Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On profiles

Notes from yesterday's video session with Jacqui on profiles:
  • They bring personality into the newspaper; most readers learn about a subject better if it's attached to a person.
  • Profiles demand great interviewing; require journalists to observe (describe people and place, set characters in a place)
  • You have to report well around the person so when you characterize or explain motivation, you have it nailed down
  • Doing profiles teaches responsibility; you have to have it right
Key types of profiles
  • Nano-profiles -- a way to build character into a story even if the story is not all about the person. You bring someone to life in a paragraph or two; tell us about someone's character or values in the moment.
  • Cradle-current profiles -- seldom as necessary as we think they are. negatives are that they take too long to do, take up a lot of space and often read like resumes. Strive to do profiles as internal resumes rather than external ones.
  • Niche profile -- develop who a person is at a key point in time. Pick the defining moments in their life (not their whole life); your profile then gets much more narrow. Many profiles spend too much time on back story; condense the resume stuff to a couple grafs in a story or into a box. Get dialogue, not quotes, to reveal someone's essence.
Tips for interviewing for profiles
  • Props are helpful. Get people to tell you the stories behind things in their office or their home. Look for things they can tell you about, instead of getting them to answer direct questions.
  • Use storyteller questions to put people into the timeline of their own life. Where were you when this huge event happened? Tell me about the day. When did you get up? What did you wear that day? What did you eat for breakfast? And so on. You want to build scenes.
  • When you ask those questions -- say, what did you eat for breakfast -- ask more to get greater detail (what kind of cereal? in what kind of bowl? did you drink the milk out of the bowl after you were done? and so on.)
Timeline reporting technique
  • Build two, maybe three timelines: One, the classic resume of the person; two, the defining moments in that person's life; three, what's going on in culture or society that provides the backdrop to the person you're profiling. Use those to build your story.
A little more later.