When Canadian bull rider Ty Pozzobon killed himself in January 2017 at age 25, news outlets across North America published a short wire report. Speculation was that numerous concussions suffered while bull riding led to depression and suicide. Then the story faded.
Not for Globe reporter Marty Klinkenberg who saw this sport as a way of life in Western Canada, and little understood elsewhere. He started to dig into Ty’s life. “Eight Seconds” is a deeply reported, visual exploration of the bull-riding circuit – an unflinching examination of a merciless sport.
The greatest challenge was a main character that was dead. Marty spent the better part of the summer driving across Alberta to spend days and nights with Pozzobon’s closest friends and colleagues. He managed unprecedented access on the tour. What he found, among bull riding’s concussion crisis, was also a love story.
The writing is evocative, spare, tender, at times brutal and always without judgment. Marty worked with tremendous patience and sensitivity to persuade Ty’s widow and heart-broken parents, who had never given an interview about their son’s death, to speak at length. They shared private photographs and video of Ty’s most devastating ride.
Knowing that telling a story like “Eight Seconds,” would challenge the constraints of a typical story template, the team instead leaned into visual storytelling methods by leveraging Todd Korol’s moving photography and footage of Ty’s family and fellow bull riders. To achieve our goal, we used a workflow that allowed us to iterate through ideas and design directly around words, photos, video and graphics.
The story scrolls open with contrasting footage of the bull-riding world: Drone footage from an outdoor arena nestled in the foothills, which fades to slow-motion action footage of a rider and his bull. These shots were meticulously planned and looped for maximum impact on all devices encouraging the scroll to keep reading.
We used a new technique for creating annotated video quotes, which gave readers multiple ways into the characters and a visceral connection to the story. We transcribed the video quotes and took care to display captions and video to work on mobile devices and be accessible to all readers.
Our attention to an integrated, visual narrative paid off: The story was deeply engaging with our readership (scoring in the top 5 per cent for engagement, site wide), and widely shared on Facebook and social media.
Twitter readers were effusive: “Everything about this story from @globeandmail is good. #Journalism, interactive bits & human focus,” said one. “A brilliant harrowing read on the risk of brain injuries in bull riding,” said another.
Several months after the publication of the story, the Professional Bull Riders Association made changes to its concussion protocol to ensure that riders would have better access to medical care during competition.
Throughout this project, special care was taken to ensure that the sensitive subject matter was treated in a tasteful and appropriate manner.
The result was an extraordinary and immersive exploration of the world’s most dangerous sport.