Journalism can be a strenuous profession filled with long hours of solitude. The goal of many journalists isn’t to capture the perfect story but a story worthy of captivating an audience.
However, there are times — far and few in between — when a story comes together in perfect fashion. That rare instance occurred for Daily Times Sports Editor Chris Slone who received his first-career award Sunday. Slone won first place at The Associated Press Media Editors (APME) banquet Sunday in Columbus. Slone won the APME award for best sports enterprise.
Slone’s article, which was a two-part series published in The Daily Times in October, featured former Valley and Morehead State football player Luke Keller and his personal demons. Keller battled suicidal thoughts and several physical ailments while finding his faith in God, which allowed him to overcome many obstacles.
“Once I wrote the story, I knew it was probably the greatest story I had ever written,” Slone said. “Did I think I would actually win an AP award? Absolutely not. It’s an amazing and surreal feeling that I was compared to some of the best writers in the State of Ohio.
“At first, I was apprehensive about writing the story because I don’t classify it as a sports story. It’s about Luke’s personal demons and his faith in God. I didn’t think I was the right person to write a story that focused more on religious faith but I thank God I accepted the challenge.”
Slone was asked to write the story by colleague Frank Lewis who was originally contacted by Luke’s mom, Dawn Keller. At first, Slone declined because of his apprehension but after the second conversation with Lewis, Slone reluctantly accepted the challenge.
“I was nervous and didn’t want to write the story,” Slone said. “I didn’t think I was the right person. Frank is the pastor. He has the religious background and I knew this wasn’t a sports story. To capture its true essence, I knew it was going to have to focus on Luke’s religious faith.”
Once Slone accepted the assignment, he was scheduled to travel to Cincinnati with his wife, Jessica Slone, for three days so she could attend a nurse practitioner conference.
On the first day, Slone contacted Keller to conduct the interview, which wasn’t the run of the mill question and answer session.
“It was the weirdest interview I have ever had and I don’t mean that in a bad way,” Slone said. “I called Luke and told him I just wanted to listen to his story. I didn’t want to bog the conversation down with questions. Thirty minutes later, he asked me if I had any questions and I just thanked him for his time.”
The next morning, Slone dropped his wife off at the conference at 8 a.m., with the intentions of returning at noon to have lunch with her. However, Slone never even made it out of the parking lot. He began listening to the recording and started formulating a plan to turn a 30-minute conversation into a coherent story.
Slone grabbed his laptop and went to work. Approximately halfway through the recording, Slone realized he had enough material to write a story but still had several aspects of the conversation that needed to be told.
“At that moment, I decided this story was going to turn into a two-part series,” Slone said. “I was too stubborn to cut anything but I knew I couldn’t tell the story within the space restrictions of a daily paper, so that’s how the concept of the two-part series was created.”
Once he came up with a way to tell the story, Slone spent four hours in his car writing the first part of the story before finally meeting his wife for lunch. After returning from lunch, Slone wasn’t about to quit. He spent the next four hours working on part two of the story, finishing shortly before 5 p.m., which was when his wife was scheduled to be released from her conference.
“I basically spent eight hours sitting in a car, writing,” Slone said. “My thoughts came together so quickly, I didn’t want to waste time driving back to the hotel. It was a long and unusual day for me, but it was probably the most productive day in my professional career.”
So, while that perfect story might always remain elusive, Slone had the opportunity to tell a once in a lifetime story and his efforts were rewarded in a major way.
Reach Derrick Parker at [email protected] or on Twitter @dc__Parker.