Blood-sucking vampires, international art thieves and lingerie-wearing football players have all been prey to Michael Mooney’s (’09 M.J.) fascination with obscure characters. The Mayborn School of Journalism graduate has written stories other journalists avoid, and it has paid off.
“This is what I do for a living. I try to write stories that connect disparate parts of society, and I try to tell them in a way that will change how they are viewed,” Mooney says. “There’s no way I could be doing this without my experience at the Mayborn.”
Just a few years ago as a student, he wrote a feature about fired 60 Minutes producer Mary Mapes for the Mayborn magazine. He admits that when he tossed aside his cap and gown, he did not imagine an immediate decorated writing career. He was just hoping to get a job.
In contrast, he spent most of last year collecting award after prestigious award. He has received honors from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists, and he was a runner-up for the Sex Positive Journalism award for his investigative story on prostitutes, for which he invited them to bowling, miniature golf and to eat ice cream with him.
Describing his most esteemed award as a dream, Mooney won The Best American Crime Reporting 2009 honor for his D Magazine story, “The Day Kennedy Died.” Days later, he won The Best American Sports Writing 2009 honor for “Royal Flushed,” a story he wrote about amateur and professional poker players in Florida, where he resides. The stories are subsequently published in anthologies of the award-winning works.
Although Mooney questioned whether he would someday be worthy, the proof-filled pudding came sooner than expected. He told the Neiman Foundation: “Getting into these books has been a career goal for a while ... so when I got the news that my JFK story was selected for Otto Penzler’s anthology, I was pretty sure it was my friends playing some sick prank on me. I called some at 2 a.m. to tell them I didn't think it was funny.”
Sitting at his Broward-Palm Beach New Times desk in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Mooney anxiously awaits the final editor’s cuts to his lingerie football story, which is slated to run the following week. While sports reporters may cringe at muscular women playing America’s game in their underwear (or maybe not), Mooney capitalized on journalists’ ambivalence to gain entry into the best of journalism today.
He writes: “The women themselves are proportioned like quarterbacks and wide receivers, except in a female form. They are ripped, physical specimens. Amazon-like warriors, geared for battle.”
Nowadays, Mooney’s newer dreams are of reporting for Rolling Stone, GQ or Texas Monthly, becoming more like his heroes — Gary Smith, David Grann, Mark Boals, Pamela Colloff, Skip Hollandsworth, Gay Talese and Michael Lewis.
“These are the kinds of writers I aspire to be,” Mooney says. “Compared with them, any successes I’ve had are like grains of sand on a wide beach.”