Thursday, December 29, 2011
There's a lot of great stuff here and it'd be tough for me to pick a favorite line or whatever. But one thing that resonated with me was that early on in his career, he said, he "quickly came to understand that I wanted to do stories, not articles." And he set out to get to a place and a position in which he could do that, and did.
Almost all of us start out doing articles, or the equivalent of them in whatever job we have. If you really want to do stories instead of articles, it'll take a lot of hard work and a lot of feeling like you'll never have the time to do stories because you're doing articles, but don't stop trying. Stories are the thing.
Here's more on Ben.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Friday, December 16, 2011
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
They're so good I'm going to list them all here (my notes from Clark's powerpoint). You can also see his webinar at newsu.org (see me for access):
- Use shorter words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs at the point of greatest complexity (from writing coach Donald Murray). You have to report well to do this effectively. But the point is: Guide people through the heavy stuff with your writing choices.
- Slow the pace of information. Use periods to make the reader pause, at which point he/she can absorb information before moving on.
- Translate jargon. Kind of self-explanatory. But basically, you don't need to use the same specialized language your source does in order to help your reader understand.
- Lift numbers and technical info out of text and convey it in images (graphics, breakout boxes).
- Engage readers in conversation. Blogs, social networks, etc. You'd like to get to the point where you know what language your readers are comfortable with.
- Find a microcosm -- a small example that represents a larger reality. Clark gave the example of a New York Times reporter who told the story of 9/11 by focusing on one person, because the overall story was too big.
- Introduce difficult concepts one at a time. I like this at the story level, but also at the sentence level. I think a lot of times we think we have to introduce several facts or concepts in one sentence, because they're related. But (see above) use the period and give readers a chance to absorb one piece of info, then the next, then the next.
- Reward readers with high points. As Clark puts it, "gold coins" sprinkled throughout a story tell the reader, "Thanks for coming this far. Here's your reward. Keep going."
- Keep boring parts short. Be selective. Use your best stuff. Self-edit and cut 10-20 percent of your text.
- Assume responsibility for what readers learn. Can the reader ID the most important points of the story, pass that info on to another person, or pass a test on the main points?
- Watch the separation of subjects and verbs. The further apart they are, the less understandable the sentence will be.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
Saturday, November 26, 2011
New York Times |
Tom Wicker was without a notebook on November 22, 1963. Instead, reported Gay Talese, he “scribbled his observations and facts across the back of a mimeographed itinerary of Kennedy’s two-day tour of Texas.”
Here’s the 3,700-word masterpiece he filed.
Wednesday, November 23, 2011
I was fiddling around on a website called Intersect the other day, because I'm bound to at least investigate anything that bills itself as a new way to tell stories.
While I was there, I was surprised to stumble across a set of stories based in York. The stories, by Washington Post photojournalist Michael S. Williamson, were small riffs on info or meaning behind photos he'd taken while in York earlier this year.
Underneath a picture of an old warehouse, for example, was this text:
You’ve got to love a place that’s so wonderfully blue collar that you can’t tell just by looks what businesses are actually still open or shut down. York, PA’s nickname is the “Factory Capitol of the World,” and rightly so. It’s the home of the famed York Barbell, and though there’s a retail store and museum in town, the company headquarters are in Canada and most of the products are made in China.The mini-stories by Williamson (see his Washington Post bio page), who has shared in two Pulitzer prizes, were an unexpected treat.
I haven't figured out whether/how to use Intersect, though I usually try anything once. The site describes itself as a way to present stories that are linked by place, a way to "to share and see your stories and interests in the context of your life, showing where you are now ... and when and where you've been in the past. And who else was there."
Did you know of this or have you tried it? Let me know.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
In the first two grafs, he delivers the news that Patterson collapsed and later died, though it's through the action of the flags being lowered, not an official quote, which comes later.
In the next four grafs, Rick writes about Patterson's last moments at the courthouse: His afternoon greeting with district attorney Tom Kearney, and Kearney describing what happened. It's poignant, reveals a level of respect for Patterson that is reflected elsewhere in news coverage, and it brings the story back to the point where you hear the official word about the death from the coroner.
It's a major news story that, through its construction and its key anecdote, allows the human emotion to come through.
UPDATE: Rick says he was thinking about leading with the Kearney anecdote, but thought the story really needed to be treated as a hard news story, and starting with the anecdote wouldn't do that. Hence the first two grafs. That's good thinking and decision-making.
Monday, November 21, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
In case you missed it in any of the other places I've posted links to these stories, I'd put these two pieces up against anything anyone has written about what happened last week at Penn State:
- Frank Bodani's story about the game and what it meant on a deeper level
- Mike Argento's story about the fans, the university and the alumni who are mourning the Penn State they knew and are beginning to move on
Friday, November 11, 2011
If you're growing weary of Penn State stories, here's something a little different you can check out. For Veterans Day, Kate Penn profiled veterans from the current wars, all the way back to World War II, and conducted video interviews with them.
Sam Dellinger created an interactive presentation that you can see here.
This is a great example of multimedia storytelling. You'll notice few printed words, and short video clips. But if you watch them all, you'll come away learning a lot about a diverse group of local people.
You can see George Eyler get emotional as he remembers getting shot at in Korea. You can hear Michael Janis talk about having blood and excrement thrown at him when he returned home from Vietnam. And you can listen to Dawn Hicks describe how woman in Saudi Arabia must eat in a separate room at their local KFC so they can uncover their faces to eat.
I'm glad we were able to meet these veterans and let them share their stories in this way.
Really cool effort by Kate and definitely worth your time to watch the videos and meet these people.
Tuesday, November 1, 2011
It breaks 'em down, folks, with links and everything. Like "rolling in his/her grave" and "as a matter of fact."
Wednesday, October 26, 2011
Here are some bullet points.
· Scenes are the building blocks of dramatic storytelling
· A story is a string of pearls, think of it as a sequence of dramatic scenes
· Scenes involve strong characters, action and dialogue
· Think about turning points, moments of discovery. Bring protagonist face to face with a dilemma. Know what the complication or main obstacle is
To read more, go here
Saturday, October 22, 2011
story on people who were hoping to see Vice President Joe Biden in York. Bill kept referring to Biden's head/hair as, in a way, a symbol of what people were hoping to see. The reference starts in the the third graf -- "Now they all waited for the white haired dome in the black car to zip past ..." -- and reappeared a couple times:
Inside, behind tinted windows, white hair flashed.and
The rear door opened and the coiffed white mop bobbed into daylight.and
Then, to the back of Biden's head, "We voted for you!"I thought by using one of Biden's most notable physical characteristics, Bill captured what it's like to try to catch a glimpse of someone famous in a crowd.
Thursday, October 13, 2011
The writing -- from the lede through to the end -- is lively and original. It sounds like Lauren is talking directly to you, and you alone, the way good writing should sound.
But, importantly, the story doesn't bury the news (it's in the second graf) and never fails to deliver the news of the night: that the group is here, that it after discussion it settled on a name and that it decided what its first public effort would be. Excellent work.
Friday, October 7, 2011
Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Congrats, Will. Your $25 Rutter's gift card will be in your hands shortly.
I'd love to hear anyone's thoughts on what you learned by doing this contest. I think we often use cliches because they come to us automatically (they're cliches, of course they do) and we don't push ourselves to come up with something better. Everyone who did this contest pushed themselves to come up with the most cliches they could -- and if you take that energy and put it toward replacing cliches with fresh phrasing, you're a better writer.
The judge was Skip Wood, formerly a reporter at USAToday for more than a decade who covered the NFL and other major sports. Skip and I have been friends since the day I walked in to the Harrisonburg (Va.) Daily News-Record's newsroom and he welcomed me to the sports staff there. He later worked for several years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch before going to USAToday. He now works at wjla.com/tbd.com in Washington, D.C., doing stories and a morning e-mail alert designed to set up the day for Washingtonians. He's on Twitter.
We've spent the past couple of decades talking about anything and everything journalism, including amazingly good writing and insufferably bad writing. And he's one of the most entertaining writers I've known. So he has a keen eye for this kind of stuff.
I asked him to judge this based on who did the best job trying to write poorly, since that was the point. So if he's complimenting you on writing cliche-filled tripe, well, take it as the compliment it's meant to be. (One note on judging in case you were wondering: Some of you had headlines, some of you didn't; I asked him not to add or subtract for hed/no hed.)
Click 'Cliche writing contest' on the left rail to read everyone's entries.
Here are Skip's comments:
These people are good. I mean bad.
Here’s my take from each one, in alphabetical order:
--Buffy Andrews: Loved the fake name, first of all. ‘Buffy.’* Too funny. The clichés slayed. One after another after another after another after another.
--Joan Concilio: Just really, really bad. Loved “that aforementioned rain.”
--Will Hanlon: Smart. Just smart. Not only that, but FAIRFAX COUNTY --
--John Hilton: Second graph nails it. Shot? What shot?
--Tom Joyce: I mean, you gotta love, “Bertha Muckenbaugh.”
--Bill Landauer: This was Gene Weingarten funny.
--Andrea Lazarus: The more you read it, the more you get it.
--Susan Martin: This is one of those stories you see sometimes when, oh, I don’t know. . . you’re reading a middle-school newspaper.
--Erin McCracken: “. . .strapped on his fishing gear.”
--Stephanie Reighart: Please. Just read the last sentence from the second graph.
I liked it because it was written in the manner of a wordsmith who really thinks he’s a wordsmith when, actually, he doesn’t know anything about being a wordsmith.
*This was Skip being his humorous self. I asked him about it and he said, "I was 99.99 percent sure 'Buffy' was, in fact, her real name."
It was a great reminder to try to know everything you can about what you're doing; understand that you'll never know everything; and work hard to know what you don't know ... and then learn those things, and figure out how to use them.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
One is "The Peekaboo Paradox," about a children's entertainer with a secret. Pitzer called it the best story he's written. And, she wrote, Weingarten agreed it was his best. That immediately made me think of "Fatal Distraction," Weingarten's haunting story about parents who forget their children in the backseat of locked cars on hot days. I wondered why Pitzer and Weingarten thought Zucchini was better than 'Distraction,' and she broke it down. Here's the conversation (and the point of this post is mostly in our mutual agreement at the end -- if you have not read each of these stories, you must).
Sunday, September 25, 2011
It's a huge moment for Jason and for the YDR: As his editor, Brad Jennings, noted, it's the first time a newspaper organization has won a mid-Atlantic Emmy, as the competition is made up mainly of television news organizations. Historically, newspapers take still shots and TV gives you video. Not anymore.
The Emmy award is fantastic news. I was privileged to see Jason at work on this film from beginning to end, to see the daily devotion. He believed in the story so strongly he practically willed it into existence. His focus never faded or frayed, and yet, where some journalists by their nature would have resisted too many voices offering their best advice, Jason invited people in. He listened, and, through a combination of skill and personality, took the best of what others had to offer and still kept the film true to his vision.
I've been a reporter and editor for 25 years. I've never seen anything like it.
But it is odd to celebrate a "victory" in the Emmys because -- and I know Jason believes this too -- this film should never have existed. Darisabel should still be here. There should have been nothing to make a film about.
And that is where a journalist stands at a crossroads.
Do you turn away from something so painful to a family and to a community, so fraught with damage, so incomprehensible to so many? Do you decide we're all better off if we don't look for too long at what happened here? Do you pull up short because, to do the story, you will be seen as taking advantage of a tragedy?
Or do you tell the story and draw your community in? Insist that they look? Embrace others' pain as part of the storytelling? Understand that some will see you as an opportunist, and do it anyway?
For a journalist like Jason, there really is no choice. You tell the story. You tell it because you know it's real. Darisabel died. Her family was devastated. The people who tried to save her life have holes inside. Yet they go on. When they tell their story, we come closer to knowing how -- and maybe we walk away a little bit better equipped to make our way in this world, to understand what's going on around us, and to decide what, if anything, we would like to do about it.
Watch and listen. It will hurt. But you will see both darkness and light.
Friday, September 16, 2011
For example, if I was allowed to enter, you know how I love ad-campaign-based newswriting, so my entry might be something like, "Waders: $75. Waste-deep water: Free, from Mother Nature. Beer and dog food to ride out the flood: Priceless." And so on.
How to enter: E-mail me your submissions. One entry per person, please.
Deadline: 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 23
Open to: Anyone in the YDR newsroom. (If any YDR alums or anyone else reading this want to participate, leave your passages in the comments, but only YDR staffers are eligible to win the gift card).
Prize: $25 Rutter's gift card.
Why are we doing this? Because by intentionally writing cliche-filled passages, we can become better self-editors by recognizing when those cliches are creeping in to our own stories ... and we can rub them out and replace them with fresh phrasing.
For your reading (and perhaps research) pleasure, here is more from this blog on cliches.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
If writers stopped writing about what happened to them, then there would be a lot of empty pages." -- Elaine Liner
I wanted to share this post from my writing blog (Buffy's Write Zone) because many of you know the true story from which this was taken. In my novel, Tom works in the ER.
Here's a scene from WIP that came from "real" life:
Joe told me that the paramedics brought a toddler into the ER who had been bludgeoned to death by her mother’s boyfriend. He had whipped her repeatedly with a video game controller and she had so many bruises on her tiny body that the doctors couldn’t find a patch of white skin anywhere. He beat her because she had a dirty diaper. She was two.
The neighbors heard the toddler screaming for her mother. She was in the next room stuffing her face with potato chips and watching the soaps. The screamin' got so bad that the neighbors called the cops. But it was too late. Katie was dead.
Turns out that she didn't mention one huge part of the story to the reporter: That her father was a United Airlines pilot who flew 757s from the East Coast -- meaning he could have been the pilot on Flight 93. I thought the Post handled that "holy cow" folo story with just the right touch.
Reporters reading this, you have to click on the story to see how the Post found out that piece of information. Tell me you haven't been there in one way, shape or form.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
In late 2006, I went to an Investigative Editors & Reporters seminar in Atlanta. I remembered that Jan, formerly of the Baltimore Sun, was then at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wouldn't it be awesome to talk writing with Jan Winburn? I thought. So I e-mailed her and asked if she had any time. Sure, she responded. And we set up lunch.
At lunch we talked about a lot of stuff: narrative, character, ethics, the post-Katrina series "Through Hell and High Water" about two New Orleans hospitals in the days after the storm. Needless to say, it was a blast.
I didn't have a notebook with me, but after lunch, I got in my car and wrote down things we talked about or tips that I remembered. Among them:
- character (development) is most important in narrative. people disliked a woman dying of cancer in one story, Jan said, and so the series did not go over well.
- what she reads -- New Yorker, New York Times (for economical storytelling), writers on their craft
- Jan said she prefers immersion narratives over reconstructive, but advised that in reconstructive narratives she would italicize quotes the way the person said they remembered them.
- she wanted to broaden the definition of investigative reporting to be more inclusive -- she was/is shooting for investigative narrative
- and, when I asked her how to keep up the momentum, she said, "Writers just want to succeed."
I don't know if I was specifically looking for a way to kick-start some writing energy in the newsroom (and in myself). But on the drive back from Atlanta, I started thinking about what we could do to really focus on narrative writing.
By the time I returned to the office, I had some ideas. I went to lunch with Buffy and bounced them off her, and she was all for it. We got started planning and pitched the idea around the newsroom. In January, we brought in Lon Wagner and Diane Tennant from the Virginian-Pilot, and that kicked off the "Year of Storytelling."
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
Sunday, September 11, 2011
They cut to the New York ceremony and a man's deep voice said he was Jimmy Smith, the husband of Moira Smith, a New York police officer. Wow, I thought; I had just edited Bill Landauer's story of three York County people whose lives had changed after 9/11 -- and one of them was Moira Smith's cousin.
Jimmy finished talking. Then a young girl's voice: "Mom, I will always be proud to be your daughter ..." Oh my God, I thought, here is Moira Smith's daughter, who, by the sound of her voice, couldn't have been more than a toddler 10 years ago.
She stopped talking. There was a brief pause. And then I heard the first few notes of a forlorn but ultimately hopeful song, a child's lullaby that doubles as a farewell song: James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes."
So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs, and I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song when I'm gone
I've internalized that song over decades, and at that moment it hit me square. I drove the next couple miles with welling tears. Not for America or its institutions or our way of life, but for the people in the towers, the people in the planes, the people in the Pentagon, and the people who loved them. It is, to me, less a national day of mourning than a personal one.
Friday, September 2, 2011
It's Tom Junod's story in Esquire, "The Falling Man," in which Junod reports to find out who the man is in an iconic picture from Sept. 11 -- a man who jumped, or is falling, from one of the World Trade Center towers.
The story, as you'll see, ends up being about so much more than identifying the man in the picture.
I wouldn't be so bold as to say it is the only thing you ought to read as the anniversary approaches, but if it is the only thing you read, it will stand for everything else about that day.
Wednesday, August 31, 2011
I doubt Frank set out to write a column about how Rosey Grier is dealing with the recent death of his wife. But he didn't miss the chance when it presented itself.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Thursday, August 25, 2011
The follow-up is beautifully written and shows the girls signs of progress. The then-and-now photos are remarkable.
Monday, August 22, 2011
You have an idea. This could be a great story. You can see it, feel it, taste it. You report, write, revise. You finish and think: That's not what I wanted it to be. You deflate.
But you can't stop. You have to keep trying to execute those ideas, because only in doing that, over and over and over, can you ever get closer to the actual vision you see in your head when you think, This could be a great story.
Glass puts it better here, and lets you know: You're not alone.
Friday, August 19, 2011
Under "YDR documentaries" (see link at left) you'll find Paul Kuehnel's video about a woman who, as a 3-year-old, witnessed her mother's murder and visits the scene 39 years later.
Under "YDR success stories" you'll find Mike Argento's piece about that woman. You'll also find two other great pieces by Mike -- one about a medal of valor winner, and one about a couple whose health forced them to part after decades of marriage.
There are other great reads there, too, including "Her wild life," Frank Bodani's piece about a legendary exotic animal rehabilitator who, with age, has had to give up most of her animals.
Check 'em out.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
--Gay Talese, "Unto the Sons"
Monday, August 15, 2011
I'm calling it to your attention for a couple of reasons.
One, it's an uncomplicated, straightforward story, but the writer chose the ending perfectly, and in so doing really elevated the piece, I think. The story details efforts to get this man help and how agencies declined, claiming they couldn't force help on someone ... and then shows how persistent an agency can get when it is owed money.
Two, journalists regularly deal with head-scratching responses from public officials. In this story, you have at least two agencies refusing to release information about a dead man. Privacy reasons, they say.
Sunday, August 14, 2011
He was talking about some Alabama residents' complaints about a letter they got from FEMA about their desire for help after tornadoes scoured the state in April. Some letters to people in blown-away houses told them they had "insufficient damage" to qualify for certain kinds of aid. No good, FEMA realized.
So FEMA revised, and simplified, its letters.
Friday, August 12, 2011
Disclosure: I haven't read the story itself, only the story about the sourcing. If you've read Schmidle's story and read the Poynter piece linked to here, let me know what you think about how much information a reader deserves to know about how you sourced your narrative.
Monday, August 1, 2011
I've only had time to read the first section of the first installment, but, um, this is going to be good.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
They begin — as they have at least twice a week since March — in the Market Street tunnel.
“Good Morning!” they bellow, warming up their superhero voices to the office workers walking west, and the residents heading east.
How can anyone, Commonwealth asks, feel good about their city if their first sight of it is this cavern of filth?
The battle is joined, and Commonwealth’s three utility belts/fanny packs, come open.
A hand-held vacuum for cigarette butts. “L.A.’s Totally Awesome,” the Dollar Store industrial cleaner they don’t bother diluting. Spray paint bought on clearance. Their real superpower is bargain hunting.
When danger arises, they reach for the original crime fighting tools. Broken glass is no match for Kevlar-lined gloves! No clogged gutter can withstand a steel baton!
Monday, July 25, 2011
A couple of minutes later, I was in it. For block after block after block.
An EF5 tornado churned through the city May 22. It was three-quarters of a mile wide -- wide enough to have an eye, the Globe reported. It gouged a path several miles long. It destroyed one-third of the city, the paper said. It killed more than 150 people.
It also made that city's newspaper indispensable. Joplin residents are looking to their newspaper/website to tell them more about what happened and how, to read about what's happening next, and to connect them with volunteers and donations that are pouring in to the city. The Globe is covering all of that and more. Metro editor Andy Ostmeyer told me that circulation (normally about 30,500) has gone up by several thousand since the tornado.
I thought about how hard those journalists would be working now -- a small staff with the added stress, of course, that some lost their homes or cars in the tornado. A former newsroom staffer died. I had read that journalists from around the country had sent care boxes or other signs of support to the staff, and that a few had volunteered to help in the newsroom.
In early June, I e-mailed editor Carol Stark and told her that my family and I would be visiting relatives in Verona, Mo., about an hour from Joplin, and if she thought I could be of use, I could put in a couple of shifts doing whatever she needed, if just to show support. I told her I felt connected in two ways: our newsroom had worked through stressful times, too (though nothing like what happened there in May); and my wife's family had lived in Pierce City, Mo. when a tornado destroyed pretty much the whole tiny town in 2003.
She graciously welcomed me two weeks ago Tuesday and introduced me to Andy, who introduced me to Emily Younker, a young reporter who was working on a story about how 16 people in a skilled nursing home died, and whether anything could have been done to prevent it. Here is a mind-boggling before/after picture of the nursing home and the church and school across the street. (I took several photos there; see below.)
Emily, who had interviews set up with people who had been in the home and with other key sources, needed someone to call industry experts/other experts to get their take. She also had several PDFs' worth of state nursing home inspection reports that she hadn't had time to mine for anything that could be related to the building, staff training, emergency planning and so on.
So that's what I did (along with offering a few editing thoughts at the back end). She took a lot of info and distilled it into a fine story.
In my two days in the newsroom, I was struck by the vibe. As an outsider, I couldn't have guessed what they'd just been through and are still going through. That's what I love about committed journalists: They understand what their community needs, and they simply put their heads down and do their jobs.
I heard Emily patiently working to get sourcing, as well as giving a veteran editor his assignments. I heard Andy making calls to help push the reporting. I heard reporter Josh Letner interviewing for a fascinating story about a homeless camp that sprung up after the tornado. At lunch I met Wally Kennedy, introduced by Andy as someone who's done pretty much everything at the paper, and learned how he's diving into tornado history in the region.
I heard and saw a newsroom at work at a most critical time. What a privilege to be part of it for just a little while.
St. Mary's Church.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The 75-minute webinar was full of great stuff; if you don't have time to watch the whole thing, scroll to the part where Jacqui starts going through the 10 tools. She ends with a way you can vet your own copy for verb use -- print it out and highlight each verb/verb form in your story; see the patterns; revise as necessary. (There's much more to it -- scroll to about the one hour, 10-minute mark of the webinar and hit 'play.')
The group talked a bit after the webinar. Couple thoughts from me (and anyone who was there, please add your thoughts in comments):
- I was really interested in Jacqui saying that verbs can "bend time" -- you can change tense and tone to accomplish time changes in a story without losing clarity, as she put it. I need to go back into the webinar to focus on this part. I suspect some of you/us do that without realizing it, but if you don't realize you're doing it, you're probably not using it to its maximum advantage.
- I was struck by several examples she used that showed a paragraph crammed with action verbs -- so that, physically, there is a lot of activity in the graf -- followed by, or ended by, a line with a more "quiet" verb or verb form. The effect was almost physical for me -- a flurry of action and then a soft settling down of the language, of the story. Again, that is something worth learning how to do, learning to master.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
--Philip Roth, "American Pastoral"
Monday, July 4, 2011
Then the Joplin Globe's Carole Liston reported the story behind that video and produced this compelling piece about how the storm chasers helped alert officials about what was happening, documented the tornado, and then helped people after the devastation.
The story published less than two weeks after the tornado.
Saturday, July 2, 2011
Saturday, June 25, 2011
Nearly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism - Atlantic Mobile
Friday, June 24, 2011
We settled into one of the back pews, just in case Amelia decided to announce her presence. We stood as the priest, altar boys and lector proceeded up the aisle and Amelia finished the last sips of her bottle in my arms.Now think about how that could have been written with exposition -- "I turned her into the upright burping position. I patted her on the back as the priest said, 'Good afternoon,' and we responded, 'Good afternoon, Father.' Then she started making sounds like she was about to spit up. ....' -- and see how much more effective it is the way Laura wrote it.
I turned my 19-pound 11-month-old into the upright burping position.
Pat, pat, pat
Pat, pat, pat
"Good afternoon, Father."
Gurgle, sputter, choke
I stopped patting. Horrified, my eyes met my dad's as he shoved his hankie toward Amelia.
"Oh my!" the elderly woman whispered behind me as liquid hit the pew and my Gram's shoes.
Some of you may be writing a book, I don't know. Most of you probably aren't; most of you are probably working on something for tomorrow's paper, or the next day's, or Sunday's or some Sunday down the road.
The essay is quite a read, although it would be tough for someone in a newsroom to apply Dillard's vibrant advice -- "What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality?" -- day in and day out.
But there is almost certainly a piece within all of us that demands, and deserves, that kind of effort and dedication. Find it, and do it.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
From Shelley Murphy's story:
The Whitey Bulger who is accused of holding a knife to a mortgage broker's throat at a South Boston variety store while extorting $50,000 was driving around this remote island offering dog biscuits to strays from a bag in the trunk of his Mercury Grand Marquis.
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
--W.C. Heinz, "The Professional"
Thursday, June 9, 2011
- Print out your story and read it. Mark each thing that strikes you as needing work; number each; write a note as to why you flagged it; then go back into your story and take on the changes one at a time.
- Do you have text-to-speech on your computer? Make it read your story to you. Revise what sounds off.
- Use 'find and replace' to scrub 'ly' adverbs from your copy.
- Check word counts of sentences, paragraphs and your lead.
- Keep quotes to somewhere around 6-20 words.
- Get rid of is/was/were verbs; they can reflect insufficient reporting. Replace with active constructions.
- Role-play the reader.
- Study others' work, dissect it, learn from mistakes (as well as what's good) and bring that to your own work.
- Find a co-reader who will help you work through your drafts.
- Budget time to revise early in the process.
- Never give up.
Friday, May 6, 2011
- Jill Abramson, ME of the New York Times, said tablets and iPads give narrative a new way to reach new readers.
- New Yorker writer Ken Auletta says nonfiction writers should use blogs and other new media, not whine about it.
- Susan Orlean said new technology means the packaging of a story might be different, but content is still the thing.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Great story-telling always has a grand story arc. Sometimes, it’s jealousy. Sometimes it’s hate. For me, there were two grand story arcs in the Giffords and Kelly stories–love and perseverance.
A great tale well-told is like a homily, full of meaning and lessons.
Please notice I have not mentioned the words newspaper, computer, book or magazine in this discussion of what makes great story-telling.
Beautiful story-telling must survive no matter the medium.
Friday, April 29, 2011
He also talks about self-editing, working with an editor, story ideas, reporting, and keeping himself out of the story.
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Aunt Bee: "Oh, flibbertigibbet."
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
The ending knocked my socks off, and it made me think of two things:
One, he didn't suddenly discover that ending as he wrote the last few grafs of the story.
Two, he didn't just tack on the ending when he felt like he was about near the end of the story.
I'm betting he knew where he was going from the start, and wrote with that destination in mind the whole way. And that's why it's such a great ending -- it's a nifty line or three, to be sure, but its power derives from everything that comes before it, everything that he reported, how he prepared/organized the story, and every choice he made as he wrote it.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Monday, April 18, 2011
I got "Can You Say ... Hero?/a profile of Mr. Rogers" by Tom Junod from Esquire in 1998.
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
Sunday, April 10, 2011
An excerpt from the blog post: "Bogdanich doesn't decide to find a story within a subject, and he doesn't try to find a story in a massive database. He acts when he's inspired, and loves to look into what nobody else is ..."
My thought is, we do our share of "let's do a big story about (topic)" or "let's get this database and do a project on it." Setting out to do a story on a topic can be deadly because there is no true focus. You may be able to have more success extracting a story out of a database. But the best stories rise out of a reporter hearing or seeing something and asking, "Why is it that way?"
More from Bogdanich at the blog post itself.
Monday, April 4, 2011
Sunday, April 3, 2011
The key, of course, is thinking about doing narrative before you get to the scene, so you can do the reporting (including both observation and interviews) that will allow you to write a tight narrative. If you only have a few details and a broad or loose chronology, it's probably not going to work.
I thought of this after reading a piece by Lauren Fitzpatrick, who did work for us as a Medill correspondent several years ago, in the Southtown Star in Chicago, about rescuers pulling a woman from her car that was submerged in a pond. Things to note:
- The line that cranks up the tension -- "Then the passer-by calling 911 said the words that set him off: The car is underwater."
- An observed detail about the cop's injury: "The 33-year-old ran to his own car and tore over to the corner where the Rupari Food Services plant sits, he told reporters late Friday afternoon, shivering in a light jacket, his left hand clinging to his bandaged right one."
- Action verbs: "Frausto ignored the chilly drizzle. He shucked his coat and his shoes. He stripped off his clothes and threw away his gun. Frausto grabbed a baton, and in briefs and an undershirt, he dove into the water."
- He uses a question as the engine to push the story forward: "Sipe often wondered what he would do if there ever were a real fire at the home. Would he get scared and run, or would he stay and help, possibly risking his own safety?"
- Dialogue, reported from his interview with the man, helps capture the feel of what happened: "Ma'am, are you in here?" he called. "You've got to come out of there. You can't stay in there." He heard her say something but couldn't make out the words. Then he saw her. She stood in front of him, motionless. "My pets, my pets," she said. "I got to get my pets."
Saturday, April 2, 2011
Friday, April 1, 2011
"Mostly, the shocked responses went on and on, interview after interview -- from former players to those in the York community who got to know Sandusky through public appearances here."But that sentence does a lot of work, even coming fairly late in the story as it does. Perhaps because it comes fairly late in the story. If you've read up to that sentence, you've heard from three people talking about Sandusky.
The reporters want to tell you that those three represent a lot more. They could have simply said that -- 'Those three were among many people who praised Sandusky on Thursday.' But in writing it the way they did, with the double-double of "on and on, interview after interview," they gave readers a sense of the waves of sentiment coming from Sandusky supporters, and also offered readers a bit of an insider's glimpse inside the reporting process -- I'm making all these calls, and everything I'm hearing is supporting Sandusky.
So in addition to delivering information, they're bringing the reader closer to the process and thus to the story itself. I thought that was cool.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Monday, March 28, 2011
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Here are some thoughts on how to do that from the New York Times' Frank Bruni, via an e-mail exchange with Poynter.org.
Journalistic training and preparedness are what they are, whether one is trying to be versatile or narrow. Read, read, read. Keep your eyes peeled for what’s interesting in the world. Pay close attention to the people you’re interviewing. Try to write up the results in a careful and lively fashion.
Monday, March 21, 2011
Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Andrew Higgins of The Washington Post wrote about what he found there. The story includes this evocative graf, and the context of the piece invites you to imagine that this kind of scene is happening over and over and over again:
"To reclaim the world stolen by this gigantic wave, Kimura wrote his name on a wooden stake and stuck it in the ground to mark a pile of rubble as his home. Mumbling to himself, he smacked at the ruins with a cooking knife, hoping to conjure up at least some small physical connection with his previous life. All he’s retrieved is a small jar of mushrooms."
And Higgins uses a great eye and sense of irony with the following line. He doesn't call attention to it (by saying 'ironically ...' or in any other way). He just writes it and lets it do its job on you:
"The first big building to be hit was Onagawa’s marine exhibition hall on the edge of the harbor. It remains standing. A big sign dangles above its mangled metal door: 'Images of the Sea and the Mysterious World.' "