Some events cry out for narrative treatment. Take a look at this wire story about a St. Louis Cardinal fan injured in Pittsburgh and the assist he got from player Albert Pujols. And then read Todd Frankel’s “St. Louis Cardinals fan feels uplifted after fall,” which ran a month later in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
No one assigned the piece to Frankel, but he had watched the game on television that Friday and suspected there might be more to the story. By the following Monday, he still hadn’t seen any new information from beat reporters, so he spent a week getting the Pirates public relations staff to find out if the fan, Tim Tepas, was willing to be interviewed.
Tepas initially agreed to a five-minute conversation. But across several days, five minutes turned into five hours. And it was only at the end, Frankel reports, that Tepas mentioned the letter he had with him the night of his injury.
Frankel worked on his own and didn’t approach his editor until he had a news peg. Clocking in at around 2000 words, his piece takes on freak coincidences, baseball, divorce, and the challenges of raising a Down syndrome child—and turns it all into a rich story.
Tomorrow, we’ll share some thoughts on the future of print narratives from Pulitzer Prize-winner Tom Hallman of The Oregonian. But in an excerpt that’s relevant to Frankel’s approach, Hallman says that “no newspaper, no editor can make [narrative] happen. It must come from the writer… You can’t help but listen to the story calling you, and you do the damn story.”