Tuesday, December 14, 2010

What does your writing room look like?

Stephen King's writing space
Gotta have some fun with this:

Sue found a Dave Eggers column in The Washington Post in which he discusses 'the writing life.' He says he writes "in a shed in my backyard. I have a sheet draped over the shed's window because without it the morning sun would blast through and blind me. So I'm looking at a gray sheet, which is nailed to the wall in two places and sags in the middle like a big, gray smile. And the sheet is filthy. And the shed is filthy. If I left this place unoccupied for a week, it would become home to woodland animals. They probably would clean it up first."

Mark Twain's study
 His point is that sometimes the shed drives him nuts and he just has to get out. But his description got Sue and I thinking about what the writing rooms -- real ones, and/or an imagined ideal -- of people we know would look like, and what that would say about them.

 For example, we know that Buffy writes in a room decorated with frilly, fluffy pink things and a pink-rhinestone encrusted laptop.

 So what does your writing room -- the real one, and the one you'd create for yourself if you could -- look like? Leave your answers in the comments.

Friday, December 10, 2010

A Facebook feed turned into a narrative

The Washington Post (with permission) took a woman's Facebook feed -- she was a constant updater -- and edited it to tell the story of childbirth followed by complications, and how it turned out.

This is the type of story that conventionally could be a long narrative. It's fascinating to see how it works in this format.

Update: The writer talks about how he put the story together.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

A Christmas list of good reads

Writers behind Gangrey.com just posted their "Top Longreads of 2010." Can't imagine better tips if you're in search of a compelling story or 20 to read.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

An amazing story -- and that's just about the author

I thought "Seabiscuit" by Laura Hillenbrand was a great book. I had no idea she researched and wrote it while ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. And now she's published another book -- still while fighting the disease that all but confines her to her home. This is a great piece on her, how she researched and wrote "Unbroken," and how she and her husband have stayed together despite her illness.
 And she's an inspiration to anyone who wants to write (or do anything, really) and thinks they're too tired to keep going.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Build good writing habits on Facebook, Twitter

Good stuff from Poynter's Roy Peter Clark about writing well on social networks. As usual, he turns what can be seen as a problem (in this case, character limits) into an opportunity. Excerpt:


...all readers and writers have experience with even smaller containers for good writing: a journal entry, a haiku, a telegram, an epitaph for a gravestone, a love message on one of those candy valentine hearts, the chorus of a song. Back in the day, headline writers counted available spaces per line, and poets still count syllables. Writers on Twitter and Facebook just happen to count characters (or to have characters counted for them by The Machine.)
This is a good thing. Any metric of length forces a discipline on the writer.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

When first-person writing works well

At the PNA storytelling seminar last week, Marion Winik talked about personal essays and first-person writing; it's how she's built her career.

She's quite good at writing about events in her life. We hear someone like that and we come away tempted to do first-person writing. It's so alluring, and so different from what we usually do, and here's a nationally successful writer encouraging us to try, so we naturally start thinking about how we can do something like that.

I think it's a good idea to take that enthusiasm and keep it alive until the right story comes along. Most ideas won't qualify. Somewhere down the road, one will.

Here's an example of when it works.* I doubt anyone in our shop is going to go to Iraq and develop a relationship like this to write about, but this story, from Corinne Reilly in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot has what makes for a strong first-person story:

It's about something, as opposed to just relating some experiences. It tells a story -- it starts somewhere and goes somewhere and ends somewhere -- and (by design) it tells you there's more to come. It has a point of view, but it's never self-indulgent.

And for me, it had one of the best qualities of a well-written piece: I clicked on it just to see what it was about, not really intending to read the whole story, but it moved at such a good pace and was so seamlessly written that I read until the last sentence.

See what you think.

*Update: Broken link fixed. Thanks LeAnne.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Quick takes from PNA storytelling seminar

I'll post more from this seminar later, but for now, some things to get you thinking:


Marion Winik, author and NPR commentator: "The things you think you shouldn't do and can't do are the things you should do and can do."
 And,
 "Writer's block is simply a lack of typing. Sit down and type and then your writer's block is over."

John Luciew, Patriot-News enterprise writer, talked about his long investigative narrative "In the path of a serial killer," the story of how police first suspected the husband of a woman murdered by a serial killer: "I wanted all the key people in the story to be characters, not talking heads." So he did the reporting/writing that enabled him to make them characters in his story.

 Chris McDougall, author/freelance writer, who wrote "Born to Run," about a hidden tribe of people who are fantastic distance runners: "Human life is about movement." Same is true of stories, he said; something evolves, something changes. "What's the journey? What's the progression?"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wondering out loud about David Simon, Treme and a confounding (to me anyway) storytelling question

I heard David Simon on the radio this morning talking about Treme, the HBO series about post-Katrina New Orleans. He was discussing how his series (like "The Wire") allow narrative, characters, situations and themes to develop over time, "to pay off when they're ready to pay off," as he put it.

Anyone who's watched "The Wire" can see how things that happened in the beginning came back around at the end, or provided context for what happened year-to-year in the series, or added depth to the entire series. But during the radio interview he also said that he doesn't know whether HBO will extend Treme beyond Season 2.

Here's my question: If you are writing/filming/producing a series in which you are purposefully patient, in which you do not intend to wrap everything up at the end of each season, in which you are using something in Season 1 to set up something in Season 5, how do you do that if you don't know that there will be a Season 5?

It would be like us writing a three-part series without any guarantee that parts 2 and 3 would be published. Don't know that there's an answer here, unless I can get this question to David Simon. But, like I said, I'm just wondering out loud. Any thoughts?


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Your writing voice isn't always right the first time. So, revise

Novelist Allegra Goodman (who, I discovered, has a lot of writing advice/tips on her blog) wrote about revising in a Wall Street Journal guest column. She talks about figuring out, as a young writer, the power of revising  your own work.Naturally she's approaching it as a fiction writer, but if you replace "fiction" with "nonfiction," what she says applies to what we do (and I think the last graf here really hits home...it's why so many people write leads based on advertising slogans and think they're being clever):

"Starting with inspiration and some talent, you could work to be a writer. You could keep revising, and improve.


"Why was this idea so surprising and liberating for me? Like many literary teenagers, I believed that art was a matter of instinct—that the artist's first impulse is the most authentic, that revision is something you do to essays but hardly applies to poetry or fiction. I pictured revision as drudge work, spoiling all that was fresh and original. But what if revision actually improved ideas?  ...

"...We grow up hearing that we should just be ourselves, and listen to our inner voices. But what if your authentic self won't shut up? What if your inner voice is boring? In revision you cut excess verbiage. Revising, you can experiment with other voices.

"It's great to tap into your unconscious, but remember how impressionable the unconscious can be, how quick to absorb the tropes of television and romance and life-affirming or cautionary memoir. Revision means testing and questioning conventions, forging a path through the cultural clutter that we mistake for our own creativity."

Friday, November 5, 2010

On George/Sparky Anderson

Not just for baseball fans, this is a great read on Reds/Tigers manager Sparky Anderson by Joe Posnanski: Joe Blogs: George and Sparky.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

When you write, pay attention to small things; they matter

Where a word appears in a sentence can affect what the sentence means. Take this sentence from today's Washington Post:

Grosvenor, 79, announced his retirement before a standing-room-only crowd -- fittingly -- in the Grosvenor Auditorium at the Society's headquarters, just a few blocks from the White House.

 Because the word 'fittingly' comes right after 'crowd,' so, to me, what the writer actually said was that it was fitting that Grosvenor announced his retirement before an SRO crowd. That could be true.

 But what I'm betting the writer wanted to say was that it was fitting that Gilbert Grosvenor announced his retirement in an auditorium with his family's name on it. Had the word 'fittingly' come after the word 'in,' that's what the sentence would have said.

 No doubt some would say I'm being too picky. Please share.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Things I didn't know about myself

I talked to a high school class last week about journalism ethics, the tough questions journalists face all the time, and about ethical problem-solving. The students had to write mini-reports about me and about the discussion. The teacher, with a kind note of thanks, mailed me the reports.

Most of them got it right, or at least close: They picked out a quote or an issue that we talked about and wrote about that.

Then there was this lead sentence:

"Most people have at least one thing they struggle with in their jobs, but few struggle with their morals the way Scott Blanchard does."

Thus wounded, I slink away, defenseless. Think of me what you will.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Am I 'in'?

Granted, it's not often we get the time to work on a story where these questions would come into play, but I thought this was great stuff from The Washington Post's Hank Steuver. He shared questions he asks himself to figure out whether he's spent enough time with his source.

Stuff like: Have I seen them with wet hair? Have I seen them shop? Have I seen the inside of their fridge?

Keep the list around (or the link to it). Might come in handy sooner than you think.

Monday, October 18, 2010

'How will I coach?'

A column with conflict and no resolution -- but that's the point. It's about a college football player, paralyzed during a game, and his high school coach's reaction. Good stuff.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Great editor doing what you might not expect

A few posts ago I mentioned the great editor Jan Winburn, formerly of the Baltimore Sun and Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and said I wasn't sure who she was working for now. Turns out she's at CNN. I came across some tips she's writing for CNN's iReport boot camp.

I am fascinated by that. I kind of chuckle at the idea of an "iReporter," as CNN calls it, because I always think that that's what we used to call a "source," or, even more plainly, "people who saw something happen."

But now, in a time where journalists are regularly told that anyone can do their jobs (ability, skills, training and experience notwithstanding), we bestow titles upon them as though that disguises the fact that they are the same people reporters have always interviewed about breaking news, and they are doing exactly the same thing they would do if they were interviewed by a reporter -- they're telling their story. Somehow, the fact that they're submitting their own piece to a news organization, instead of talking to a reporter, makes all the difference.

Except now that story might be unfiltered by a journalist -- presumably one with ability, skills, training and experience, who could gather information and distill it to produce a strong piece of journalism. So instead of a well-reported and written story, you might get, "The tornado was unbelievable, and I even saw a cow flying through the air, LOL." OK, maybe that's hyperbole, but still.

And that brings us to Jan Winburn, who has edited some fantastic pieces for the Sun and AJC, and from whom any reporter and writer, at any stage of their career, has much to learn. She's providing tip sheets to "iReporters," but really, they're the same insight you'd get if you went to a writing seminar with her. And her tips (see link above, for example) lead to an exercise CNN asks its "iReporters" to do ("tell the story of an object that reveals something about someone you know.")

I'm not criticizing the effort, and I don't think that working journalists have a monopoly on reporting and writing skills. It's democratic to believe that anyone who wants to work to become a better reporter and writer can (and maybe even should) do so, and the more that do, the better journalism will become. I just hope CNN's "iReporters" -- and anyone else who may think the ability to type and hit "enter" puts their journalistic skills on par with people who do it for a living and care about doing it well -- truly understand and appreciate Winburn's coaching.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Interactive timeline: Different way to tell a story

Newspapers are pretty good with timelines, whether in print or online. But often they're simply text lists of a sequence of events. Some sites out there allow you to create an interactive timeline, as we did with the Snyder v. Phelps case below, showing how Albert Snyder and Westboro Baptist Church wound up before the Supreme Court. How does this work for you as a new way to tell this particular story? How could it have been better?



Friday, October 1, 2010

Laughs & more

I've touted this blog -- called Hyperbole and a Half -- to a couple people in the office, because it's funny as hell. But I figured I'd note it here as well, because it's really a form of storytelling.

 Check out, for example, this post. It's a straight-up narrative that reads like a graphic novel or comic. At a couple points, art alone picks up the narrative. It has dialogue. Conflict-resolution (although the resolution is less a dramatic conclusion than it is a gentle letting-you-come-down-from-laughing-so-hard ending).

 There has to be a story or two out there to approach this way, whether with art or photos. Be on the lookout.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Explanation fail

 You know how when experts give you a quote filled with jargon that you then have to turn into plain English if your reader has any hope of understanding what the person is saying? Mashable (apparently) attempted to do that when writing about yesterday's Facebook outage. Here is how the writer broke down what FB's engineer said:
 Johnson said the downtime today was caused by “an unfortunate handling of an error condition” involving an automated system designed to verify configuration values in the cache and replace invalid values with updated values from the persistent store.
What the ...? Does that mean anything to anyone? Granted, Mashable is a tech blog, and is probably read by tons of code-people who would ask what's wrong with me that I don't understand that. But to many people, that makes about as much sense as:
 Johnson said the downtime today was caused by “an unfortunate handling of an error condition” involving an ignoramus procedure designed to populate refrigeration cathedrals in the atmosphere and rejigger concomitant T-shirts with differentiated threads from the fiery earth.
 Couldn't Mashable have just said: Facebook said it ran a program to update information in its database, but something went wrong and too many computers tried to fix the problem at once and it crashed the system.

 I'm sure that's not exactly what happened ... but that's my point. The way Mashable wrote it, I don't know any more about what happened at FB today than I did yesterday.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hardcore investigative narrative

I've been reading this series from the L.A. Times called "Project 50: Four walls and a bed" about a program that inverts the usual theory about helping homeless people: Instead of working with the homeless to get them off drugs and help them get a job, then get housing, this program gives the homeless a small apartment in hopes that will help them overcome whatever else is wrong in their lives.

Christopher Goffard clearly did a mammoth amount of on-scene reporting for this, and you can imagine the tower of information (if not literal notebooks) he had when he sat down to write.

I admire a few things he's done here, and I think there are lessons to be taken and applied to many of the enterprise pieces we do or strive to do. These are things that you will hear about in many writing seminars, and I'll bet most if not all of you have heard them before. But it's important to see them in practice, and to try to deconstruct how they came to be the way they are:

1. There is a four-graf nut graf in part 1. But it fits seamlessly into the storytelling because of the transition from the scene, and because part of it is rendered as questions ... the very questions that led to the creation of the program, and the very questions the writer is telling you he's going to explore in the story. He's married investigation and storytelling here.

2. In any part after part 1 of a series, you have to clue the reader in to what's going on -- either to remind someone who read part 1 yesterday, or to introduce the story to a new reader. Look at how Goffard does that in part 2: A two-graf scene to open, a recap graf, then back to the subject in context of the whole project:

 To rescue the 50 people deemed most likely to die on the streets in skid row, Los Angeles County had a pragmatic plan: Give them an apartment and all the help they'd accept, requiring little in return — not sobriety, not meetings, not psychiatric drugs.
 Livingston and a handful of others posed the most extreme test of Project 50's premise. Merely living among others, with a modicum of structure and social rules, was proving a steep demand, considering what accompanied the hardest cases indoors: untreated mental illness and ferociously solitary habits formed by decades in the city's dope dens.
"If we can succeed with him — oh, my goodness," said the program's director, Carrie Bach. "If we can do him, we can do anybody."
 Scene-setting, intro of main character, tie-back to narrative story and establishment of conflict in the current story -- all in five grafs. Pretty good stuff.

     3. This is, as I said before, really an investigative piece at heart, but it never feels like one. It feels like a story. As it should. 

If anyone else reads this (or has read it) let me know what you got out of it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

When feedback zigs instead of zags

Whenever we write, whether we admit it or not, we want to know what people -- could be your editor, could be your source, could be your reader, or any/all of them -- want to think about what we wrote. I started thinking about that this afternoon after I dug around in a couple of notebooks I've used whenever I've gone to a writing seminar and came across some interesting thoughts from Jan Winburn, the great editor formerly with the Baltimore Sun and more recently the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (though I'm not sure she's still there).

At the '99 Nieman narrative writing conference, she talked about a couple of serial narratives the Sun had done. One was on a woman who survived two bouts with cancer and the death of a child, before her illness progressed and she had six months to live. The story was about how she wanted her baby to know who her mom was. Reaction for the first couple days was negative, then turned more positive as the series went on.

And she talked about Ken Fuson's piece on the high schoolers putting on "West Side Story" -- which remains one of the most enjoyable pieces of nonfiction I've ever read -- and she said that the reaction to that was pretty much the same: some negative, some positive.

I'm not saying that's a universal response to narratives, but when readers respond like that, why do you think that is? Do you have stories about reaction like that to a piece you did? What did people like or not like about your piece? How do you deal with negative reaction to a story you believe in?

Monday, September 13, 2010

In case you're going to the UK in February ...

I added a couple of feeds to this blog in the past couple days, one of them being anything tagged "storytelling" in del.icio.us. I saw this and thought it was cool: There's an event called "The Story" in London on Feb. 18.

It bills itself as "a one-day conference about stories and story-telling ...

"The Story will be a celebration of everything that is wonderful, inspiring and awesome about stories, in whatever medium possible. We’re hoping to have stories that are written, spoken, played, described, enacted, whispered, projected, orchestrated, performed, printed – whatever form stories come in, we hope to have them here.

"The Story is not about theories of stories, or making money from stories, but about the sheer visceral pleasure of telling a story."

 I don't know. This event may have to become this blog's unofficial mascot or something.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9/11 storytelling

Did anyone come across any strong storytelling related to the Sept. 11 anniversary? I didn't have much time to scour sites for good stories, but I did come across this audiovisual explanatory piece by the New York Times on how the World Trade Center memorial is taking shape, what will be there, what it means and how it's all being put together. Really good stuff.

If you came across any good storytelling today, please share.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Character sketch in reverse

A book of essays on sports by David Halberstam includes a piece he wrote in 2002 about getting an interview with Ted Williams, legendary as a hitter, fighter pilot in WW2 and fisherman, and for a loud, profane, over-the-top personality.

To capture Williams' character, you might craft the piece around it, for example, using description, word choice, tone and all those tools to give the whole piece the feel of being of Williams; or you might devote a couple of strong grafs near the top to a character sketch and let Williams' dialogue and actions flesh it out.

But in this piece, Halberstam does something fantastic: By careful use of the language and of sentence construction, he creates a formal, reserved, almost high-society world that Williams then crashes into without grace or finesse. Williams is the bull; the story is Halberstam's china shop. It's characterization in reverse.

An example:

My appointment with Mr. Theodore Williams of the Islamorada, Fla., Williams family had been agreed on well in advance, though we had not yet talked to each other. That is normal in matters of this gravity, and our earlier arrangements had been conducted through intermediaries.
My representative had been Mr. Robert M. Knight of Bloomington, Ind., who, in addition to being my occasional appointments secretary, is coach to the Indiana University basketball team. Mr. Knight, on occasion, has had troubles with members of the press himself, and was almost as celebrated as Mr. Williams in this regard. ....
I arrived well in advance at the motel where Mr. Williams would call on me, and I was told he would come by at eight the next morning to summon me to our meeting. The motel itself was not exactly memorable. Simpler America, vintage 1950s southern Florida, I would say, if architecture were my specialty, which it is not. But I do remember that the cost of it for the night was roughly what the cost of orange juice is at a hotel in the city in which I live, New York.
At exactly 8 o'clock in the morning there was an extremely loud knock on my door. I answered it, and there was Mr. Williams, and he looked me over critically and then announced, ''You look just like your goddamn pictures.''

Friday, August 27, 2010

An oil-spill story you may not have seen

Tom Junod in Esquire writes about the 11 men who died in the Deepwater Horizon oil well explosion. This is really interesting because I'd had this thought several times: That the oil spill was a massive tragedy for birds, marine life and people who made their living in the Gulf, and when is BP going to stop the damn spill, how can it possibly keep going on for so long ... but wait, didn't a bunch of people die in the explosion? Good lord, it was embarrassingly easy to forget.

I had neither seen nor read a story about those men, until now. Junod starts out writing about the sympathy shown the pelicans, then cuts to the people who are mad that the pelicans (literallly and symbolically) are getting so much attention. Then:


The people who say these things are not lacking in sympathy or pity. They like pelicans. But they loved their husbands and they loved their sons and they loved their fathers and they loved their fianc├ęs and they loved their friends, and they have suffered the experience of having them taken away. They were taken away when the oil rig they were working on fifty miles from shore in the Gulf of Mexico exploded on the night of April 20, and then they were taken away again when the tragedy of the environmental apocalypse — the environmental judgment — unleashed by the explosion outstripped the tragedy of their loss. They were taken away when our loss, as a nation whose health is dependent on the health of our oceans, was deemed greater than the loss of those whose individual worlds were obliterated. They have been taken away every time the story has been told, and the story has been told endlessly. There were eleven of them who died on the Deepwater Horizon. They died on the black ocean, in the black night, far away from our eyes or our interest, in untrammeled obscurity.
 He's captured it beautifully, I think.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

This never gets old

"This American Life" is so popular now that it's easy to come across stories or videos featuring Ira Glass talking about what makes a great TAL story. Nevertheless, I'll read or listen to them every time, hoping to internalize what he's talking about.

 Here's such a piece in The Seattle Times. In it, Glass talks about the need for surprise in a story, something that's unexpected buy key to what happened. I was drawn to this quote: "Even stories of life-changing, traumatic events can lack surprise," Glass said.

How many times are we attracted to stories of people who have overcome an illness, or experienced a traumatic event, or something like that, and we think that's enough? It's not that those can't be good stories. But the best stories, as Glass knows, are ones that are at least a little bit unpredictable. Find those stories, and tell them.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Katrina 5 years later: Great multimedia from USAToday

USAToday used a lot of cool ways to tell the story of Katrina 5 years later -- virtual neighborhood tours and computer-animated explanatory videos of what's been done to the levees and waterways, for example. You can spend a lot of time on this, but it's worth it.

Joy and pain

This piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution is a really good read, an emotional narrative about what happens when the happiest day of two peoples' lives, their wedding, also becomes one of the worst. It's a true narrative -- nothing is given away before it needs to be; even the hed and cutlines cooperate. It's well-done throughout, and I thought the ending struck the perfect note.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Storytelling on a postcard

Anonymous comments rightfully have a bad reputation these days. But a guy in Maryland created what amounts to a storytelling project by asking for just that.

Frank Warren passed out self-addressed postcards with a request that people write a secret on the postcard and mail it back. The response he's gotten is a fascinating look inside each person's life. Some secrets are simple and declarative -- "I could be homeless next month" -- and some are mini-stories -- "I'm jealous that my brother got to save someone's life. I hoped that she would stop breathing again so I could have a turn saving her life."

All are evocative, and visually, too, because people paste or draw pictures, or create a little work of art on the back of the postcard. The project's website is here, where you can see lots of examples.

And in the small-world department: I found out about this because Frank Warren's former mailcarrier is married to one of my brother-in-law's brothers, and she blogged about the backstory of PostSecret here (she and her husband are now living in the UK for three years, as his job took them there, and I've been checking out her blog). And then I was on the PostSecret website, and scrolled to the bottom where it says 826,661 people like it on Facebook, and pictures some of those people, and one of them is Joan Concilio. Nice call, Joan.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Here's an easier way to read long stories online

 A tweeter's link to a long-form journalism site -- http://longform.org/ -- led me to something called "Readability," which is a way to read an online story without all the web-page stuff that comes with it. And it's amazingly easy to use.

If you go to the link above, you just drag the "Readability" button on to your bookmarks toolbar. When you come across a long story you want to read, click that "Readability" button and it will convert the page into a format that's easier to read. Basically, it strips away all the ads and web-page accessories and gives you a bigger type size while keeping the art. The story is much more suitable for printing, too.

That longform.org site, by the way, posts narrative stories that you can convert and read on an iPhone or iPad (or Kindle, or web) using its Instapaper program, which also allows you to save stories to read later. 

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Funny words, just because

In checking the dictionary for a word, I discovered that waesucks is a word. Now, that is a cool word. It originated in Scotland and means 'alas!' So one might say, "Waesucks, he loves me not," or "Waesucks, we have no beer, we will have to drink water."

This discovery of waesucks follows Jeff Frantz and I chortling over the (proper, not joking) use of the word muumuu. He found that the NY Times mag did a story Sunday on the difficulty plus-sized women have in getting high fashion. It included this graph:
Given the fit challenges a plus-size customer faces, the shift to a virtual space where nothing can be tried on can seem alienating to her - a directive to wear a muumuu. She may not particularly like muumuus, and she doesn’t want to be regarded as someone for whom muumuus are a reasonable choice.
Three times in 54 words! That's fantastic.

That got Jeff and I thinking about a contest for best use of the word muumuu in a story. (I dare you to get 'waesucks' in outside of a quote ... although if you tracked down a Scotsman and got him to say that, you'd have to use it.)

 Or maybe there's another odd/weird/funny word we should find in a story and acknowledge the author somehow? What's your favorite? What's the best word like that you've ever actually seen in a story?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Pictures spawn stories

 I started looking through these pictures -- color photos of Depression/war-era America, from a photo blog at denverpost.com -- and with each one, my mind started racing to fill in a story.

Who was this person? What's happening here? How did these people come to be in this situation in this place? What happens in the next frame, and the one after that?

It's a great mental exercise to start to fill in the blanks, and then think about the interviewing you'd want to do to get the facts to tell the real story that's behind each photo.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

My 45-minute commute is totally worth it when ...

... I get to listen to 45 minutes of Gene Weingarten on The Bob Edwards Show on satellite radio.
 Weingarten has collected stories and columns in "The Fiddler in the Subway," and talks to Edwards about how his stories came about, about writing, about editing and all kinds of cool stuff. Anyone who's read Weingarten's pieces about violinist Joshua Bell playing for change in the subway, or people who've left their children locked in cars in hot weather, or 'The Great Zucchini,' will eat this up.

 Edwards asked him how the idea of finding the "armpit of America" came about. "The impetus for that one is that I'm kind of a jerk, a congenital smart-ass," Weingarten said. He had wondered about the many places people refer to as the armpit of America, and wanted to find the "real" one.

He also had a fascinating observation on writing, drawn in part from a long-ago story he did about a terribly inefficient sewage treatment plant in Detroit that basically wasn't treating sewage. His lead traced sewage from points around Detroit to the collecting point -- the plant. "And then it hits the fan," he wrote.

He used that example to say that the most important words aren't the ones you write, they're the ones that you don't write -- the ones you make pop up in a reader's head. By doing that, he said, you change the reader from a passive receiver of what you've written to an ally.

 You can download Bob Edwards shows here for $2.95. This one's worth it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

This is what happened

Go pick up "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers and read it. I keep thinking about the argument du jour in journalism of whether you should (or can) be objective or, as some journalists believe, tell "the truth." I always think: Just tell the story. Journalists who talk about telling "the truth" are usually talking about their truth, how they think you should receive what they're reporting.

 But in this book, Eggars stays pretty clear of that, even though it's obvious he (or another author) could have laced it with politics. Instead, he trusts the story: He just tells you what this guy Zeitoun did after Hurricane Katrina, and what eventually happened to him.

He lets you figure out the rest. I love that.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

You know you know that guy

This is hilarious. A blogger (the blog's called "I want to go to the zoo with Roy Halladay") wrote character sketches for which Philadelphia Phillie is which player on your company softball team. For example: Ben Francisco -- "He wears all the latest Under Armour and Nike gear, is really fit, runs fast, has a strong arm, and it's evident that he goes to the gym regularly and can beat the crap out of you. But he sucks."

Even if you're not a Phillies fan (I'm not) and/or not a company softball-team player (I'm not) this is just flat-out good fun writing. And from my already-held impressions of Phillies' players, this blogger nailed it.

*Thanks to Pat Abdalla for flagging this one.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Overcoming obstacles in video storytelling



As part of Living's 'Senses' project, Kate Penn produced a video about a deaf couple raising a hearing child. Brad passed along this note, which talks about challenges Kate faced and how she dealt with them:

"The video that goes with this week's Sense/Ability story had some cool challenges involved.

The Drawbaughs answered Kate's questions with sign language, and Kate had to match up their responses with the interpretor's translations. (The interpretor doesn't speak as they are signing, she gathers their statement and then repeats it afterward.) So once Kate assembled the video, she reconnected with the interpretor, who came here and helped her place the responses at the right moments during editing. 

Another challenge was showing "B roll" while still keeping the Drawbaughs on screen so their signing could be seen.

Some interesting obstacles, but she put it all together well."

A recurring theme

I saw this line in a wire story today -- Rendell said Thursday that if those differences persisted and legislators took no action on the bills in the next 10 days, he would be required under the state constitution to veto the hard-fought budget -- and, as I stumbled over what exactly a "hard-fought budget" would be, I figured I'd point out (not for the first time) about modifiers and why they're silly sometimes.

 Obviously the writer is trying to tell you, in two words, that legislators have really wrestled over this budget. But to me, using "hard-fought" to modify budget is a lazy and, when you think about it, ineffective way to do it.

I don't think a budget itself can be "hard-fought" any more than it can be "purple-tinged" or "foul-smelling" or
"mouse-quiet." You could describe the process as hard-fought, maybe. But why attach a modifier to it at all? Why not trust your reporting and writing skills and write a sentence that says, "Legislators worked 16-hour days and argued for weeks over spending cuts and taxes," for example?

It's the same as writing "tragic accident" or "uplifting victory." Just show the reader what happened. Those little modifiers don't do nearly the work we sometimes think they do.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The perfect touch

A good friend of mine forwarded me an essay about the late John Wooden by the L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke. "For your TMAS blog thingee," read the e-mail subject line. I suppose I can forgive my friend for referring to this blog as a "thingee," because the story he passed on is pretty damn good. It is, obviously, not something that was tossed off when Wooden died recently, but something that's the result of years of reporting, of being around Wooden (at least every now and then), of deep thinking, and of heart. It focuses on Wooden's devotion to his wife, who died in 1985. The tone of the piece is, I think, just about perfect -- emotional but not fawning.

A sample:

 ... in the middle of the bed, was a bundle of carefully scripted letters, all in the same intricate handwriting.
"Fan mail?" I asked.
"You might say that," he said.
The letters had been written by Wooden to Nell.
They contained humble descriptions of his day, gentle laughs over private jokes, eternal promises of his affection.
They had been written once a month, every month, since 1985.
They had been written after she died.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Once upon a time ...

... Google Blogger was all proud of itself for introducing new blog designs. Try it! Google said.

So one day I did.

And then when I wanted to go back to my original design, I discovered that Google forgot to include an "undo" function.

So now this blog looks different.*

The end.

*If the new design sucks, let me know. I can always change it ...

Theater vs. government in (still communist?) Belarus

Pretty interesting piece here about a theater group in Belarus that's standing up to an overbearing government. It's written by an editor who was at the Nieman Narrative conference I attended a couple years ago. He's mixed observation & interviews to create a revealing and at times surprising story.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dead or alive ... or both

Sometimes, the hero in a cop story isn't the cop, it's the mild-mannered office worker. This is a fun little piece, written with a nice touch, in which the writer got to use lines like, "For an alleged dead man, Newsome was diligent about keeping his court dates."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Wondering what to write about?

Washington Post staff writer Hank Stuever had this on his blog as part of a longer post about his return to New Mexico for a week recently. He talked to a group about writing, which is the context of what he says below. It's a fascinating bit of analysis and, really, advice. What do you think?

One of the things I brought up — which I still strongly believe — is that the best nonfiction stories (and probably the fictional stories and novels, too) usually come from the subjects that most worry, frighten or repulse the writer. And I think the most boring stories come from familiarity, when we set out to write about things we really love or are already in the tank for. I would guess that 90 percent of modern-day nonfiction, especially online, comes more from people typing about things they already believe strongly in, or hobbies they already have, or food and books and music and movies and gadgets they already get, understand and savor. The Internet won’t get much more interesting until people stop writing about what they adore (or are certain they despise, i.e., the other side of the political fence) and just go out and take notes on things they don’t know about, and are possibly afraid of.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

'Think about narrative in the broadest sense'

I just came across this piece from Michael Pollan on Nieman Narrative Digest, and it's the freshest take on narrative I've read in a while. (Even though it was published a few years ago).

I haven't read anything by Pollan, though he's going on my list now that I've read this. He talks about expanding your view of narrative to go beyond "people doing things." This essay is about nature writing, and he has great ideas of how to think about narrative in non-human things -- a system (like how water gets from one place to another), or a process, or an animal, or a life-cycle, for example.

He talks about ecology as a way of thinking, and something that "provides you with all your transitions" because something is always happening down the line. He talks about how Rachel Carson, in "Silent Spring," wrote deeply about neurotoxins and what they actually do: "Following a thing through a system is a powerful tool. It accomplishes something your editors are always driving you crazy about: Why should readers care?"

He talks about when/how to use first person; about how you can make learning into a useful narrative tool; and about building suspense.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A couple of good pitches

When Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun, former ace in our newsroom, recommends a story, you know it's going to be good. He flagged these two on the death of former Orioles pitcher Mike Cuellar:

The obit story is better for baseball and/or Orioles fans because it's more focused on Cuellar's accomplishments with the O's. The column has a broader appeal: It is, basically, about friendship.

Friday, April 2, 2010

As creepy as it is cool

Spotted this on the New York Times Web site.

Alec Soth went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, but watched the festivities from his hotel room, only to headed out with his camera for the clean-up and people leaving Ash Wednesday mass. It's more art project than traditional journalism. But, between the found audio and snippets of video, there's definitely a story here.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Congrats

YDR staffers are all over the 2010 Keystone Awards, and the honors include some of the best written-word and visual storytelling we did last year:

Congrats to all of them, as well as to all those whose strong writing efforts weren't recognized by PNA but still stood and, and help push us to be better storytellers.

The Keystones also recognized YDR people for investigative reporting, online reporting and features, editorials, design, graphic/photo illustration, headline writing, niche publications, special projects and series. So much so that, by my count, 22 staffers' names appear on the list.

I think that's fantastic -- maybe the best news coming out of the awards. Congratulations to all.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Vote on this cliche-with-a-twist

If you put a new twist on a cliche, is it still a cliche, or a fresh piece of writing? Here are the first two grafs from a story in today's New York Times:

"They were deaf, but they were not silent. For decades, a group of men who were sexually abused as children by the Rev. Lawrence C. Murphy at a school for the deaf in Wisconsin reported to every type of official they could think of that he was a danger, according to the victims and church documents.

"They told other priests. They told three archbishops of Milwaukee. They told two police departments and the district attorney. They used sign language, written affidavits and graphic gestures to show what exactly Father Murphy had done to them. But their reports fell on the deaf ears of hearing people."

Like it? Don't like it? Why/why not?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mark your calender

Two of my favorite sources of in-depth journalism Frontline and NPR's Planet Money are teaming up to do a documentary on how Haiti's economy has functioned since an earthquake destroyed much of the nation's infrastructure. It airs March 30.

Planet Money, which does two podcasts a week, has done been covering Haiti pretty intensely since the quake. They've done a great job explaining why a number of "solutions" to Haiti's problems before the quake didn't work, and what life's like there now.

After watching the five-minute preview, I expect more of the same.

If you're not familiar with Planet Money, they do an amazing job of explaining complex economic ideas in simple English. NYU's journalism institute included their "Giant Pool of Money" collaboration with This American Life on its list of 80 best works of journalism of the last decade. Done in May 2008, it explained why the housing market was falling apart while Lehman was still a bank.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back to basics

This from playwright-and-more David Mamet, via Movieline, via a link on Gangrey:

It's Mamet's, let's say, directive a few years back to the writers of the TV show "The Unit," in which he reminds them, not subtly, what they must do as dramatic writers.

As we've discussed here before, fiction techniques work in nonfiction narratives. So there's a lot to take from this. For example (it is, in fact, written in all caps):

'LOOK AT THE SCENE AND ASK YOURSELF “IS IT DRAMATIC? IS IT ESSENTIAL? DOES IT ADVANCE THE PLOT?

ANSWER TRUTHFULLY.

IF THE ANSWER IS “NO” WRITE IT AGAIN OR THROW IT OUT. '

I also love the fact that he used the word "typewriter" in this piece.*

*And also the word "dickhead" several times, which I use here in small type because this is, after all, a family blog.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Best of the decade

In case you hadn't seen or weren't aware, the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University has a list of the 80 best works of journalism in the U.S. this decade. They are the nominees that will be culled to a top 10.

There are print stories, books, radio stories, visual stories, and so on. Click on the title and it gives you a description and a link. It's really interesting, especially to go back and see what you may have missed -- like a "60 Minutes" report in 2000 about Pakistan's instability and Islamic militants that ended up being "prophetic," in the judge's words, when applied to Afghanistan.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Capturing history ... all of it

You could make an argument that as historical as the health-care bill itself is, the debate, both in and out of Congress, was just as historical. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank does a great job in this story weaving both scenes together during the final hours before the vote.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Beautiful flowers and hard lives

My father-in-law, Jim Johnson of Verona, Mo., is a great storyteller. Mind you, I would have married his daughter regardless. But knowing Jim -- especially walking in the woods or across a field or up a mountainside with him -- is something I've treasured for more than 25 years.

This essay he wrote is one reason why. He e-mailed it to me this morning with the instructions "use it, don't or giggle and pitch it." Well, I'm using it. Enjoy:


I always have twinges of sadness around this time of year.
Everyone is jubilant about the advent of spring and advocating walks in the woods.
I was an avid turkey hunter for many years until the sport became so oversold that you were taking your life in your hands to attempt it. There are way too many poorly prepared, educated and motivated "hunters" that treat the sport as a contest, not between man and animal but between man and man. But I digress.
The sadness comes from strolling through the woodlands of the Midwest and finding beautiful patches of jonquils, iris and tiger lilies.
Most folks don't stop to think of the origin of these spots of beauty.
They are all the result of some, generally, young woman with high hopes for the future bringing what little beauty she could afford to brighten the area around the homestead that her husband has founded. Many of these dreamers could only take "starts" from her Mother's yard elsewhere. In many case her Mother was many miles away and the dreamer was alone trying to do the best she could in a hostile environment. Not hostile in the form of angry Indians or savage beasts but in the form of day to day, week to week and year to year drudgery in an attempt to carve a home, alongside her husband, for her family.
As seen by the numbers of the failed farms marked with beautiful flowers, most of them were unsuccessful.
I used to stand in the midst of this spring beauty and estimate the distance she would have had to go, probably on foot because horses were a luxury, to simply find the company of another woman. I could seem to feel the desperation of a young woman, forced by circumstance, giving birth in the never ending attempt at producing another farm hand to help the family survive. One such house place had an enclosed area not ten feet square bounded by field rocks that contained seven little flat stones driven into the ground. No names or dates because tools to do such luxuries were uncommon. Seven failed attempts to expand herself and her husband into a family. A family that was doomed to disappear because it could not survive with only one worker outside of the home.
My only consolation is that here are towns, now only minutes away but at the time hours or days away, that grew steadily during that period of time. I hope that many of these young women from the failed homesteads were able to attain some comfort, dignity and stability by moving to such towns. Even if such moves followed years of desperate drudgery.
I have frequently dug some of the flowers and taken them to my home so that the young women's efforts might live on in a place where their beauty could be appreciated.
The next time you are in a wooded or "wilderness" area and see a small grouping of domestic perennials that are in bloom think about the hopes and dreams of a young woman that they represent. If it's in an area where is allowed, take a "start" home in honor of her efforts.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Maybe a new form of narrative ...

... could be the investigative-slideshow-narrative.

Sue J. pointed this out -- it's from MSNBC.com's Bill Dedman, who is a major public records/investigative reporting kind of guy, who, instead of writing what would've had to have been a longish narrative, turned it into a slideshow and wrote the story in the form of long cutlines.

In a talk with Poynter, Dedman said he set out to answer the question, "Why are the mansions of one of America's richest women sitting vacant?" William Andrews Clark (pictured at right), amassed a fortune in money and property and left it to his family when he died. The only surviving direct descendant is a daughter -- the woman Dedman refers to in his question above.

I think the slideshow/narrative idea might lose a little in terms of transitions, and thus cohesiveness, but I think what Dedman did works and has a lot going for it as a narrative form. Obviously it would be better suited to some stories rather than others. Anyone have an idea for a story using this form?

Friday, March 12, 2010

Telling the bigger story within the smaller one


Canada's Olympic hockey team won the gold medal in one hell of a game against the U.S. last month.

But there was much more to what happened between the time the first puck dropped and Sidney Crosby's game-winning goal in overtime.

This story, forwarded by a friend of mine, captures that. It shows you what happened in the game itself, but never leaves the bigger story. As a result, your understanding of what happened and what it really meant is much deeper than if the writer hadn't known about the bigger story and hadn't told it as well as he does.

Associated Press photo.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

No 'newsspeak' allowed


A radio station owner recently banned a list 119 of words.

They are mostly jargon, something we all try to avoid in our writing. It can be hard to keep that stuff out. I imagine it's an even harder habit to break for radio hosts.

The news director explained in his memo:

“The real goal here is to avoid using words that make you sound like you’re reading, instead of talking — that shatter the image you’re speaking knowledgeably to one person. By not using ‘newsspeak,’ you enhance your reputation as a communicator.”

In good fun, the folks at NPR put together a sentence using all 119.

I'm not sure that banning words is a good thing, but I see the point attempting to stop using words stuff like "close proximity" and "senseless murder." What's your most-hated phrase or word that you hear in the news?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Esquire's best ever

A while back I'd looked for this but couldn't find it on the Esquire site for some reason. But someone at gangrey.com did, and thanks to them, here it is: The 7 Greatest Stories in the History of Esquire Magazine.

Enjoy.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Do you see what you're writing about?

At first glance this site might seem photography-hostile -- after all, it's called Unphotographable. And each entry begins, "This is a picture I did not take of ..."

But it's produced by a guy who describes himself as a photographer and writer. What he's doing, he says, is recording what he sees when he doesn't have his camera, wishes he'd taken a shot, or "had been brave enough to click the shutter."

And what he comes up with is an exercise in attention to detail and descriptive writing -- something well worth focusing on as you're out in the field. His entries are short, vivid passages on what he's looking at. Like a picture in words. It's pretty cool.

Birthday wish

This blog is three years old today. Kind of cool. Happy birthday, blog. And thanks to all of you who have read stuff, posted stuff and commented on stuff.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Stay restless

Everyone in our newsroom has done good work. Even some great work. But nobody has done their best work. I believe that you have to come into the newsroom every day wanting to be better than the day before, wanting to push yourself toward your best work.

That's one reason I love the spirit of what jazz great Artie Shaw is saying here. He and his band had a huge hit with "Begin the Beguine" in the 1930s. In Ken Burns' 'Jazz' documentary, Shaw says:

"I still wanted to play music. And the audience was saying, 'Play what you're playing. Play the same thing over and over. We like that.' And they never could get it through their heads that what they liked was something I was doing on my way to getting better."

Friday, February 26, 2010

The online community

Great eye for a story, great reporting, great use of dialogue (from interviews and message boards). And I can't tell you exactly why this piece from Michael Kruse at the St. Petersburg Times is a great piece of storytelling, or I'll spoil it. You just have to read it. Notice, too, the care taken with the headline.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A matter of fact


An interesting column from Leonard Pitts Jr. about facts.

Here's the quote I've been mulling:


To listen to talk radio, to watch TV pundits, to read a newspaper's online message board, is to realize that increasingly, we are a people estranged from critical thinking, divorced from logic, alienated from even objective truth. We admit no ideas that do not confirm us, hear no voices that do not echo us, sift out all information that does not validate what we wish to believe.

In other words, does truth exist anymore? Did it ever?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Chris Jones talks about his Esquire feature on Roger Ebert

Chris Jones has a long profile of film critic Roger Ebert in this month's Esquire. It's about how Ebert is dealing with cancer that has resulted in, among other things, the loss of his jaw and his ability to speak.

Jones says in an interview with journalism.about.com that he was self-conscious about writing about Ebert -- "You're writing about a great writer" -- and was nervous about what the famous critic might say about the piece.

Interesting that Jones was worried about how his subject would react. I would have liked to have seen him address how/whether that influenced anything he wrote.

He didn't address that in the interview, but he did deliver this advice to reporters:

"Come up with a great story idea. Do the reporting. Lots of it. Then, when it's time to write, get out of the way and let the story tell itself.

"Students tend to think of just the writing part of things, but because of my newspaper background I take reporting more seriously. If you have solid reporting then everything else is simple."


Saturday, February 20, 2010

Breakdown of a suicide note

Poynter's Roy Peter Clark took the long suicide note of the guy who flew his plane into the IRS building in Texas and did a full-blown analysis of the language.

I've never seen this done, and, although it's a critique done at arm's length -- Clark obviously didn't know the pilot, etc. -- it does show that the choices people make when they write can tell significant things about them.

One of the most intriguing, perhaps chilling, things in Clark's analysis is his note that a lot of the writer's phrases are heard every day from politicians and commentators from both sides of the political spectrum. It makes me wonder: Are those people reflecting current thinking in America, and are we living with hundreds of thousands of people who really believe what the pilot believed? Or did the pilot, having listened to that language again and again and again, use it to polish his disenchantment with his perceived enemies?

And lastly: Be sure to read the comments. There is a really interesting discussion going on, reactions to Clark's piece, some people saying Clark never should have written it, and Clark has responded a couple times.

(AP photo)

Thursday, February 4, 2010

'Desert of Death'

Pretty good stuff here (from Minneapolis Star-Tribune, via link from Romenesko via link from www.minnpost.com, an online-only news site):

A Star-Tribune reporter and photographer went with a National Guard supply unit on a trip across a notoriously dangerous desert. (Link will show you part 3 as the main story; links for parts 1 & 2 are at the right).

I'm most of the way through part 1, and the setup, character description and pace is making for a good read.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Take a chance


Like a lot of people, I love Calvin & Hobbes and have often wondered about how its creator, Bill Watterson, not only could walk away from such a hugely successful endeavor, but could so completely keep to himself -- no merchandising (those little Calvins seen pissing on Dale Earnhardt's No. 3 are bootlegs, of course), no interviews, no public life. (Much to be admired, when you think about it).

Anyway, I figured we'd never hear from the guy until one day you'd read his obituary. But on the 15th anniversary of the retirement of the strip, a reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer -- Watterson lives near Cleveland; would you have guessed? -- took a shot and simply e-mailed Watterson some questions.

And Watterson responded.

"I wasn't very hopeful I'd get a response, that's for sure," reporter John Campanelli said. "But you still gotta try."

Photo courtesy www.cargal.org.

Monday, February 1, 2010

'A holy profession'


Feeling a little blue? Read this transcript.

It's an interview with Ben Bradlee on NewsHour. I haven't listened to them all, but the audio links on the left look pretty clutch, too.

Here's a sample:

JIM LEHRER: Ben Bradlee is one of America's most famous newspaper editors and he believes the practice of journalism is more than a job.

BEN BRADLEE: I don't mean to sound arrogant, but we're in a holy profession.

JIM LEHRER: A holy profession?

BEN BRADLEE: Yeah and the pursuit of truth is a holy pursuit.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Echoes of Katrina

What's happening in Haiti evokes what happened in New Orleans in 2005. This is a powerful video storytelling project, called "An Unnatural Disaster," about what's happened since '05 and what's happening now in New Orleans.

The main video includes some then-and-later photos that really bring it home. For example, in 2005, Katrina left a blasted Days Inn sign at a 45-degree angle over a small pool. Two years later it looked like the sign hadn't been touched.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Writing so sharp it hurts

Every now and then I read an essay or opinion piece that tells me more about who we can be a society than I think I want to know. Philip Kennicott, the culture critic at The Washington Post, has such a piece about the National Enquirer's (apparent) photos of Tiger Woods outside a Mississippi sexual rehab clinic.

Obviously, feel free to disagree, with me or with the piece. But as Kennicott dissects and analyzes the images -- and pretty much puts the Enquirer in his crosshairs -- I think he nails the cultural significance of those photos, the people who took them, the public's curiosity that drives that kind of news coverage, and of Tiger Woods' future.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Without My Leg, I Am A Freak

Sad but compelling, important. A story, not a news bulletin or breaking news, about what is happening in Haiti:

Without My Leg, I Am A Freak: "Meg Laughlin: JIMANI, Dominican Republic At the public hospital in this border town, no one
can say how many amputations have been done since the earthquake. One surgeon says he did 32
yesterday. Another says 22 in the two days before. Mostly legs. ..."

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

'We in journalism have lost a guiding star'

Jacqui Banaszynski's amazing, inspiring tribute to Deborah Howell, her friend and onetime editor, who died recently.

A few words from the piece:

"Deborah said yes, without fail, to all that life asked. She said yes to love, yes to stepchildren, yes to adventure, yes to irreverence and yes to God. She said yes to the highest journalistic standards and the toughest journalistic trials, even when it cost her corporate favor or popularity with her staff."

Friday, January 8, 2010

Charles Pierce interview

Charles Pierce on writing, editing, stuff he likes, the end-of-decade narrative he did for Esquire magazine, and other things, courtesy of Neiman Storyboard.

Preview:

Q: What should a good story do?

A: I want the ideas to flow from one to the other. I want them to be surprising if they can be. I want the reader to go along in the same kind of evolutionary way, to have the themes strike them at the same point in the story that they strike me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

'A gangling, raw-boned sourdough'

Chris Otto passed along this bit of cool short writing in an obit from 1935.

Chris posted it on a blog that will be called "Relics" when it has a header ... and he also posted a short, well-written explanation of why the blog is headless. Complete with a picture. Of somebody who's headless.