Cover Story: New York Times’ ‘The scars of the game’

SCARS-1The New York Times recently published a multi-page print presentation of reporter Tim Rohan‘s yearlong look at Tommy John surgery in Major League Baseball. ‘The scars of the game’ looks at how widespread the surgery has become through personal stories of the telltale scars it leaves behind. Sports picture editor Jeff Furticella and art director Wayne Kamidoi share a closer look at how the project came together for print.

Tell me a bit about the background of the “The scars of the game.” How did Mets reporter Tim Rohan come up with the idea? What were the early conversations like?

Jeff Furticella: Mets reporter Tim Rohan initially pitched a project on Tommy John surgery to our section editor Jason Stallman as a way of taking a broad look at a procedure that has become nearly ubiquitous in Major League Baseball. Right from the beginning, we knew that this had the potential to be a photo-driven project that would serve as a portrait of the operation, and the scar that it leaves behind, across the majors. The players who have had Tommy John have become a fraternity of sorts, and we wanted to take an inside, personal look at what the scar and their unique experiences meant to them. The challenge was how to get time with these high-profile subjects, and what should it end up looking like. Knowing how difficult it can be to coordinate photo shoots with professional athletes, I decided that we would need to collaborate with portrait photographers who would be able to adapt on the fly, and that we would need a standardized aesthetic that everyone would work with so that we had a consistent tone. Over the course of several months, we produced 15 shoots with 28 players that, once edited down, gave a comprehensive look at the impact of the surgery on the sport. After an extensive selection process with our digital deputy editor Sam Manchester that helped shape our digital and social strategy, I presented the content to art director Wayne Kamidoi, who crafted a massive, photo-dominant spread that perfectly organized the anecdotes and images into neatly packaged capsules. Wayne’s one of the top champions of pushing the boundaries of what can be done with space, and after a couple of mockups, the work culminated in a five page spread, all in color, that ran just before the playoffs began.

What was the timeline like for producing a project that required photographing players in clubhouses around the country?

Jeff Furticella: It took the majority of baseball’s regular season for us to accomplish everything we wanted. There are a lot of variables that go into getting a player to commit to sitting for a portrait: team schedule, whether they’re pitching or not, what their pregame routines are, what their health is, etc. Some teams took as long as nearly two months of negotiation to produce a shoot, so it required a lot of trust and communication with the photographers to ensure that when we did get the call, they’d be ready to go on short notice. The first conversation we had as a staff on the project was April 7. I started reaching out to teams shortly thereafter and our first shoot was done by Whitney Curtis on June 14 with players from the St. Louis Cardinals. Jesse Dittmar did our last shoot with players from the New York Mets on Sept. 14. We started working with web designer Rumsey Taylor to develop our digital presentation, and the project finally launched on Oct. 6 online and two days later in print.

SCARS-capsules

The story is presented a bit differently across platforms. When considering the print presentation, what were your priorities? 

Wayne Kamidoi: 1. Keeping it organized — a lot of images and text blocks of varying lengths — with maximum impact.  2. Retain some of the design and typography of the digital presentation. Most projects are now posted several days ahead of the print schedule, so it is an advantage to take visual cues from the digital presentation. It doesn’t always correlate, but you have a base to begin with. 3. Equate the amount of time, energy and quality of the project to the amount of space devoted.

Did you encounter any challenges in the production of the project?

Wayne Kamidoi: Securing both the space the color positions was not easy. Since the sports section on Tuesday-Friday runs within the business section, it is often difficult to get multiple color pages. We sometimes do not have color on our sports cover, especially in the National Edition. Although it was a total reach to request four color pages, including a double truck, why not ask? (Insert sitcom laugh track.)

As luck would have it, though, some color ads were sold and allowed for some color editorial positions either Wednesday or Thursday. The digital version posted on Tuesday morning, so we were hoping to get it in print soon after. Unfortunately, the Yankees were playing in a wild-card playoff on Tuesday night, so we decided to wait until Thursday’s paper. If we didn’t get the color, we were just going to hold out hope Sunday, when color positions are more available — but not guaranteed.

Scars prototype

Prototype: Cover, right-hand page opener and double-truck bleed

We got word on late Wednesday afternoon that we could get color on FIVE pages, not just FOUR, in all editions. It was a slightly different configuration than the prototype, but a slight revision on the first right-hand page made the package come together. It was originally planned to run in this order: Cover (as a refer), opener (as a right-hand page, somewhere further back in the section) and double-truck bleed. But, in order, to get the color, we had to have 2 pairs of facing pages. The bonus fifth page allowed us to publish in print the 1,000-word article that Tim Rohan wrote to accompany the capsules. We had to kill a lot of other staff-written stories to make it fit. But that is the sacrifice needed to avoid compromising such an enterprising project. It would have been a disappointment to run these images in black and white. It certainly helped to have the prototype finished in advance to show that the space and the color were important and worth pursuing.

What is your favorite part of the project?

Ultimately – Start big, end big. And that’s how it turned out – no compromises on space or color.