By Lindsay Jones
The Denver Post
CHICAGO—News of Micah True’s disappearance arrived in the New York Times newsroom in late March as just a minor note on a sports wire.
Times’ editors and writer Barry Bearak quickly realized that the disappearance of True, the ultra distance runner who had developed a cult-like following after he was the subject of the book “Born to Run” was a compelling tale, even though when they set out on the reporting process, True had yet to be found.
Two months later, Bearak and a team of editors had created one of the New York Times’ most ambitious sports journalism projects.
“Caballo Blanco’s Last Run: The Micah True Story” ran at approximately 6,500 words – a magazine piece inside a daily newspaper. The Times published the story on a Monday, with a large display photo and four full inside pages of text.
New York Times deputy sports editor Jason Stallman presented the project – which included a downloadable audio version of the story read by an actor – at the APSE/AWSM convention Friday in Chicago as part of the “Ambitious Journalism” panel.
“I’m very suspicious of anyone that says they have a formula for coming up with these sorts of things,” Stallman said. “They come from all sorts of places.”
The Micah True story is ambitious journalism on the biggest scale, but newspapers of all sizes can – and must – dedicate time, resources and space to enterprise journalism.
“Don’t use the crutch of ‘We’re small, we can’t do stuff,’” said panelist Robert Gagliardi, the editor of WyoSports, the combined sports staffs in Laramie and Cheyenne, Wyo.
The New York Times has been able to allow reporters to devote weeks or months to enterprise projects – John Branch spent at least five months working exclusively on his three-part series following the death of hockey player Derek Boogaard last year – but that isn’t a luxury other papers can often afford.
Tommy Deas, the sports editor of the Tuscaloosa News, said it is important for reporters to devote even a small amount of time each week to work on finding and reporting bigger projects.
Deas said his section has also changed its daily coverage to allow more time for features and enterprise. The paper now runs 12-inch stories off daily Alabama football media availability, where groups of reporters all get the same quotes, and allow his writers to work on getting exclusive content for the Friday and Saturday papers.
“We’ll take a C-plus three times a week to get an A on Saturday,” Deas said. “I’ll take that trade.”