Wednesday, April 24, 2013

"Out in the Great Alone" on the Iditarod by Brian Phillips

There was really a remarkable story published today on Grantland. "Out in the Great Alone" was written by Brian Phillips and is close to 20,000 words about several weeks that Phillips spent following via small plane  the 2013 Iditarod sled dog race in Alaska.

I've previously linked to excellent pieces from Phillips on tennis and his writing in this Iditarod feature is interesting in that it seems a blend of colloquial first-person and what felt to be at times brilliant phrasing and scene building. It's certainly true that I'm interested in reading about Alaska having grown up there (and have posted on solid books I've read on Alaska), but the writing from Phillips very much helped make this a memorable piece.

Along with the aforementioned writing itself, the other noteworthy thing about this piece was the construction of it by Grantland editors. In addition to allotting an enormous word count to Phillips, they built the story into an interactive feature with lots of embedded images/video and a different way of scrolling through the story than would typically be found online. In terms of how it was built for the web, the feature was highly reminiscent of "Snow Fall" from the New York Times featuring the writing of John Branch and which I wrote about in a December 2012 post

Not to just keep throwing out links, but the other thing that this Iditarod feature made me think of was "Bleacher Report vs. Grantland: The Spectrum of Online Sports Media" by Clay Travis for his site Outkick the Coverage. In this October 2012 piece, Travis writes of how a site like Grantland is well suited to produce thorough journalism (which the features by Phillips certainly qualify as) because as part of the much larger organization that is ESPN it's not wholly reliant on revenue from said journalism to maintain a viable company. It's an interesting idea from Travis and seems to ring even more true to me after seeing what must have gone into producing something as expansive and well done as "Out in the Great Alone".