Thursday, December 31, 2009

It is what it is: A columnist takes on idiots

For the 26th year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gene Collier awards the Trite Trophy for abuse of the English language, by sports writers, broadcasters, athletes and fans. His short list isn't very short, with many phrases in the discussion, but at the end of the day take a moment to read this absolute monster piece of writing.

As a writer, Collier clearly has a heck of a motor.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Effective use of quote marks

I read this story out loud to Wade last night. It's that funny.

And when I read it, I was sure to alert the listener to the existence of quote marks wherever the writer had them. They made it even more comical, something I hadn't thought possible.

This isn't narrative journalism by any stretch of the imagination, but this is clearly a case of a reporter realizing the hilarity of the story and playing it up.

The lede is pretty straight. The fun starts at paragraph No. 4:

DeWeese had some quirky demands, said Manzo and two other former staffers, Kevin Sidella and Scott Brubaker: His state-paid driver had to show up with the state car recently waxed; aides withdrew his money from ATM machines because he didn't know how to use them; and he'd ask for "a small coffee in a big cup," or "a sandwich cut in four" pieces, they said.

"Bill is obsessive. He has to have everybody around him doing something. He will hand you a cup and say, 'Get me 12 M&M's' — ridiculous requests," Sidella testified in June 2008.

Requests for such things as a "small salad in a big bowl" were part of what Brubaker in December 2008 called the "daily nuttiness that he put his immediate staff through."
There's more (near the end), so click on the story and read it.

A reader on twitter remarks: "This Tribune-Review story makes Bill DeWeese seem like Michael Scott."

Sunday, December 20, 2009

'A story is what makes us real'

Besides being a terrific story, this is a great example of online presentation.

When I am reading this, all I can think about is a cool voice over in an old-timey detective novel. That's a combination of the writing tone and the Web page layout. Oh, and the art is just incredible. There aren't any ads messing up flow either.

The story has a theme that's a favorite for me. It's about a forgotten man. Someone left behind by society. It reminds me of this line from Allen Ginsberg's poem, America: "I say nothing about my prisons nor the millions of underpriviliged who live in my flowerpots under the light of five hundred suns."

(Also, I am in love with the font size, which improves online readibility. I didn't have to print this one out to read it.)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

'This American Life' goes to Penn State

Heard this morning that 'This American Life' has a piece this weekend on the nation's No. 1 party school. I thought, maybe that would be of interest to the 247 Penn State grads in this office.

Anyway ... here's the link. If you don't catch it on the radio it should be available for free download at that site either Saturday or right after. Even if you're not of, by and for Penn State, anyone who's listened to TAL knows the story will be worth the time.

Ken Burns on elements of storytelling

Interesting thoughts from the documentary filmmaker, and there are more here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Speaking of profiles ... how about Tiger Woods? linked to Charles Pierce's thoughts on Tiger Woods' crash-and-fallout, and that story included a link to a full profile Pierce did on Woods in 1997.

What Pierce reported for that profile led him to say this in his current piece about the crash and everything that's come after:

"I can't say I'm surprised — either by the allegations or by what's ensued since Friday's wreck. Back in 1997, one of the worst-kept secrets on the PGA Tour was that Tiger was something of a hound. Everybody knew. Everybody had a story. Occasionally somebody saw it, but nobody wanted to talk about it, except in bar-room whispers late at night. Tiger's People at the International Management Group visibly got the vapors if you even implied anything about it. However, from that moment on, the marketing cocoon around him became almost impenetrable. The Tiger Woods that was constructed for corporate consumption was spotless and smooth, an edgeless brand easily peddled to sheikhs and shakers. The perfect marriage with the perfect kids slipped so easily into the narrative it seemed he'd been born married."

Given the events of the past week, Pierce's 12-year-old profile of Woods would seem to be timely reading.

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.