Saturday, May 30, 2009

Isn't it obvious?

I'm going to pick on the AP to make a point. Read this lead:

MISHICOT, Wis.—A Wisconsin woman and her 5-year-old daughter got a fowl visitor when an unwelcome wild turkey crashed through a bedroom window.

Now, I ask you: When would a wild turkey crashing through a bedroom window be welcomed? Can you picture it? "Mom! Mom! A turkey just crashed through the window in my room!" "Oh, Susie, how wonderful! We've been hoping for just such a thing. Hello, turkey, won't you join us for dinner?" Meanwhile, these ingrates in Wisconsin can't seem to accept their good fortune.

It's silly. But we've all done it in our writing/editing. We've written about the tragic accident, as opposed to the joyous one; about a brutal beating, as opposed to a tender one. I wrote a budgetline yesterday that said a guy was busted for illegally selling venison, as opposed to being busted for legally selling it.* Now that would have been noteworthy.

Those needless (and sometimes comical) modifiers can creep in to our writing if we're not vigilant. Be alert for them, and scrub them out of your writing.

*That's also the headline. Alas.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Newsrooms of the future

I didn't see any flying cars, but these newsrooms are pretty cool.

The physical location of where I am writing makes a big impact on the final product. For example, when I move desks it takes me a good month or so before writing becomes natural again. Surroundings matter.

When you take a tour of these places it makes me think about function, and how the writing and reporting changes depending on the feel of the space.

In the Talking Points Memo newsroom, reporters are in two rows facing each other (a la high school lunchroom). It makes me think they talk to each other often, tossing around ideas and breaking news. Looks cozy.

In the Daily Telegraph newsroom, I think the most telling item was the large conference room situated in the middle of the room -- no walls around it. This seems to be the kind of place where all are welcome to listen in on big decisions of the day.

The Spokesman-Review takes transparency to a whole new level. The newsroom meetings are open to the public and videos of it are posted online.

(Update: Ironically, I originally put three broken links in this post. They are fixed now.)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Simple minds wander (subtitle: How poetry happens)

This morning I asked Kara about something, and she told me she didn't handle that anymore.

So I called her a slacker.

She responded:

Ode to a slacker
I am a slacker
'Tis true
But I learned all I know
From watching you.

Which, of course, meant I had to respond in kind:

I'm a mentor of slackers, it's said
Leading others to lessen their workload.
Were it not for your inspiration, however,
I'd be accomplishing things by the boatload.

The point of all this being, give yourself permission to take a creative break during your day, even if (perhaps especially if) what you're being creative about isn't for the YDR.

Profile of a dying man

Edwin Shneidman was born in York and went on to be a major voice in suicide prevention, and in how our culture thinks about/talks about death.

We're not sure (yet) whether he lived here for any extended period of time, but in doing some rooting around online, I came across this excellent story about Shneidman facing his own death.

It's by Thomas Curwen of the L.A. Times, who you may remember has appeared in this blog before, related to a great story about a grizzly attack. He answered questions for us about what became a Pulitzer finalist.

This time the conflict is much more subtle, and thus more challenging to capture. Look at the way he puts you in the scene for the first several grafs, and then study the language and the pace he uses in the 10th through 13th grafs to tell you what the story's about. Thoughts?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A last word (and link to handout) on staffer-supervisor relationships

Thanks to everyone who came to the bagger this morning. For those who couldn't make it, and/or didn't pick up a handout but want one, here it is -- tips and observations on how to make the most of the staffer-supervisor relationship.

Feel free to add your own here ... I'll add them to the document, too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bagger Wednesday

I'll send out a staff e-mail on this today when I get in, but just a quick reminder that we'll gather in the conference room at noon Wednesday for pizza and the latest in our series of baggers.

So far we've had Amy talk about the six-step writing process, and Jacqui Banaszynski go deeper into focusing and organizing.

Both of them talked about reporters working with editors on this stuff, and that relationship is where a lot can get done ... or not. So I'm going to talk about ways I think those relationships can work and ways they don't work.

Something to think about: If you could choose one quality in an editor, what would you choose? If you could choose one quality in a reporter/photographer/copy editor/graphic artist, what would it be?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Left unsaid

This piece was in the NYT mag this weekend.

It's a account of how a business reporter got drawn into the financial crisis. Once you get past the part about him being a reporter making $120,000 a year, there's pretty interesting storytelling here.

I don't want to say too much about it, because it would spoil the story, but a friend and I discussed the story at length Sunday. I'd like to see what you think.

Read the story with an eye toward the bits he weaves in here and there about his wife. Do you think what was obviously left out makes the story more effective? (I am talking about his second wife; the one he bought the house with.)

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Kerouac and baseball

For those of you who are baseball fans, and Jack Kerouac fans (or at least appreciate Kerouac), this is a lot of fun: A New York Times story that talks about the fantasy baseball game Kerouac created and played when he was a kid. He even (as you'll see in the slideshow) created mock newspaper pages about stuff that was going on in his fantasy world.

I guess you could call it weird. I think it's cool.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Now I know why ...

... Roy Peter Clark's old column on nonfiction and memoirs (see blog entry below) is on the Nieman Narrative Digest's site.

It's because of this piece, a memoir featured by the Nieman folks written by a mother about her son's battle with autism, called "The Monster Inside My Son." Apparently the Nieman staff got into a deep discussion about whether this is nonfiction journalism or something else.

I haven't read the notes on their discussion or the piece yet, but plan to. Meanwhile if anyone else does, let me know what you think.

A storytelling guidebook

This is an older column by Roy Peter Clark, and I'm not sure exactly why it showed up on the Nieman Narrative Digest's Web site just now. I think he wrote it during when the journalism world was abuzz with scandals like Jayson Blair and memoir writers who were admitting they made up stuff about their lives and thought it was OK.

Anyway, since we talk a lot in here about using fiction-writing techniques while dealing with facts only and telling true stories, this is an excellent read and very important to our storytelling work.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

What do you call ...

... an author that you're reading for the first time? Not a first-time author ... maybe a first-read author...

Anyway, I just started Peter Mathiessen's 'The Snow Leopard.' I've never read Mathiessen, and it got me thinking about how often we read authors for the first time, or, put another way, how hard it is sometimes to read someone other than an author we really like.

This is toughest for me with fiction authors. For example, I'd read Michael Chabon if he wrote directions on how to poke a stick in your eye, and I'd love it. But it's often hard for me to make the leap to a fiction author I'm not familiar with.

That said, I will read Milan Kundera (thanks to recommendation from Jeff) and Cormac McCarthy for the first time this year. I have an old Robin Cook novel hanging around. I plan to pick up something from Philip Roth (thanks again to Jeff). That's it for new fiction authors.

How do you find/try new fiction writers? Anybody you'd recommend to me or others reading this?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Tweet like a pro

Here's a how-to story that serves two purposes.

First, it's a great look at writing about technology in plain speak.

Second, it's a great way to learn all about twitter.

The love/hate war rages about the awesomeness/super-suck of twitter, but it's worth knowing how to do.

Following politicians on twitter is a great way to score scoops. They say the darnedest things.

Also, twitter is a challenge like no other in keeping writing short.

Done right: quick bursts of useful/funny/poetic prose.

Done wrong: narcissists telling you every move they make. (Unless they are said politicians, and sometimes that leads to the a fore mentioned scoops.)