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Yet another reason Sally Jenkins is a goddess

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Birdscribe, Apr 21, 2007.

  1. Birdscribe

    Birdscribe Active Member

    Don't think this is a D_B because I haven't seen it, but I just got done reading Sally Jenkins' excerpt in SI about the Carlisle Indian team of the early 20th century and how they changed football from the Neanderthal bludgeoning the games were into the sport we know today.

    First of all, sports history stories fascinate me. Second, the story of early football and how it evolved is one that isn't told nearly enough. Third, you put those in the hands of a talented writer like Sally and good reads are inevitable.

    This story was fascinating from start to finish, pointing out how the Jim Thorpe-led, Pop Warner-coached Carlisle team couldn't wait to beat West Point -- especially since this 1912 game took place only 22 years after the massacre at Wounded Knee.

    Warner's motivation speech before the game -- a game against a West Point team that featured four future WW II generals (including Eisenhower)? "I shouldn't have to prepare you for this game. Just go to your rooms and read your history books."

    A review of Jenkins' book "The Real All-Americans" will pop up on the Books thread later this year. In the meantime, this is good, good stuff and a great add to this week's SI.
  2. Clerk Typist

    Clerk Typist Guest

    As well-written a "bonus piece," as SI used to call it, as anything Deford did in his heyday. But how does Jenkins know that Warner was smoking when he was addressing his players on a particular day? What's the original source material on things like that? Or, if she is carrying her artistic license, should the amount of license taken not be mentioned somewhere, so we know where the truth ends and the fiction begins? (If it was, pardon me.)
  3. shotglass

    shotglass Guest

    It was a well-done piece. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

    What was the Carlisle Indian School was later transformed into the U.S. Army War College, which remains to this day. In the years after my dad's retirement from the Air Force, we used to go there for the commissary and PX prices, the medical care, etc. Quite a beautiful place.
  4. KnuteRockne

    KnuteRockne Member

    You'd be surprised what you can find in old source material. Look at Eric Larson's books, for example and the detail in there.

    I'm sure Jenkins will have chapter notes when the book comes out. No way she just pulled it out of thin air. Not in this day and age.
  5. jaredk

    jaredk Member

    The real question is not finding source material. It's how much you trust the source material. Just because someone wrote it -- "Pop smoked Turkish Trophy cigarettes" -- doesn't mean it's accurate. Today's writer has to make constant judgments on the reliability of yesterday's source material. Anyone who presents historical stories as "fact" is overstating the case. Even reading non-fiction, we have to suspend disbelief at least once in a while.
  6. KnuteRockne

    KnuteRockne Member

    OK, but how do you feel about it if in the notes the author acknowledges, "This is according to such-and-such."

    I know it's not politically correct to say so in the Jayson Blair era, but sometimes the concerns for the narrative demand that the author doesn't digress every two paragraphs to explain, "He may or may not have been smoking this kind of cigarette." If there is a real historical dispute about something - the many myths that grow up around a Babe Ruth or a Jackie Robinson, for example - explain it in the text. Otherwise, when it comes to something like a cigarette brand, citing your source material seems just fine to me.
  7. Guy_Incognito

    Guy_Incognito Well-Known Member

    Haven't read the Jenkins piece yet, but elsewhere in the issue:

    - I thought Reilly was as good as I've seen him in a long time, because he managed to not get in the way of a good story.

    - I found the Rutgers story really boring, and felt like I had a homework assignment getting until the end.

    - I hate the new post-Rushin Scoreboard format. Do we need to know everything about every scrub? The windup blurb was interesting, but enough with the numbers, tatoos, etc. for every scrub. Leave something for ESPN the magazine.
  8. jaredk

    jaredk Member

    No, no, I'm not suggesting a need for clunky attribution. Source notes are fine in narrative non-fiction. My point is different. I've done enough such work that I can say I've disbelieved some source material and not used it. That's where decision-making comes in. If Sally believes Pop smoked a Turkish Trophy cigarette that day in the locker room because source material persuaded her of it, I'm fine with that. It's her call and I trust her. On some of Larson's stuff, for instance, I'm not so quick to accept his sources.
  9. Moland Spring

    Moland Spring Member

    Is SI going to replace Rushin? Who? Do we know what he left to do?
  10. In Exile

    In Exile Member

    In any book of historical nonfiction I am often curious whether or not the author did his or her own research. It is stunning the number of nonfiction authors, many of them very, very big names, who farm this kind of work out to underlings - students, interns etc. In fact, that is the norm. As someone who has written books in this category (and assisted both authors of the same and their underlings) there is no substitute for doing your own research - you see and make connections in the midst of a project that no one else can. Some of the best catches I've made have been more or less by accident, because I stumbled across something that fed into my project in unexpected ways.

    Unless you do your own research not only will this not happen, but you have no idea what the researcher is disregarding along the way Example: In the early stage of a recent project I did hire someone to look up a story on a subject in one particular newspaper I couldn't get to, with instruction to look at every page over a two-week period - they returned with one story. Last week, as the project progressed, I was able to check this source myself. I found seven stories that will be useful to me in that same source in the same time period. It wasn't obvious that they were all helpful, but no amount of briefing could have prepared another person to find them.

    That being said, the presence of source notes or lack thereof doesn't really tell you much about the research. Source notes that appear very complete can sometimes be incredibly misleading, and expose the fact that the writer only skimmed possible sources. One book by a sports writing legend whose name everyone knows here wrote a book a few years back that included detailed notes, but if you know the subject it showed that his research was shoddy and incomplete, at best. Yet because of his name the book was critically lauded. Also, some publisher's, for space reasons, will resist adding pages for notes and/or an index, which can make one question the veracity of a project when, in reality, the publisher balked at printing another signature.

    Lastly, many people don't realize that, except in extraordinary circumstances, book publishers do not fact check. The author is solely responsible for content, and if he or she wants to lie, mislead or embellish, no one on the publishing end will catch it.
  11. KnuteRockne

    KnuteRockne Member

    I think we all discovered that when James Frey was exposed.
  12. leo1

    leo1 Active Member

    right. and ultimately you have to trust that the author will make smart decisions. readers have to assume that while she may not have meticulously verified each fact, that she's capable of judging what sources are and aren't authoritative enough.

    i read that SI excerpt and just in those few pages she mentioned something that was cited in historical sources as untrue (i think it was the first forward pass). she also wrote that the concept of the spiral "seemed" to have developed simultaneously. that tell me that she did her research and as a result of the research is not able to definitively credit one person or the other for inventing the spiral. i'd rather see that kind of wavering than mis-crediting something.
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