If you haven’t already taken the time to experience The New York Times’ latest epic of multimedia reporting, please do yourself a favor and put it on your to-do list. Writer Barry Bearak’s and photographer/videographer Chang W. Lee’s “The Jockey” is an exceptional work and if you read it as a writer, you’ll finish it exhausted, as if you just completed an intensive with a master teacher.
Highlights for me included:
-The choice and handling of subject: Bearak chose an obscure, overlooked subject and within that topical area, found a compelling figure to profile who was still more obscure (at least to people not in the world of horse racing). And yet, that compelling figure is so vanilla; his absolutely normal personality requires Bearak to rely upon his own narrative skills to create tension and interest in other ways, as the character alone doesn’t do it. This kind of management is easy if you’re a writer working with a flashy personality. It’s much more nuanced and challenging when your subject is so, well, ordinary.
-The perfect, evocative detail: There’s a metaphor Bearak introduces to give the reader a visual image of the jockey: a hood ornament. Not only is this metaphor completely novel, it’s also perfectly parallel; nothing about it is a stretch.
-The divulgation of process: I love learning about other writers’ processes, and Bearak does an incredible job of making unobtrusive yet critical revelations about his, particularly with respect to ethics.
And once you’ve done that, then read this blog post from the Times‘ public editor about who gets to create these types of resource-intensive pieces and what it takes to execute them.^
^I totally disagree with the critics of both “The Jockey” and the Times’ earlier multimedia showpiece, “Snowfall,” who wonder if these types of pieces “really matter.” I’d argue that they absolutely do.