Showing posts with label brown baggers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brown baggers. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

On profiles

Notes from yesterday's video session with Jacqui on profiles:
  • They bring personality into the newspaper; most readers learn about a subject better if it's attached to a person.
  • Profiles demand great interviewing; require journalists to observe (describe people and place, set characters in a place)
  • You have to report well around the person so when you characterize or explain motivation, you have it nailed down
  • Doing profiles teaches responsibility; you have to have it right
Key types of profiles
  • Nano-profiles -- a way to build character into a story even if the story is not all about the person. You bring someone to life in a paragraph or two; tell us about someone's character or values in the moment.
  • Cradle-current profiles -- seldom as necessary as we think they are. negatives are that they take too long to do, take up a lot of space and often read like resumes. Strive to do profiles as internal resumes rather than external ones.
  • Niche profile -- develop who a person is at a key point in time. Pick the defining moments in their life (not their whole life); your profile then gets much more narrow. Many profiles spend too much time on back story; condense the resume stuff to a couple grafs in a story or into a box. Get dialogue, not quotes, to reveal someone's essence.
Tips for interviewing for profiles
  • Props are helpful. Get people to tell you the stories behind things in their office or their home. Look for things they can tell you about, instead of getting them to answer direct questions.
  • Use storyteller questions to put people into the timeline of their own life. Where were you when this huge event happened? Tell me about the day. When did you get up? What did you wear that day? What did you eat for breakfast? And so on. You want to build scenes.
  • When you ask those questions -- say, what did you eat for breakfast -- ask more to get greater detail (what kind of cereal? in what kind of bowl? did you drink the milk out of the bowl after you were done? and so on.)
Timeline reporting technique
  • Build two, maybe three timelines: One, the classic resume of the person; two, the defining moments in that person's life; three, what's going on in culture or society that provides the backdrop to the person you're profiling. Use those to build your story.
A little more later.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Virtual handout on reporting/writing profiles

Hey all, Jacqui sent an edited version of a presentation on profiles that she gave at the Nieman Narrative conference in 2003.

For those who missed our video session with her today, I'll blog on it Tuesday. But the doc she sent along covers a chunk of what she talked about today.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Reading list for Monday's videoconference

Hey all, here is info on Jacqui's session Monday, including stories she'd like us to read.

Monday, 4:30 p.m., big conference room

TOPIC: Profiles

  • definition of profile (character rather than resume)
  • core elements of good profiles
  • some types of approaches to profiles
  • some reporting/interviewing techniques especially useful in profile reporting
  • doing these types of stories on people on the 'fringe.'
  • also: come ready to ask questions/participate. Jacqui has an exercise she wants us to do; no advance work required, she says, but will require us talking to each other, etc.

READING LIST: Jacqui's reading list for this session. Read these before the session if you can because she will be using them as examples:

Terri Schiavo:

For the other links (which for some reason I could not post here), go to this wave:!w%252B2hhd9i8VA

If you're not on Wave yet, please ask someone who is to print out the stories.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jacqui/Monday: On profiles

Hey all (and in case you haven't seen the e-mail Amy sent out Saturday),

A quick reminder that Jacqui's next videoconference with us is 4:30 p.m. Monday, for an hour. She will talk about profiles -- how to identify, how to report, how to write short -- and will touch on doing profiles on people some would identify as being on the "fringe" (see this blog post).

If you want to do some reading beforehand, I sent Jacqui some of the links that come up when you click the "profiles" tag on this blog.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

For real this time: Jacqui/videoconference/Aug. 12/4:30 p.m.

Note this is a change from what I posted a week or so ago. (Jacqui's international flight got changed and it turned out she would have been in mid-air at the time of the schedule videoconference this week.


Aug. 12, 4:30 p.m. Story structure on deadline. Jacqui plans to have some handouts about story diagrams and such; bring your questions and let's make it a back-and-forth.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Reminder: Jacqui/Aug. 5/4:30

Just a quick reminder to those who check in here that Jacqui Banaszynski's next videconference with us is 4:30 p.m. next Wednesday, Aug. 5.

In response to what some of you have asked for, she plans to talk about structuring stories on deadline, quick focusing devices, etc.

I'll post more as I know it.

Meanwhile, if you can be thinking of questions to bring in to the session, that would help. It's neat that we can do the videoconference thing, but by its nature it doesn't encourage the type of interaction you'd normally get face-to-face. So if some of us can come ready to engage in discussion, I know that will help Jacqui, who loves nothing more than to go back-and-forth with people and finds it tougher to do on videoconferences.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A last word (and link to handout) on staffer-supervisor relationships

Thanks to everyone who came to the bagger this morning. For those who couldn't make it, and/or didn't pick up a handout but want one, here it is -- tips and observations on how to make the most of the staffer-supervisor relationship.

Feel free to add your own here ... I'll add them to the document, too.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Bagger Wednesday

I'll send out a staff e-mail on this today when I get in, but just a quick reminder that we'll gather in the conference room at noon Wednesday for pizza and the latest in our series of baggers.

So far we've had Amy talk about the six-step writing process, and Jacqui Banaszynski go deeper into focusing and organizing.

Both of them talked about reporters working with editors on this stuff, and that relationship is where a lot can get done ... or not. So I'm going to talk about ways I think those relationships can work and ways they don't work.

Something to think about: If you could choose one quality in an editor, what would you choose? If you could choose one quality in a reporter/photographer/copy editor/graphic artist, what would it be?

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Note on April 22 bagger

I'll bring this up at Amy's bagger tomorrow (the 8th), but:

Part of Amy's bagger will focus on the writing process, that all writers go through: You have an idea, you report, you focus your story, you organize your notes and your story, you write, and then you revise.

When Jacqui does her videoconference April 22, she plans to work with you on how you determine the focus of a story and how you organize your notes. She may ask some of you to explain your writing processes, and likely will drill down to a few "organizational/structural blueprints" that you can use in different writing situations.

So keep that in the back of your mind as Amy goes through the writing process and forensic editing.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Update: Videoconference workshops with Jacqui

We're solidifying the schedule and topics for the storytelling workshops with Jacqui Banaszynski, as well as some baggers Amy and I are going to do. Check the left rail under 'Coming up' for dates, times, presenter and topic.

Note that the first two are:

April 8, 4:30 p.m. -- Amy on the writing process and "forensic editing."

April 22, noon -- Jacqui on a deeper look at focusing and organizing, and how a conversation between reporter and editor can help.

We've set this up to be an integrated year-long schedule of workshops aimed at practical reporting/writing/editing skills: Amy or I will do a bagger; the following month, Jacqui's video workshop will drill deeper on some aspect of what Amy or I talked about. We've staggered the times between noon and 4:30 to give those who work early or late a chance to be in at least two sessions with Jacqui.

Jacqui's goal, she said in an e-mail as we were working on this, is to "provide real tools on very focused topics" so that you'll leave the session with concrete and practical things you can apply to your work.

It's gonna be great stuff, an opportunity few newsrooms will have.

As always, if there are some specific things you'd like covered in these sessions, let me know and we'll try to work them in.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

More on Jacqui

You'll be hearing more about Jacqui Banaszynski in the weeks to come, leading up to the videoconference seminars she'll do for our newsroom.

But a couple quick things:

-Her bio is on the left rail of this blog.

-She has her own tag, also on the left rail. Click on it to see blog entries relating to her. The one titled "Inspiration" will give you a pretty good idea of the kind of passion you're in for later this year.

-She won a Pulitzer in feature writing in 1988 for "Aids in the Heartland." Here it is.

Monday, November 10, 2008

A continued discussion

As promised, this is an open thread for discussion of advanced suspense techniques -- the stuff that goes beyond the typical dime-store murder mystery.

We talked in Wednesday's bagger about an Esquire story that recounted a prison break. If you couldn't come to the bagger, but would like to join the discussion you can read the story here.

Even if you were at the bagger, the online version has features like clickable footnotes. I hate footnotes, but if you like them you can find them online or in the magazine version. If you don't like to read from a computer screen but are a footnote lover, come see me and I will lend you my copy of Esquire.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Word choice bagger preview

Some stuff to get you thinking about word choice (plus they're just plain good reads). Eugene found the story links; I stumbled across the poem. We'll pull from these at today's bagger:

Quiet man gave no hint of violence (Rick Romell, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel):
Excerpt: He was the type of person you'd scarcely notice in a crowd - quiet, a bit on the tall side, brownish hair, glasses.
"Not in shape but not overweight - Joe Average," said his neighbor, Shane Colwell.
But Terry Ratzmann, the man believed to have opened fire on members of his congregation as they worshipped, slaying seven and wounding four before killing himself, turned out to be anything but average.

A boy who was like a flower (Anthony Shadid, Washington Post):
Excerpt: Bathed in the soft colors of turquoise tiles, the room was hushed, as the caretakers finished the washing. They wrapped his head, his gaze fixed, with red and yellow plastic. They rolled the corpse in plastic sheeting, fastening it with four pieces of white gauze -- one at each end, one around his knees and one around his chest.

During school siege, Russia took captives in Chechnya (Kim Murphy, L.A. Times):
Excerpt: It was 6 a.m. when Russian soldiers hoisted themselves over the wall, crashed through the window and broke down the front door. Their quarries were still asleep.
Shouting, shoving and kicking, the soldiers pushed 67-year-old Khavazh Semiyev and his wife into a truck waiting outside, then went back for the others -- his two sons and two nephews, his son's wife, his 52-year-old sister.
Then -- and Semiyev couldn't believe his eyes -- they went back for his grandchildren: Mansur, 11 years old. Malkhazni, 9. And Mamed, 7.

Kidnapping Grandma Braun Part I (Helen O'Neill, Associated Press):
Excerpt: It was cold the night Grandma Braun was taken, that bitter dead-of-winter cold when the countryside is sheathed in ice and the stillness is broken only by great gusts of snow that swirl across the fields and back roads, erasing footprints and car tracks and all traces of life.

Old Timer’s Day
By Donald Hall

When the tall puffy
figure wearing number

nine starts
late for the fly ball,
laboring forward
like a lame truckhorse
startled by a gartersnake,
—this old fellow
whose body we remember
as sleek and nervous
as a filly's—

and barely catches it
in his glove's
tip, we rise
and applaud weeping:
On a green field
we observe the ruin
of even the bravest
body, as Odysseus
wept to glimpse
among shades the shadow
of Achilles.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

'The Wire' and storytelling

For those of you who missed the bagger, here are some things that translate to our own conflict/resolution storytelling:

Big open
What we can learn
A story with multiple storylines can benefit from an opening that focuses on action and propels the storylines forward and sets up the major conflicts that will keep readers going.
-Five coaches are chasing one prized basketball recruit
-Rescue crews arrive at the scene of a daunting task (a big fire, a guy impaled on a fence …)

What we can learn
When you have multiple storylines, vary the pace of action. Short scenes amid longer ones stand out and call attention to themselves, and also quicken the pace; longer scenes can be used to slow a reader down, make them pay attention to detail. Ending a scene with a tease (see below) helps push the reader through the storylines to find out what happened next.
Someone is rushed to the hospital, his life in danger (quick scenes, rapid pace). The surgeon delicately and methodically performs open heart surgery to save his life (longer scenes, more detail, aiming for total immersion on the part of your reader).

What we can learn
Know where each of your storylines is going, and break them down into parts that allow you to write scenes that move the piece forward, but don’t prematurely ‘end’ the storyline or give too much away.
Let’s say you’re following a high school team through a season. You have five main characters, each with her own conflict as the team tries to win a championship.
You will know through your reporting what each girl has at stake, what her successes and failures are during the year, and how her story ultimately turns out. So you can weave your five individual stories together, bringing them together at the end with whether the team wins.

What we can learn
This is where you deliver the info that may not be part of the true narrative, but is needed for someone to understand what’s happening. You can step away, briefly, from the true action of the story to catch people up on what they need to know and set them up for what is to come.
If you’re writing about an agoraphobic, you’ll need to deliver information about the illness. If you’re writing about two people trapped in a car in a flooded creek, you’ll have to say how they got there. If you're writing about the opening night of a new restaurant, you'll need to say how the proprieters got started.

Big close
What we can learn
You can rely on action to bring the story home. You’ve set the story in motion at the beginning, you’ve advanced each storyline to a critical point, and you’ve done all the re-setting you need to do. Now just show the reader what happens.
This is where the recruit calls four coaches to tell them no, and one to tell him yes.
It’s where the surgeon makes the critical cut to save the man on the operating room table.
It’s where the high school basketball team wins or loses.
It's where the new restaurant soars or flops on opening night.
It’s where the rescue crews get the guy off the fence, or lose the two people in the floodwater.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Marion Winik's visit

Couple things struck me:

She kept talking about "voicey" stories, for example, when Joan asked about columns vs. news stories. Reminded me that it's all about picking or recognizing the right story to write a certain way. Some stories can be told funny, some have to be told seriously; some can be told as conflict-resolution, some won't fit that model; some stories can take a little attitude in the writing, some shouldn't. Part of what we've been doing this year is talking about ways of writing stories that we have at our disposal so we can make those decisions.

Someone asked about her hyper-awareness of things around her that allows her to gather the details that appear in her essays. She said it wasn't that she was aware of everything, but that she was aware of certain things -- such as 'story,' i.e., the narrative of what's happening around her, the what happened next part.

And she works on perfecting that ... and you can see how it shows up in her stories. Think of two she read about people who died -- the maid and the soldier. Both stories built up to either an unexpected ending or an ending with a twist that you may or may not have seen coming.

As she said in a somewhat untethered comment: you can learn what the thing is that your mind is really greedy for, and tune in to that thing. Basically ... know yourself, and what you do well, and use that to your advantage as a reporter and writer.

Any other thoughts on Marion's visit?

Friday, October 5, 2007

Want more funny?

I hope everyone enjoyed our visit from comedian Earl David Reed Wednesday. If you want to learn more on how what he does is relevant to what we do, check out this article from the Nieman Narrative Digest and this one from Poynter.

Leave a comment about how you think comedy can work in a newspaper.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Finding stories to tell

We all run dry sometimes.

Nicki's brown bagger yesterday, on internet research, included a list of web sites that Poynter's Al Tompkins said he uses to find ideas (and if you're familiar w/Tompkins' "Morning Meeting" on Poynter's web site, you know he comes up with some pretty good stuff).

Some of the more unusual or interesting: -- firefighter/EMT site, industry news, etc. -- includes topics ranging from rural suicides to crop reports -- as Tompkins says, it's a quick way to stay up on pop culture even when you're not into pop culture -- you can search for news by zip code -- most searched-for words on the web -- The website,, says it "turns advertising on its head by focusing on an ad’s asterisked fine print footnote rather than the headline." it has an attitude. -- cool stuff about bad diseases. the 'mm' stands for 'morbidity and mortality.' enough said.

If you want Al Tompkins' whole list, I can run you a copy or Nicki probably has more copies.

Tompkins also suggested using RSS feeds to put multiple sites you might use to troll for story ideas in one place -- on your Yahoo! page, or Google page, or whatever. If you're interested but not familiar with RSS or how to use it, holler.

Also, Nicki e-mailed those at the bagger a story-finding list Ted Sickler had sent out some time ago. It's here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Special guests

Hey all, we have two really cool speakers coming in over the next couple months -- a stand-up comedian and a national-level author/commentator.
Mark these dates on your calendar and try to work with your supervisor to make sure you can spare an hour, because these two brown-baggers will be entertaining as well as offering us insight into different kinds of storytelling.

Earl David Reed -- a standup comedian who also does a morning radio show (can be heard on 105.7 the X) and is a bodybuilder to boot. From his web site: "Earl David Reed's dynamic presence combined with his hard-driving wit, and improvisational style delivers a performance that leaves radio and comedy audiences breathless and always wanting more." He's here Oct. 3 at 4:30.

Marion Winik -- an author and National Public Radio commentator whose book "First Comes Love" was a New York Times notable book in 1996. From her Web site:
“Winik’s voice is so true and clear and compassionate, we’re happy to listen to any story she wants to tell.” -- L.A. Times Book Review.
“God, what a story, what a writer! Marion Winik blew me away.” -- Anne Lamott.
Marion is here Nov. 13 at 4:30.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Perhaps the ultimate narrative non-fiction

From "Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets" by David Simon:

Pulling one hand from the warmth of a pocket, Jay Landsman squats down to grab the dead man's chin, pushing the head to one side until the wound becomes visible as a small, ovate hole, oozing red and white.
"Here's your problem," he said. "He's got a slow leak."
"A leak?" says Pellegrini, picking up on it.
"A slow one."
"You can fix those."
"Sure you can," Landsman agrees.
"They got these home repair kits now. . . "
"Like with tires."
"Just like with tires," Landsman says. "Comes with a patch and everything else you need. Now a bigger wound, like from a thirty-eight, you're gonna have to get a new head. This one you could fix."
Landsman looks up, his face the very picture of earnest concern.
Sweet Jesus, thinks Tom Pellegrini, nothing like working murders with a mental case.

That's just to whet your appetite.

Join us noon Wednesday, Sept. 5, to eat lunch and watch an episode of "Homicide," based on Simon's book, after which we'll talk about how character development and dialogue can be used to develop conflict in a story and lead us to the story's resolution.

The episode is about 45 minutes and we'll leave about a half-hour for
discussion, so we should be done in a little over an hour.

See you there.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Stephen King weighs in ...

... sort of. Buffy and Jen led a group discussion Aug. 1 on King's book, "On Writing." A couple of highlights they pulled from King's combination of technical advice and inspiration (well worth the read even for non-fiction writers):

  • "I want to suggest that to write to your best abilities, it behooves you to construct your own toolbox and then build up enough muscle so you can carry it with you. Then, instead of looking at a hard job and getting discouraged, you will perhaps seize the correct tool and get immediately to work." Some things King suggests you carry: Vocabulary; grammar; Strunk and White's 'Elements of Style.'
  • "I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops."

I have copies of both Buffy's and Jen's handouts, which are basically quotes pulled from King's book, if you'd like a copy.