1. Welcome to SportsJournalists.com, a friendly forum for discussing all things sports and journalism.

    Your voice is missing! You will need to register for a free account to get access to the following site features:
    • Reply to discussions and create your own threads.
    • Access to private conversations with other members.
    • Fewer ads.

    We hope to see you as a part of our community soon!

What Makes This Piece Good, Vol. 2: Mike Bianchi at Dale Earnhardt's funeral

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Double Down, Jun 18, 2014.

  1. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Continuing our efforts to reboot the passion project "SJ University: The Struggle Continues!" I thought we'd return this week with our next edition of What Makes This Piece Good, and discuss (or just read) Mike Bianchi's sort of famous piece from Dale Earnhardt's funeral "The Nightmare Is Real For Mourners."


    I wanted to pick this instead of a longform piece for the same reasons I picked the Olney piece. If you're out there trying to apply certain things you've learned to your own work, I think you can probably learn more (at least initially) from this kind of tight writing than you can from something written in the halcyon days of SI or Esquire. (We'll get to longform soon. I'm hopeful we can do one of these a week.)

    Let's start with the choices Bianchi made here, because the entire piece is framed by them.

    Let's assume he was assigned to cover Dale's funeral, which happened three days after Earnhardt was killed in the Daytona 500.

    At this point, a lot had already been written about Earnhardt, so certainly Bianchi was looking to come up with a different angle.

    It's likely that a lot of people also weren't talking about their grief, which makes it hard to get any comment, much less a deep introspective comment, from someone like Jeff Gordon or Dale Jarrett. Or Earnhardt's family.

    It's likely too that he was on a tight deadline, faced with a difficult decision on whether to try and weave together parts of the eulogy, comments from fans, comments from racers, etc.

    Weighing all that, he decided to write about how Earnhardt's death affected the very people he competed against, and it seems likely he was inspired to take this route by Earnhardt's own worldview, his refusal to go to funerals.

    A lot of writers might have made this piece 1,000 words longer, filled it with lengthy quotes, quoted part of the eulogy, etc., but Bianchi didn't. He managed to give you a memorable scene, convey a feeling of that day, in 611 words.

    How did he do it? What makes this piece good? (It appeared in Best American Sports Writing in 2002.)

    For further reading on Mike Bianchi, here is an interview he did with the website Swampland (where he mentions one of his influences is John Steinbeck, which may say a little about the way this column is written):

  2. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    Also, please feel free to PM me with suggestions for pieces you'd like to see discussed, both big and small. A few people did last week, and I'm grateful for it. You'll see those pieces appear in the weeks and months to come.
  3. SEC Guy

    SEC Guy Member

    It reminds me a bit of the piece Jimmy Breslin wrote about the guy who dug JFK's grave. If you're covering an event that is being covered by just about everyone and you're still able to come up with a fresh angle, that says something.

    I probably read 20 stories by top-level columnists after Earnhardt's funeral, but the one I remember 13 years later is Bianchi's. That one just stuck with you.
  4. Riptide

    Riptide Well-Known Member

    An epic piece. Here's the story behind the story, along with a link to the story itself.

  5. Guy_Incognito

    Guy_Incognito Well-Known Member

    To me, this was the paragraph that made the piece:

    Why do you think it is drivers always carry their young kids to the car with them just before the beginning of every race? Why do you think the last thing they do before they hit the ignition switch is hug their children and kiss their wives? Because, deep down, they know. They know every time they get into a race car that they might have to be cut out of it.
  6. Alma

    Alma Well-Known Member

    Its brevity makes it good. Creates a natural desire to read it again.

    The second thing is that Bianchi takes Dale's death and makes a quick, universal microcosm out of it. It both elevates racers to a unique position of dancing with death, and reduces them to fathers and husbands. Readers both want to lionize sports heroes and relate to them. This piece does both.
  7. Double J

    Double J Active Member

    That's a perfect summation, DD. I think this is a great piece, but I know that if someone at my old newspaper had written this, it would have been sent back by a desker saying, "What the hell is this? This isn't what you were sent out to do, blah-blah-blah."

    So, as much as Bianchi wrote this very well, he was also fortunate that he had an editor or editors who recognized its value.
  8. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    I know you're quoting what DD said, but it looks like you're saying your own summation is "perfect", which is kind of funny, if you're not paying attention.
  9. SteveRomano13

    SteveRomano13 Member

    Just a suggestion--

    It would be nice to maybe have more than one of these discussions a week, but feature other types of writing.

    We could have a longform piece, column, beat article etc.

    Any thoughts?
  10. Double Down

    Double Down Well-Known Member

    We're getting there. Patience grasshopper.
  11. Double J

    Double J Active Member

    Fixed. Thanks for pointing that out.
  12. SEC Guy

    SEC Guy Member

    If memory serves, this was shourtly after the Sentinel started making all of their columnists hold to the cover and some of them were none to happy about it.

    I'm assuming Ed Hinton was covering the funeral for news purposes. That would free Bianchi up to write whatever he wants. Obviously, this was in the days when papers actually spent money. These days, I don't know if it would be a given that the Sentinel would have anyone in Charlotte.
Draft saved Draft deleted

Share This Page