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ESPN tells Michael Phelps’ Olympic story with global, multi-language presentations

ESPN.com senior writer Wayne Drehs' profile of Michael Phelps was translated into multiple languages for the network's digital sites around the world.
ESPN.com senior writer Wayne Drehs’ profile of Michael Phelps was translated into multiple languages for the network’s digital sites around the world.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In June, on the eve of the USA Swimming Olympic Trials, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com published an in-depth look at the road travelled by the most decorated swimmer and Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps.

With the expansion to 10 global editions of ESPN.com in the past 14 months, the story entitled “Michael Phelps’ Final Turn” ran as a leading feature all over the world in multiple languages.

ESPN’s global digital coverage of the Rio 2016 Olympics launched Wednesday night. ESPN reporters from all over the world are heading to Rio as part of a team of 450 people producing coverage throughout the event (ESPN is also an Olympic rights holder for television coverage in Brazil and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean).

Front Row asked ESPN Digital & Print Media Deputy Editor, Joy Russo, to explain what goes into the development and reporting of a powerful feature like “Michael Phelps’ Final Turn” and how ESPN editorial teams now think and collaborate globally.

The first thing needed for a feature like the Phelps profile is time. Time to travel, time to report, time to develop a level of trust with the subject. The second is internal support for all of the above, and we thankfully work at a company that does just that. And the combination of time and support pays off in the finished product, especially in the hands of a writer like [ESPN.com] senior writer Wayne Drehs.

He reported the story for over a year, working in tandem with feature producer Nancy Devaney, who is leading the charge on the SC Featured piece [see sidebar below]. Over that span, they were tirelessly resourceful, from strategically finding time to talk to Phelps and other subjects for the feature, to creatively finding a great house in Arizona to serve as the backdrop for one of the SC Featured interviews.

Once the majority of the reporting was done and we had a tentative timeframe for the rollout, we set the internal goal to simultaneously publish in four languages (English, Spanish, Portuguese, Mandarin) across our International Editions. With that, we had to factor in enough edit time to account for three translations of text (from original English to Spanish, Portuguese and Mandarin) and the implementation of those translations into Design and Editorial production time (building the story in multiple publishing systems). Regular check-in meetings across multiple time zones ensured everyone was coordinated and in the loop on a crucial rollout checklist, from social assets to press releases and also the print Magazine protocols.

On our digital publishing date, Wayne was incredibly excited to see the byline in multiple countries and languages, and that reaction captured the excitement all of us felt — this project was a true collective International effort, and a really powerful example of thinking and collaborating globally on great content.

As we do that more and more, we have to maintain a real focus on local authenticity as we do that. That means ensuring that each of our editions is delivering content that is relevant to fans in each market, and having editorial groups listen to each other around story ideas and what may or may not work in each market.

And, truth be told, a lot of the content we create for one market may not be relevant in others. However, we also can look for – and find – moments, people or stories that will resonate across borders and languages – be that Michael Phelps, the Olympics, Wimbledon or more.

Phelps' fractured relationship with father explored in new SC Featured

Michael Phelps retired after the 2012 London Olympics, convinced that he had finished his swimming career. But in the two years afterward, Phelps stumbled. He landed in rehab. Former NFL star Ray Lewis, a friend of Phelps, helped the swimmer address the issues he’s never confronted including about his dad abandoning him. In this week’s SC Featured, premiering Sunday, July 31 in the 10 a.m. SportsCenter which repeats throughout the day and week, Michael’s dad talks candidly about his relationship with his son and the meeting in rehab that brought them back together.
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