Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dying man and his heart surgeon: A look inside the story

This piece was nicely done by Bill Landauer and offers a couple things we can take from it:

  1. This almost wasn't a story. We'd written about Joe Palmieri and the heart surgeon before, and were reluctant at first to go back into the story. The fact that the doc's book was coming out was a bit newsy, but we certainly could've briefed it. But Joe kept calling Bill, and finally Bill said, "Why do you keep calling me?" or words to that effect. Joe's answer was a poignant one, that he felt like he was dying and was running out of time to feel like he had thanked the surgeon. That became the forward motion of the story.
  2. The language and tone in it are an exercise in restraint. It would have been very easy for this story to be a maudlin tale of woe that would've felt forced or over the top. But Bill worked to pull back from that edge, and I think he succeeded. The story has the right feel to me -- emotional, but not blubbering. 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Do you keep in touch?

A bunch of us were just discussing whether anyone understood what Quora was. I said I'd been trying for several weeks to figure out whether or how I'd use it, but hadn't yet.

After our talk, though, I got on Quora and immediately found that someone had asked Susan Orlean a question 'How much do you keep in touch with subjects you write about?' -- and that she'd answered it. So Quora has given me a blog entry. One point for Quora.

Orlean's answer was that she doesn't (though she's more eloquent about it). I love her answer, and how she explained it, because I've always felt guilty that I didn't keep in touch with people I did in-depth stories on when I was reporting.

 We all know that journalists move on -- there's always another story, always something else to cover. But still, you try so hard to make a connection with someone, to get to know them on more than a superficial level, and then after you've written the story ... you move on. It feels simultaneously inevitable and unnatural.

  Some writers, I know, do keep those connections. With one exception, I never could. Can you? Have you? How do you do it?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Eyes on Tripoli

Riveting description of Tripoli by Robert Fisk of London's Independent. Fisk apparently is the first Western correspondent in, and/or filing from, the Libyan capitol.

Updated: Original link went to a NYTimes blog. Here's the Independent's site.

Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Women journalists at war: "Code of silence" broken

A must-read piece about a different kind of story: The sexual assault on CBS correspondent Lara Logan, why it's important that Logan broke a "code of silence" about what women face when they cover war, and why no one should now suggest only men should be journalists at war.

"Women can cover the fighting just as well as men, depending on their courage," Kim Barker writes. "More important, they also do a pretty good job of covering what it’s like to live in a war, not just die in one. Without female correspondents in war zones, the experiences of women there may be only a rumor.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Narrow scope, huge theme

How do you capture the impact of a major story (economy collapses) with one person's story? Like this, from Michael Kruse (ASNE award winner) at the St. Petersburg Times:
Published with Blogger-droid v1.6.7

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

'Carrying Darisabel' a finalist in national competition

Congrats to Jason Plotkin, whose 'Carrying Darisabel' documentary was a finalist in the American Society of Newspaper Editors' awards, a national competition. I'm attaching the note below from Jim McClure's e-mail that gives some context to what it means to be a finalist in this competition:

The ASNE Awards judging was held late last week at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg. This was an especially competitive year, with a 30 percent increase in entries over last year's contest.
Jason Plotkin was a finalist in the Online Storytelling category. The staff of the Washington Post was also a finalist, and The New York Times was the winner, so your organization's achievement is quite impressive.
... Congratulations on your outstanding work.
Best regards,Richard Karpel

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Make a decision to make decisions when you write

Thoughts on Kelly McBride's webinar* yesterday on writing with voice and tone:

She built the session around choices a writer makes and showed specific examples, but even if you forget the examples, remember the word: Choices. The choices you make as a writer -- beginning with understanding that you do have choices to make all along the way -- are what will help you become a better writer.

For me, that came through most when she and Howard Finberg talked about how the meaning of a list of books would change, in the context of the story, depending on what order they were listed in. Ending the list with 'Anne Frank' would have created a more serious tone, while ending it with 'Paddington's Bear' a lighter tone.

As McBride noted throughout her session, stuff like that matters. Not all stories are the same, so they require different tones, different levels of your voice. As you're reporting, as you're organizing, as you're beginning to write, be asking yourself: What am I writing about? What's the point of the story? What is the story trying to say? What do I want the reader to get from this? How should they feel when they put my story down?

The answers to those questions can guide your decision-making as you write the piece, and help you nail the voice and tone.

What resonated with you? I invite anyone who was there (and even anyone who wasn't there but has a thought on this topic) to join the conversation.

*If you missed it, a replay is up on the NewsU site. Let me know and I can log you in.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Examples of great writing from across the newsroom

Buffy gave us the following challenge for our Living meeting this week:

"Hey gang don't forget to bring a phrase, sentence, graf of good writing that you have seen in OUR paper to today's staff meeting. just looking for some examples to share. thanks mucho"
So we went 'round the table with our examples which represented several different departments and types of writing.

Here's what we brought:

Emileigh: From Joe Maldanado's story, "Manchester family hit by arson trying to rebuild"
"In another photo, the family is preparing to cook a holiday meal using its brand new stainless steel stove and refrigerator. Today, both stand damaged beyond repair. The kitchen windows are broken, with only thin sheets of plastic in place to keep out the winter cold."
Emileigh liked the comparison of the new stainless steel appliances to the broken kitchen windows covered in plastic.

Sue and Leigh: From Bill's story, "Doc Rodeo: When a rider’s down, he’s in action"
"The bull hopped and bucked across the floor of the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex arena, trying to throw Sean Kampmeier from its back.

The 30-year-old from Petersburg, N.J., clung to the seething half-ton of cattle flesh with his legs and one fisthold on a rope. The rest of his body flopped and slapped the animal’s haunches.

Seconds ticked by. Then, the mount kicked up its back hooves, and Kampmeier’s chin bashed the animal’s skull."

Leigh and I both liked the strong verbs: hopped, bucked, clung, flopped, bashed. And also phrases like "clung to the seething half-ton of of cattle flesh." Leigh thought that Bill sounded like some sort of rodeo expert -- she could tell her did a lot of reporting to understand the sport.

Ellen: From my story "DIY Exorcisms" (she's totally trying to kiss up for that letter of recommendation she wants me to write)
"Unfortunately, our editors didn’t agree. The cost of tuition and airfare (even though we promised not to check any bags) was just too great.

They suggested community college. We’re sure you’ll be shocked to learn that HACC doesn’t offer so much as a seminar addressing how to dispel evil spirits from a person. So we did what any industrious wannabe demon-slayer would do — we surfed the Web."
Melissa: From Frank's column, "Weekend at the beach helps to mend heart"
"We layered sweatshirts and winter coats and walked the beach, laughing as the wind tried to blow us to pieces.

We alternately cranked the car heater and rolled down the windows as we patrolled Assateague Island, watching for wild ponies, tiny deer, giant herons.

We walked the island marsh trails without crowds of bugs or people.

We combed for seashells wearing gloves and mittens.

We were sunburned -- or maybe wind burned or even freezer burned?

A pony sneaked up on us and stuck his muzzle through our open car window, hoping for a handout.

Then, two pint-sized sika deer suddenly appeared around a bend, munching grass as the sun started to dip. I loved watching my wife watching them, standing among them, her camera in hand.

Finally, it was too dark and cold to do anything else."

Erin: From John's story "Fog lifts for York Catholic's Michael Sperring"

"Somehow Michael Sperring played basketball that Thanksgiving morning. His head was pounding, the pressure inside it building. He did not know that time was running out.

The headaches had persisted for a week now, heavy and unrelenting, and during that time Michael had lived in a steady fog. He had hardly been able to eat or sleep, much less lift up jump shots.

That was about to change. When David Sperring walked out of his bathroom around 6 a.m. Thanksgiving morning, he found his son seated on his bed, gym clothes already on.

"I'm going to practice."

If the how was hard to understand, the why wasn't."
Erin (and the rest of us) loved the last line.

Laura: From Erin's upcoming FlipSide Weekend story, "Make believes most wanted" (read it Feb. 12)

"Character: Goldilocks
Crime: Trespassing, burglary
We know you’re only a minor, but the three bears had a right to press charges. You tasted their porridge and probably double-dipped. Gross. Then you slept in their beds, which is just creepy. You might be a curious little girl .¤.¤. or a bear stalker."
Laura thought the idea behind the story -- how fairy tale characters would fair in the justice system -- was really clever and Erin has just the right tone to match.

Jess: From teen staffer John Villarose's short story "Embracing the Cold"

"Another winter meant more snow. Dreadful, dreadful snow. Odd lumps of white and gray infecting the ground like a disease, spreading their rash over everything."

: From Scott Fisher's editorial, "On balloon dogs and Peter Cetera"

"The courts will have to sort out whether artist Jeff Koons has a valid claim in a lawsuit alleging copyright infringement over "balloon dog" bookends that look like his famous sculpture.

But from the outside, the suit by the Dover-area native seems a bit frivolous - as frivolous as balloon dogs themselves.

After all, balloon dogs all look pretty much alike. The big balloon dog statue Mr. Koons made (and made a good deal of money from) looks suspiciously like every balloon dog twisted by every clown at every circus in America for decades."
Kara said that it's difficult to write editorials, because it can be hard to write with authority. Scott not only does this well, but he makes them fun to read as well.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Writers (and more), gather

Poynter's NewsU has lined up a really good-looking series of webinars on all kinds of writing: short writing, narrative, social media, revision, writing for visuals/sound, and more. Great lineup of presenters, including Chip Scanlan, Jacqui Banaszynski, Roy Peter Clark and more.

These webinars will offer a lot to anyone from the least- to most-experienced person in our newsroom.

Check the right-hand rail for dates and times and I'll see you in the conference room. I'm sure these sessions will give us plenty to talk about.