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Prolific Posnanski embarks on new pursuits with Project X, Paterno

Whatever Project X becomes, I’m in favor of it.

It’s new and it’s coming soon and it’s about words.

For that, we have testimony from Project X’s first word man, Joe Posnanski.

“The best way to define Project X,” Posnanski says, “is that it will be a multi-platform project with, we hope, great sports writing on all fronts. . . . the idea is to marry great technology and great writing.”

Both MLB Advanced Media and USA Today Sports Group were named in TheBigLead.com’s first report of Posnanski’s hiring. Those organizations are parents of Project X, which will operate as a separate entity with no editorial connection to baseball or the newspaper. Posnanski said he couldn’t go into more detail, “not so much because it’s secret but because we are in the early stages of development and nobody really knows what will fly and what won’t. But I think I can honestly say it’s about the written word, which is why I’m thrilled to be part of it.”

Wait. Thrilled? Here’s a guy, Posnanski, who was a star at Sports Illustrated. He wrote cover stories. He did the back-page column. SI gave his personal blog prominence on its website. All this and only five minutes before, it seemed, he was a columnist in Augusta about to get a job in Cincinnati on his way to Kansas City. Now he leaves SI for Project X? I ask you, does a reasonable man check out of a Ritz-Carlton to check in to a Hotel to be Named Later? We’ll get to Posnanski’s explanation in a bit, but first I need to drop in a fat paragraph that will help explain why I love his explanation.

If only I were 25 again – I’ve said that in many places, for all the obvious reasons and for reasons of journalism. For anyone 25 years old who is susceptible to the charms of journalism and invulnerable to its curses, these are exciting times. We live at the birth of a media revolution unlike anything since Gutenberg perfected the printing press. Only imagination limits the possibilities. Maybe I’d want to be a documentarian because now, more than ever, we live in a world presented visually. More likely, I’d be a reporter/writer again. Even that basic work of journalism is full of opportunities that didn’t exist in the Neanderthalian days of newsprint. Back then, if you didn’t start your reporting career at a newspaper, you didn’t start at all. Now every niche in sports is covered online and usually covered more effectively than any newspaper ever did it. Every sports-related organization has its own reporters for its own website. And if you can’t get a job at any of those places, you start your own blog and wait for the world to catch on.

When we spoke during the Masters in early April, Posnanski said leaving SI had sent him into “a horrible, horrible depression.” Earlier he’d said in his blog: “I’ve written this before — my dream, from the time I was just starting out in this business, was to write for Sports Illustrated. My first story was about how tall Dustin Pedroia was, and seeing that in print was one of the joys of my life. My first cover story was about Albert Pujols, and that took me to an even higher high. I talked writing with Gary Smith, podcasted with Peter King (twice — my technology skills aren’t the best), chatted baseball with Tom Verducci, hung out with the awesome golf guys and listened to jaw-dropping stories at dinners with the legendary Terry McDonell. And much more. At least 100 times, I looked around and thought, ‘Is this really happening?’ It was three of the greatest years of my life, and leaving has been a persistent kick to the stomach ever since I made the decision.”

It’s a decision made in favor of “an opportunity that’s really exciting,” he told me. Project X will create work available online, on tablets, on all the current mobile devices and, if anyone perfects technology that will imprint words on the back of your eyelids during sleep, X will probably use that, too. “The best part,” Posnanski said, “is that everything will be built around the written word. I’m not a TV guy. I’m not a radio guy. I write.”

He sounded like a man who made a decision based on the future rather than on the past or even the present. As good as SI has been, is, and will be, it yet is part of a legacy media that is attempting, without notable success so far, to adapt its values and retro-fit its practices to fit a 21st-century template.

Meanwhile, Project X will simply start anew in the 21st century.

If in fact it’s the words that matter most, X has started well with Posnanski. It since has hired Tommy Tomlinson away from Charlotte Observer. Posnanski said, “They’re being very aggressive,” and he suggested the project could be up and running by fall.

Until then, Posnanski won’t be idling.

There’s his biography of Joe Paterno biography. For a month or two now, Amazon.com has advertised the book with a publication date of August 28 and with this description:

By America’s premier sportswriter, written with full cooperation of Joe Paterno and his family, Paterno is the definitive account of the epic life of America’s winningest college football coach. Published to coincide with Penn State football’s first season without their legendary leader.

“Born in Brooklyn in 1926, Joe Paterno was a first generation college student who became a star quarterback while attending Brown University. After graduation in 1950, at age twenty-three, he was hired by his former coach as assistant coach at Penn State. Over the course of sixty-two football seasons, Joe Paterno’s influence was felt as the Nittany Lions won 409 games, a Division I record for a coach. He was honored with every distinction the sports industry has to offer, from being the coach to receive Sports Illustrated’s Sportsman of the Year Award, to the Associated Press College Football Coach Award, to the NCAA’s Gerald R. Ford Award.

“Joe Posnanski spent the last two years of Paterno’s life with him, getting to know the man and his family, and was there as the scandal broke that eventually consumed him. Written with unprecedented access, Paterno gets inside the mind of one of America’s most brilliant and charismatic coaches.”

All great and wonderful, except for this:

Posnanski hasn’t written it yet.

“It’s a little daunting to see it for sale,” he said, “when I’m roughly halfway through.”

We spoke, remember, in early April.

“I’d like to have it finished by the end of the month,” he said.

By Posnanski’s arithmetic, that meant he had to write 50,000 words in three weeks. Put a pencil to that, it’s about 2,500 words a day. Talk about daunting. But there’s always wiggle room in a book’s deadline. And anyone who has read the way-past-prolific Posnanski – especially on his blog famous for its “Curiously Long Posts” – knows he’s capable of 2,500 remarkable words on most any subject most any day.

Still, this is Paterno. When Posnanski began reporting the book, Paterno was by acclamation a saint among sinners. His life story was in Posnanski’s wheelhouse, an inspiring saga of achievement that brought the coach admiration, respect, and love from fans, players, coaches, even American presidents. Not so much now.

“It’s a very, very different book now,” Posnanski said. “But, in many ways, it’s still the same. It’s still about his life – a life that changed dramatically at the end. And in the last three months of his life, when nobody else had access to him, I was with him quite a bit.”

So, in the last days of April, the question every writer comes to hate: Done with the book?

He said he hoped to be finished in the next couple weeks. “Whether or not I make it . . . well, you’ve written books, so you know.”

Even by email, I could hear Joe’s sigh.

“Let me know if you need anything else,” he wrote. “For me, it’s back to typing.”

Dave Kindred’s latest book, “Morning Miracle,” is an inside-the-newsroom account of two years in the life of The Washington Post. Now a contributing writer at Golf Digest, Kindred is a Red Smith Award winner and member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. He can be reached by email at inkstained1@aol.com. He can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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