Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What I learned: Bill Landauer on observation

Bill Landauer's story Doc rodeo won honorable mention for personality profile in the Keystone Press Awards. (Jason Plotkin's art was pretty dang good, too.) In another installment about what YDR staffers took from their honored work, here's Bill about what he learned while doing that story:
 The Doc Rodeo story reinforced why often as a reporter you need to just shut up and keep your eyes open. Most of that story came from watching, not from questioning. Doug Olle, the physical therapist, had access to the ring that Jason and I didn't have. We were allowed to hang with him on the sidelines, but we couldn't go into the ring. So we interviewed him first for a few minutes, then ran around trying to keep up with him, running in and out of exits and dodging bull calfs to watch him watching the riders. We could chat with him, but he was busy. Hours into the rodeo, he seemed to forget we were there, so after he sewed up a guy's mangled chin, we got to watch him talking shop and relating to the cowboys on a personal level, which was what we were hoping for.
 Observing and taking good notes, and then deciding to use just the best of those descriptive notes in your story, is a key to excellent work. (Plus, it can give you good material to use if your subject isn't talkative, or if you don't have a lot of time together). Anyone else have a good story to share about how observation played a role in a story?