Tuesday, February 17, 2009

How he tells America's stories

(Dan Barry, who writes the "This Land" column for The New York Times, visiting the center of the United States in Butte County, S.D. Ángel Franco/The New York Times)

Dan Barry is another one of my favorite writers.

Barry writes about so-called ordinary people, places and things. He gets to travel around the nation and write tightly-crafted stories like this. He also has a cool multimedia page where you can look up all his travels.

Anyway, back to the point of this blog post. Barry did a Q&A online. It's a joy to read.

Here's a bit from it:
Q. Would you write a bit about your process of reporting: determining the subject, obtaining facts, creating a readable story? I am struck by the respectful nature of your pieces, often about rather mundane matters that I wouldn't ordinarily take the time to read. Do you often start on a project and decide it just isn't interesting enough to finish? Do you always have a “moral’’ to the stories you write?
— Kathleen Minder

A. Dear Ms. Minder: Thanks for your kind note. I’ve chosen to answer yours first because it contains a compliment.

Not really.

But it provides me with a chance to explain a little about how the column works, or doesn’t.

First, I’m a curious guy, and I keep thoughts in my head and on scraps of paper about little things: Where are the Munchkins today? Who gets to be judge at a county fair baking contest, and does the power go to the judges' heads? What are auditions like for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Who are the Odd Fellows?

Sometimes, these thoughts are more serious, and go more along the lines of bearing witness. For example: What is it like to witness an execution? How do you cope when the Mississippi is threatening to flood your town? Who are these boxers who travel the Southern Circuit, getting their brains beat in for a couple of hundred bucks?