Journalism Showcase

ESPN’s “Journalism Showcase” – September 23, 2016

Anthony Rizzo smiles from the cover of ESPN The Magazine's "Chicago Cubs Issue."
Anthony Rizzo smiles from the cover of ESPN The Magazine’s “Chicago Cubs Issue.”
The biggest surprise was how engaged Theo was in the process – in my process – of understanding and capturing and relating the actual him. He’s a thoughtful guy.
– Wright Thompson on profiling Theo Epstein

In ESPN The Magazine’s “Chicago Cubs Issue” on newsstands today, senior writer Wright Thompson offers a deep, layered perspective on how former Boston Red Sox wonder boy Theo Epstein saved the Cubs — and himself – in “The Mastermind.”

The Cubs, who already won the National League Central Division title, currently lead the MLB with the most wins this year. They will host their rival, the St. Louis Cardinals, at Wrigley Field this Sunday, Sept. 25, on the season finale of Sunday Night Baseball (8 p.m. ET on ESPN).

Thompson shares some insight with Front Row about the writing of “The Mastermind”:

What did you find to be the most challenging part about writing this piece?
It’s a story that takes place mostly in someone’s head, so the narrative tension was difficult to build. It needed to exist on multiple levels – both as an exploration of how someone arrives at a time and a place, along with a kind of vibrating sense of place to make it be a “Letter From Chicago.” So structuring it was hard.

Were you disappointed by anything that made the cutting room floor instead of the feature?
Everything that got cut needed to go to make the thing speed up. The first draft was 12,000 words, so we basically cut an entire story. There was a scene with [Pearl Jam lead singer] Eddie Vedder that I loved a lot.

Was there anything you wish you had done differently?
There’s a quote that came off out of context, about Theo following people home. Some people who wrote about the story [which was published earlier this week on ESPN.com] used that to make him seem like a stalker. That’s not what I meant, or he meant, so I regret helping people hammer him about that. He did that in high school, and not in a stalking way, but as an invisible person who could imagine the hidden lives of strangers.

Throughout your reporting process, was there anything that truly surprised you?
The biggest surprise was how engaged Theo was in the process – in my process – of understanding and capturing and relating the actual him. He’s a thoughtful guy.

Outside the Lines tells the story of
Thomas Johnson

Thomas Johnson during his Texas A&M days.
Thomas Johnson was an emerging star at Texas A&M.

ESPN The Magazine journalist and Outside the Lines contributor Shaun Assael, working with Dallas ESPN writer Jean-Jacques Taylor, tells the powerful and emotional story of former Texas A&M wide receiver Thomas Johnson’s battle with mental illness. The story appears in the latest issue of ESPN The Magazine (on newsstands today) and on Sunday’s OTL (9 a.m. ET on ESPN2, 10 a.m. ET ESPNEWS.) Assael spoke with Front Row about the piece.

What did you feel was most important to address with Johnson’s parents when you interviewed them?
What signs they saw, and how they did or didn’t react to them. When it came to Thomas, they seemed paralyzed by their mistrust of each other.

How did working on this piece teach you about mental illness? How do you hope the story will educate readers and OTL viewers?
I learned how difficult it can be to recognize the signs of a mental illness. As a college student, Thomas was demonstrating a newfound devotion to religion. He also liked to take long walks and keep to himself. To a stranger, that could look like a teenager simply finding himself. But then, as the signs got more troubling, those around Thomas thought they could reach him on their own, with homespun love and remedies.

I guess what hit me the hardest is that you can’t treat mental illness with DIY remedies. If you have a loved one who’s showing signs, do everything you can to get them help. And don’t be ashamed of doing it.

By Molly Mita

Journalism on Display

  • The Cowboys stunned the NFL when they made Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott the No. 4 overall draft pick. After scoring two touchdowns in his first two games, Elliott has lived up to the expectations. Still, fame has come fast for the young running back and his parents worry about his ability to handle it. Senior writer Elizabeth Merrill tells the story of Ezekiel Elliot in ESPN The Magazine.
  • Vin Scully has been broadcasting Los Angeles Dodgers games for 67 seasons. As he signs off this year, Jon Miller, Bud Selig, Bob Costas and 20 other colleagues and friends reflect on why a career like Scully’s won’t happen again. ESPN baseball writer and analyst Jayson Stark compiles their stories about the legend on ESPN.com.
  • ESPN The Magazine senior writer Tim Keown spent a week inside the Chicago Cubs clubhouse. He got a sense of the mood, atmosphere and camaraderie of a team under more pressure than most can imagine. Keown’s story examines the effects of this season on a roster, particularly one that is as young as the Cubs’, as they approach the playoffs and possibly a history-making title.
  • Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m., ESPN2; 10:30 a.m., ESPNEWS) will be Mike Lupica (host), Israel Gutierrez, Jackie MacMullan, and Bob Ryan.

-By Molly Mita

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