harbor” is Sunday’s SC Featured on SportsCenter
“Benton Harbor” is Sunday’s SC Featured on SportsCenter.
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