Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – June 17, 2016

Cover of ESPN the Magazine Muhammad Ali tribute issue.
Cover of ESPN the Magazine Muhammad Ali tribute issue.

For this week’s Journalism Showcase, guest columnist Editor-in-Chief, ESPN The Magazine and espnW Alison Overholt describes the process she and her team went through to change the focus of the publication’s latest issue, due to the death of Muhammad Ali. It’s available on newsstands today.

This came close to being the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s Ali tribute issue.
This came close to being the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s Ali tribute issue.

Initially, the next issue of The Mag was intended to preview the NBA Draft, and to look at the upcoming season of unprecedented free agency action by taking a look at the fact that it’s the 10th anniversary of the one-and-done rule for college players, and all that has wrought on the league and the way players are drafted. It was a smart, unique way to look at the draft differently, and heading into our production week, we thought we were ready to roll. Then Muhammad Ali fell ill, and we started following news reports that his condition in the hospital was critical.

When a legend like Ali passes, it completely changes the conversation. His impact went so far beyond sports, it was cultural, societal. And seeing the tributes flowing that weekend, it was also clear that his impact was very deeply personal, to individuals across the country and even the world — far beyond the sports industry, or even the community of sports fans. Our conversation changed, then, and we began to look at whether this was an instance where we should be putting out a special dedicated issue for Muhammad Ali in addition to our usual Mag issue. Years earlier, the staff had begun work on one, though it had never officially been greenlit, so we started poring through story drafts, selected photos, everything that we had in-house.

We are a print team, but we were nimble and able to turn on a dime when news broke to create a memorable piece of journalism. . . this format that is tangible and lasting at a time when so much media can feel fleeting and ephemeral.

But the conversations changed yet again as we looked through those previously produced pieces and realized that the ESPN community of creators had also changed in the years since those first editorial efforts had been commissioned. Our voices today are more diverse — the launch of The Undefeated, which is explicitly focused on conversations at the intersection of sports, race and culture, being the prime example — and the coverage that weekend reflected that more sophisticated and layered look at the issues where Ali’s voice resonated most. espnW has found its voice, for another — and we saw that weekend an original commissioned poem from a Kentucky poet that felt like it deserved a wider audience. We also had new writers in The Mag’s orbit, like Hanif Willis-Abdurraquib, who wanted to write on the impact of Ali for Muslims in America like himself.

[For all these reasons, The Mag staff came to work Monday morning determined to completely rethink how we would approach our regular issue that was headed to press that week. Senior deputy editor JB Morris led conversations with story and photo editors to develop a lineup that felt like it could represent all those touchpoints, and photo director Tim Rasmussen worked closely with his team and with JB to identify iconic (but also lesser-seen) images that could bring the pieces to life. Then creative director Chin Wang and her design team went to work on figuring out how to create a look and feel for the book that would really tie everything together. One major decision: Every photo in the Ali section would be in black and white, to underscore the timeless feel we wanted the editorial to have, the sense that this was something very different and very special compared with what we typically produce.]
As for the NBA Draft Preview material, our hoops editors were incredible about figuring out a new way to package their stories as a package in the front of The Magazine rather than as the main feature well theme. We looked hard at what stories could hold for the next issue — stories that were bigger in scope and potentially still in the conversation beyond the draft and into the summer free agency season.
The whole experience was an important and valuable exercise for our entire team, myself included. We had the opportunity here to create something that was both timely and timeless. The ultimate example of what print can do in this fast-moving era of digital media. We are a print team, but we were nimble and able to turn on a dime when news broke to create a memorable piece of journalism. Then, by working with our colleagues across all of ESPN, we were able to curate the best of what all our creators were producing, and bring it together in this format that is tangible and lasting at a time when so much media can feel fleeting and ephemeral. It was a world class effort worthy of the world class legacy left by Muhammad Ali. I couldn’t ask for anything more.
Journalism on Display 6/17/2016

  • With the airing of ESPN Films’ “O.J.: Made In America” earlier this week, former prosecutor Marcia Clark sat with espnW’s Jane McManus for a Q & A on why domestic violence didn’t resonate with Simpson jurors.
  • Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach, continuing their investigative work on the events at Baylor University, reported this week on a second Title IX lawsuit filed against Baylor, citing three women as victims of sexual assault, including one who said she was assaulted by a Bears football player on campus in April 2014.
  • Sunday’s edition of Outside the Lines (ESPN, 9 a.m. ET) will update the E:60 story of professional hockey player Jake Dowell, whose story was first reported by ESPN’s Chris Connelly in 2013. Dowell was facing a dilemma – undergo medical testing to determine whether he had inherited Huntington’s Disease or live with uncertainty. Dowell decided to have the test after the birth of his child. (Postponed from original airdate of June 5)
  • On ESPN.com, writer Bonnie D. Ford followed up last weekend’s Outside the Lines television piece on what happens to doping whistleblowers with “Athletes, others who raise doping concerns in sports often left whistling into the wind.”
  • Also on ESPN.com, Shaun Assael reports the U.S. Department of Justice has concluded that there was no evidence the death of N.C. prep football player Lennon Lacy was a homicide. The piece followed up on a 2015 Outside the Lines story on Lacy, who was found hanged from a swing set not far from his home in 2014.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m. ESPN; 10:30 a.m., ESPN2) will be Mike Lupica (guest host), Howard Bryant, Frank Isola and William C. Rhoden.

– By Andy Hall

Protests followed the death of prep football player Lennon Lacy.
Protests followed the death of prep football player Lennon Lacy.
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