Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (12/20/09)

Bart Scott. (Sarah Simonis for The New York Times)

- Greg Bishop on New York Jet Bart Scott's trash talking
- Kathryn Shattuck on the evolution of Susan Orlean and John Gillespie's marriage
- Stephanie Rosenbloom on her day as an employee at a Wal-Mart store in New Jersey

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (12/13/09)

Pema Sherpa. (Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times)

- Corey Kilgannon on two Nepalese taxi drivers in New York who lived differently and died differently, albeit on the same night
- Rebecca Cathcart on a night in the life of Mario Lopez, who played the A. C. Slater character on "Saved by the Bell"
- Douglas Martin on Giorgio Carbone, the late prince of Seborga

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (12/6/09)

A crowd at a Pape Diouf performance in Dakar. (Michael Kamber for The New York Times)

- Seth Sherwood on Dakar's fledgling music scene in Dakar
- Peter Baker on the evolution of Obama's latest decision on Afghanistan
- Robin Finn on Len Chenfeld, 18, a Jewish kid from Manhattan who wants to make it in basketball

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (11/29/09)

Texas Hold 'em at the rec center. (Katie Orlinsky for The New York Times)

- N. R. Kleinfield on the recreation center for patients — no doctors or nurses allowed — at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
- Douglas Martin on Lino Lacedelli, one of the first climbers to reach K2's summit
- Fred Kaplan on previously unreleased recordings of Ella Fitzgerald performing in a small club

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (11/22/09)

Julian Goins jerking. (Stephanie Diani for The New York Times)

- Guy Trebay on the rise of jerking
- Michael Wilson on Judge Mazz, a TV judge who is not an actual judge
- Andrew Meier on Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a Russian oil oligarch imprisoned in 2003 who presents a political challenge to the country's leaders

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (11/15/09)

Nadya Suleman and her octuplets. (Gillian Laub for The New York Times)

- John Bowe on the meta-story of the Octomom, Nadya Suleman
- Alan Feuer on the Wall Street lawyer H. Rodgin Cohen
- Scott Shane and James Dao on Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan's evolution and the words he exchanged with neighbors on the morning of his shooting spree at Fort Hood

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (11/8/09)

Pacquiao and Roach. (Alex Baluyut)

- Greg Bishop on the connection between the Filipino boxer Manny Pacquiao and Freddie Roach, his coach
- David Segal on upgrades at Ruby Tuesday
- Abby Ellin on the surprising marriage of Melissa Johnson and Timothy Lagasse

Monday, November 2, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (11/1/09)

The Dexter Lake Club Band. (Andrew Hetherington)

- Brett Martin on the wild ways of the New York antiwedding-band wedding band The Dexter Lake Club Band
- Andy Newman on walking around his Brooklyn block 75 times
- Damien Cave on female veterans of the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who have post-traumatic stress disorder

Friday, October 30, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (10/25/09)

Dr. Martin Raber, who lives with cancer. (Scott Dalton for The New York Times)

- Gina Kolata on the world of the M. D. Anderson Cancer Center in Texas
- Judy Tong and Nate Schweber on how a New Jersey church janitor killed a priest
- Lynn Hirschberg on the story behind the movie "Precious"

Monday, October 26, 2009

Thoughts on 'Held by the Taliban'

David Rohde in southern Afghanistan. (Tomas Munita for The New York Times)

Over a span of five days last week, the New York Times published reporter David Rohde's 19,000-word, first-person narrative of his kidnapping by the Taliban in Afghanistan and his subsequent escape. Each installment of the series, entitled Held by the Taliban, began on the front page of the day's paper and jumped to at least a full-page spread. We mentioned the articles, and linked to all of them, in last week's Highlights from this Sunday's Times post.

The series prompted plentiful reader questions and comments, which resulted in responses by Rohde and the Times' executive editor, Bill Keller. There were questions about the news value of the series, its unusually prominent placement and presentation (special fonts and spacing were employed), and so on.

Several Narrative Roundtable contributors have discussed the series informally. Now a few of us chime in with thoughts on the series in this space.

Jordan's response: The series is long. There is some overlap from one story to another — certain paragraphs could have been cut — but I still enjoyed reading Rohde's story. I think it has great value.

Without giving away much, I will say that I found his changes over time interesting to note. Given his experience, I wondered how I might have behaved, and I liked that he had chosen to give us readers this opportunity.

Perhaps more importantly, it is informative; his observations provide us with undeniable information to file in the departments of kidnapping, the Taliban, Afghanistan, Pakistan, foreign correspondence, etc.

Further, I was compelled by several passages. I found myself flagging several lines. The beginning, middle and end of his story clearly stood out to him, and, as a result, they are clear to us readers. We do not have to read overwritten sentences. He gave us a story and some thoughts on the side.

Altogether, I applaud the Times for publishing the story the way it did: in full, in the first person, with multimedia, on the front page.

I wonder what Rohde or the Times will do to promote this story more. Will Rohde expand it or incorporate it into a book? Maybe. Will the Times nominate it for a Pulitzer? Probably. Will the story be made into a movie? I wouldn't rule it out.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (10/18/09)

Rohde in Afghanistan in 2007. (Tomas Munita for The New York Times)

- David Rohde on his kidnapping by the Taliban in Afghanistan, which occurred after he attempted to interview a Taliban commander (see also parts 2, 3, 4 and 5, as well as the epilogue)
- Javier C. Hernandez on Nasim Akhtar, a Queens elementary school nurse
- Dexter Filkins on Gen. Stanley McChrystal's leadership of the American forces in Afghanistan

Monday, October 12, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (10/11/09)

Meat. (Mitchell Feinberg for The New York Times)

- Jonathan Safran Foer on eating, and not eating, meat
- Doug Stanton on Washington Post reporter David Finkel's new book, "The Good Soldiers"
- N. R. Kleinfield on twin blondes from Ohio who can't find journalism jobs in New York

Monday, October 5, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (10/4/09)

Haneen and Karim in Palestine. (Uriel Sinai/Getty, for The New York Times)

- Samantha M. Shapiro on efforts to uphold a "Sesame Street" program in the West Bank
- Michael Moss on the burger that gave E. coli to Stephanie Smith, 22, of Cold Spring, Minn.
- Charles V. Bagli on Sam Chang, a high school dropout who has established major wealth and 37 low-price hotels in New York City

Friday, October 2, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (9/27/09)

Richard Meier's On Prospect Park building. (Piotr Redlinsky for The New York Times)

- Christine Haughney on the peculiar dynamics of a mostly vacant new glass-based apartment building in Brooklyn designed by the starchitect Richard Meier
- Alexandra Fuller on Boulder, Utah, an anomaly in the land of the Latter Day Saints
- Alex Williams on the late musician and writer Jim Carroll's roller-coaster life, which ended a few weeks ago

A higher standard

Dave Kindred makes the case for improved storytelling in one of sports journalism’s fundamental practices, the game story.

Although a staple of sports coverage, when crafted poorly, the game story contains some of the worst sentences found in print or online. (Believe me, on multiple occasions, I have been a guilty party.) However, Kindred searches for a higher standard, something that strives beyond “the numbing monotone of play-by-play” and delivers memorable prose.

Some have criticized Kindred’s column as idyllic – yes, deadline realities might prevent the application of some suggestions – but no one can argue the piece’s basic premise: Readers are interested in evocative storytelling. They want “to see” and “to feel” an event and have its importance analyzed.

I am glad Kindred referenced The Washington Post’s Chico Harlan. Before studying Harlan’s work on the Washington Nationals beat, I had never considered the game story to be a “chapter” in a team’s narrative. (In fact, I questioned the game story's existence, as I wrote here.) I considered the game story to be about a single event, making myself reliant upon play-by-play that choked my copy. For the longest time, I failed to include narrative elements to make my pieces entertaining as well as informative. Basically, my copy was boring.

Storytelling has a place. No matter the assignment, the medium or the deadline, if a writer crafts something memorable from the seemingly mundane, then he or she has served readers well. To this day, I try to include “something different” in each of my stories – whether it be a scene recreation, action or a creative turn of phrase – if only to push myself. Of course, I sometimes fail. Of course, I have a lot to learn. But we should all want to grow. Each assignment presents an opportunity to do so.

Nieman establishes daily blog on narrative

A screen shot of the blog.

The Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University announced the establishment of its Nieman Storyboard blog today. Andrea Pitzer, editor of Nieman's Narrative Digest Web site, wrote in an e-mail to people on the Digest e-mail list that the Storyboard blog is "a new site providing a daily dose of narrative for readers."

I look forward to keeping up with the Storyboard and citing it here where appropriate.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Big Picture

In my photojournalism discussion last week I mentioned the Boston Globe's great Big Picture site. Thinking visually and noticing details can be a good way to create compelling narrative writing. Check out these photos of voting in Afghanistan for examples of pictures that suggest narrative details.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Toxic Waters Series

And as promised, the 2010 Pulitzer Prize winner for public service journalism. I don't have a lot to say about it except that it's great. Check it out ...


Capote vs. Brando

One of the classic match-ups — for any source — would be Truman Capote.

In this 1960s interview with Marlon Brandon in a hotel room and during dinner in Tokyo, the true-to-form Capote attempted to take his normally loquacious approach to his interviews. Brando fought back, though. If Capote tried to get a word in edgewise; he countered. On it went, interviewer and subject fighting for control; trying to outdo each other. For someone (Brando) who wanted to get HIS point across, Capote's technique worked. If Capote's mother was a drunk; Brando's was MORE of a drunk AND his father beat him. If Capote had a funny story; Brando's was funnier. For every intellectual statement Capote made, Brando was even more profound.

With a strong character like this, it might be good to provoke. While it's certainly not my style to match story for story, there's something to it. I find myself comparing my experiences with the subject I'm interviewing. When they tell me they acted in a certain way, I try to vocalize what I would have done. Sometimes this advances the question without ever putting it as such.

Just some food for thought. A great profile to read if anyone's interested ...


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Justin Heckert's response

This is Justin Heckert's response to my post, "Being bold," found below. ~AA

So, first, I went up to Washington with an assignment to write about Jason Campbell. My editor suggested to just write the story in reverse. That is, he had already thought about that as an interesting way to write about the QB before I got the assignment, and I think, actually, that he gave it to me because I like to "break the rules" or "stretch the boundaries", like you said. Which I honestly didn't end up doing very much in either of these stories.

My initial reaction was that this device had already been done a couple months before, in Chris Jones' National Magazine Award-winning story "The Things That Carried Him." But then I thought--okay, that was an uber-serious story, and this would probably be a light-hearted piece, completely different, not ripping him off--so I was cool with the idea. I think my editor had a very good explanation of why they wanted me to do it this way; he said that he could envision the story ending at the very moment Jason picked up a football, which was kind of an important moment to think about, even before I knew anything about him. In my mind, I was like: Yeah, turns out, that was probably a really important moment in his life. I wonder if anyone in his family (though however banal that moment might've been back then) remembers it.

Since it was backwards, I had to pick a point to start from and go in reverse. I had, like, no idea what that would be, even when I was up there for the first couple days. I just started talking to guys in the locker room, asking them about Jason. Couple of the Redskins players mentioned that touchdown pass in the Saints game, and so I went on YouTube and found there was a highlight video of just that moment--so I thought, well, that's a pretty great play, maybe his best in the NFL (according to some of his teammates) so I decided it was a good place to start. So then I asked everyone about that moment. Got it good and vivid in my mind, even if it was only going to be a paragraph. Then, I decided that the story was essentially going to be about a series of "moments" in his life; that it had to be, if I started with a moment, that I had to go back to another, then back to another, almost like hopping backwards across lily pads on the water.

So ... I set about trying to find a bunch of those "moments". Called coaches past, asked them for vivid memories, teammates, his family, friends, then asked him about all this stuff. So, in the end, I could write pretty thoroughly about not so much his actual life, but very specific moments in his life, which wasn't part of the original assignment but it's just how the assignment ("write this backwards") materialized on the page.

For the second story, the only assignment was to "follow coach Curry around all day" on the very first day he was the coach of the program, reporting to his temporary office. The only thing I did was simply try to write down as many details as possible, because I knew immediately that it would be a story about specific and minute detail. Everything he did that morning/afternoon was the first thing anyone ever did in regards to the football program. Like getting a parking space; getting a cup of coffee; using the bathroom (didn't make it into the story); getting a student card; tying his tie, the first one he ever wore as coach; his socks, the first desk he sat in; all the little stuff that I just wore my hand out by scribbling into a notebook. I always do that, never knowing if I'll need it, but always wanting to have it. Colors of the walls, cracks on the walls, is the table polished, is the air conditioning on, do his shoes squeak, the temperature, the little things. I wrote a boxing story once about Evander Holyfield in which I watched the ants crawl from the doorway onto one of the punching bags and wondered where they could possibly be going, and kind of wrote that into the story ... so, I guess, I took a billion little details of his first day, and when I got home I just went back and picked the most interesting ones ("Everything is a first" was the first sentence of one of the sections) and it was almost as simple as just delivering them from the notebook page to the computer page, and then the story was done. Actually, these two pieces--I probably stepped back and got out of the way of myself more than I ever have for two stories. For better or worse. But, I think, they still have a "voice"; like, you can kinda tell I wrote them.

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (9/20/09)

Carl Jung. (Henri Cartier-Bresson)

- Sara Corbett on the drama surrounding a wild book Carl Jung wrote a century ago but will only be published this year
- Lizette Alvarez on the fate of an envelope an American soldier found tucked in the shirt of a dead Japanese soldier on Iwo Jima
- Henry Alford on people obsessed with Wagner's "Ring" opera cycle

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Attribution: Reader's friend, writer's foe?

As journalists, we read critically. We want to know how a reporter got those minute details or that compelling quote. But are readers all that different? Do they just assume that whatever is written in an article is fact and never question where the reporter got it from? I doubt it.

The challenge for journalists is figuring out how we provide enough transparency to ensure that our audience trusts us without resulting to bulky, confusing attributions and explanations that take away from our narratives. Andrea Lorenz, a Mizzou grad, explored this issue in "When You Weren't There: How Reporters Recreate Scenes for Narrative," published in River Teeth: A Journal of Nonfiction Narrative. (You'll have to enter your Mizzou username and ID for free access to this journal and article. Thanks to Dr. Berkley Hudson for sharing this with his Literature of Journalism class.)

I was surprised to hear the lengths to which reporters went to confirm the details of the scenes they were recreating. Tom French had a bird specialist listen to a recording from a funeral service before he wrote that the people attending the service could "hear a sparrow chirping." Others used floor plans, medical records and doctors' notes, etc. Eric Adler of the Kansas City Star spoke with every girl who tried out for a cheerleading squad and the coach to confirm the details he included in a story about an overweight cheerleader.

Of course, readers were never told any of this, and including these reporting procedures in the narrative would have been distracting. So what can journalists do to build readers' trust in their narrative accounts? The Web has certainly provided an opportunity for reporters to include background on their reporting. Not only would this help readers, but it would also help young reporters.

Once, I editing a feature at Vox and couldn't find any notes from the reporter that supported her lead. I assumed she had just forgotten to include them. I called a family member of the person being described, and he confirmed the facts. However, he mentioned that they were a little exaggerated, but he didn't want to upset the writer by having her rewrite it. When I spoke to the reporter, I asked her if she had witnessed this opening scenes. She hadn't. I asked if someone had recounted this opening scene to her. No one had. She had "recreated" this scene based on scraps of information told to her by this person's family members and based on her experience observing her grandfather who was suffering from the same illness as the person she described. She called it recreating a scene, said reporters did it all the time and argued with me that it wasn't unethical, even though the scene, exactly how she had described it, had probably never happened. (Sorry for being so vague, but I don't want to out this reporter.)

As young reporters we want to use the fancy, attention-getting techniques of veterans but sometimes fall short of knowing how much legwork goes into it. Apparently, even this source didn't understand that just because a story sounds good or maybe even representative, the facts must be accurate. We can't describe something that never really happened.

Lorenz provides several helpful lists:
  • Common attributes that ensure accuracy: access, source cooperation, trust between reporter and source and a harmony of source accounts. "Any variation of the four attributes resulted in an interrupted narrative, unless the writers found tools to smooth the story."
  • Roy Peter Clarks' test that reporters should put stories through before publication: Have I checked it out enough to have confidence in the material?, Will the truth of this story stand up against the toughest prosecutorial editing?, What do we have to tell readers about what we know and how we know it to give the story credibility in their eyes?
  • Three reasons for shift to greater transparency: Scandal fatigue, technology (more space for reporting notes) and Pulitzer envy (Clark describes this as the "reluctance in recent years for juries to give awards to stories that they're not really sure about.")

Being bold

I offer two Justin Heckert pieces to talk about manipulation of time in structure. Heckert’s works, “Reversing Field” and “The Coach Will See You Now,” use timestamps in contrasting ways to showcase protagonist growth and to develop theme.

I enjoyed the way Heckert approached “Reversing Field.” Instead of writing a traditional linear structure, Heckert begins with present action and works backward. I would be interested to hear why Heckert chose the strategy. Was it a personal decision? An editor’s? Did the protagonist's development make it possible? If you are familiar with Heckert’s work at ESPN The Magazine, Atlanta Magazine or the Columbia Missourian, you know that he has been more than willing to stretch the craft’s boundaries either through a piece’s structure or his figurative language. In comparison, “The Coach Will See You Now,” is structured in a linear way, but Heckert has reported it so well that the protagonist’s world seemingly leaps to life.

I would be interested to hear Heckert’s immersion-reporting techniques. What details are important to him? What are “defining” scenes to him? Obviously, I am early in my development, but I hope a decade from now I can say I broke "rules" for experimentation’s sake because I was brave enough to do so. Don’t we all want to grow?

Such “bravery,” if we can even call it that, has a lot to do with voice development. For the longest time, I was fascinated with the subject. I considered the topic cosmic. I asked questions such as, What did a writer read to make him or her write the way they do now? I thought voice was the product of a person’s life experiences and that pool of trials, tribulations and joys revealed itself as a window into a writer’s past with each piece that tumbled from his or her fingertips.

Well, I can see that I was over-thinking the topic – as I tend to do – but there remains a glimmer of truth in my immaturity. As young writers, we need to familiarize ourselves with bold examples. We need to form a curiosity about what makes certain writers “different” and why they are effective. In the end, a work's quality is subjective because, after all, it is art. But there remains no substitute for sound reporting, imagination and a willingness to be bold.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Learning From Munadi

Sultan M. Munadi. (Tyler Hicks/The New York Times)

On Saturday, Sept. 4, Sultan M. Munadi, an Afghan reporter and translator, and New York Times reporter Stephen Farrell were reporting from Afghanistan on a NATO bombing when the two were kidnapped by the Taliban.

Their captors took them here and there around the country for days. By Wednesday, Sept. 9, the plan was to move them into Pakistan.

But the plan was not executed. Before dawn Wednesday, British forces attempted to rescue Farrell and Munadi, who were at that time in a safe house. (Farrell has British and Irish citizenship.)

British aircraft appeared. The reporters and their captors ran out of the house and through surrounding fields. The captors ran elsewhere, and the reporters found themselves in "a long, narrrow room devoid of anything but walls and matting, which felt like a death trap," Farrell would say later, for a Sept. 10 New York Times article.

Times reporter Eric Schmitt carefully describes what happened next:
The two men waited a bit, then made their way out of the room into a courtyard. The [sic] lost eac other in the darkness for a moment, before linking back up. With Mr. Munadi leading, they scuttled along a narrow ledge along the outer wall of the compound. "We could see nothing more than a few feet in front of us," Mr. Farrell said. "We had no idea who was where, and there were bullets flying through the air."

After crouching and running for some 60 feet, the two men got to a corner. Mr. Munadi was about two feet ahead of Mr. Farrell, and walked out into the clearing saying in an accent, "Journaliste, journaliste." It was not clear whether he was assuring commandos that he was not a Talib, or assuring the Taliban that he was not with the commandos. There was a hail of bullets — unclear whether from friend or foe — and Mr. Munadi fell.

Mr. Farrell said he reared back from the gunfire and dived into a ditch. He waited a couple of minutes until he was clear which direction the British voices were coming from, then shouted, "British hostage! British hostage!" A few seconds later with hands raised high, he walked to the British troops and safety.
Later in the article, Schmitt writes that Farrell blamed himself for Munadi's death and quotes Farrell as saying, about Munadi, "He was trying to protect me up to the last minute. ... he moved out in front of me."

Farrell also said of Munadi, "He was three seconds away from safety. I thought we were safe. He just walked into a hail of bullets."

I read these words and cried. How dedicated to his work Munadi was! He sacrificed his life to save his fellow reporter.

In an article accompanying Schmitt's, David Rohde, a Times reporter who had been kidnapped by the Taliban but had managed to escape, writes that Munadi chose to leave the paper's Kabul bureau to establish a public service radio station. This, Rohde writes, was not "the easy path" — it was "a financially risky venture," and it was not "a stable, comparatively well-paid job for an Afghan," as the bureau gig was.

But Munadi did it anyway, because, Rohde writes, "he believed independent Afghan media were vital to stabilizing his country."

In other words, he was selfless. He thought little about his own personal well-being; he thought of others first. These characteristics, I believe, make him stand out as a reporter and, perhaps more importantly, as a person.

Please note that I am not trying to suggest that my fellow reporters and I should always be willing to give up our lives for the sake of journalism. Rather, I am trying to encourage avoidance of the opposite extreme: constant selfishness.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Pearls Before Breakfast

Here's one I distributed last spring, but I'm not sure if we ever got to it. It's called "Pearls Before Breakfast" by Gene Weingarten ... 2008 Pulitzer Prize winner for feature writing.

Would you stop during your morning commute to witness musical greatness? I'd like to think I would, but I'm not so sure ... especially with this busy semester.


Monday, September 14, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (9/13/09)

Mohammad Boota. (Ashley Gilbertson for The New York Times)

- Kirk Semple on Mohammad Boota, whose early-morning street-side drumming in Brooklyn prods Muslims to get up on time to eat before sunrise, when they begin fasting until sunset for Ramadan
- Louise Story and Landon Thomas Jr. on where people who were once at the top of Lehman are now

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Horizon

A series from The Washington Post gives me hope that well-financed, ambitious journalism still has a place today. The Post’s series, “Half a Tank: Along Recession Road,” is a fascinating quilt of vignettes and photography that helps to humanize the nation’s worst recession since World War II.

Some say this caliber of journalism is not possible anymore. Critics say newsrooms’ tempered vision prevents such projects from becoming reality; in this uncertain age, newsrooms would rather “do more with less." Sadly, I venture to guess the pessimists – sometimes, I admit, I am one – are occasionally right. Media companies, instead of taking a collective first step into the New Era, act as lemmings. As a result, they are sometimes plagued with group-think, hesitation and inaction. Meantime, the industry continues to decay. When will it be too late? Is it already? (I sure hope not.)

Kudos to editors at The Post for finding some light in the fog. No doubt this was an expensive undertaking. And, to be fair, perhaps only a national publication such as The Post would be able to finance it. But I present this piece not as an isolated incident but as a representation of what journalism could be.

We are entering a journalistic golden age. For those who are brave enough to innovate, the next decade will offer unprecedented opportunity. I picture a day when video, photography, text, social networking and Web presentation will complement one another to tell compelling narratives. Newspapers will die, but what follows will offer more freedom. Who would not want to be part of the renaissance?

It will take time. There will be a difficult learning curve. But for those who dare to dream, the horizon offers limitless potential.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (9/6/09)

David and Harry Zinstein take the B train to work. (Ruth Fremson/The New York Times)

- Alexis Mainland on the things people read in New York City subway trains
- Rob Kenner, a longtime editor and reggae columnist at Vibe magazine, on the Jamaican reggae producer Wycliffe Johnson
- John Branch on the process of making logistical arrangements for matches at the U.S. Open

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Place as power

On the college football season’s opening morning, I thought I would introduce a poignant piece that uses the sport as a lens through which to investigate place and its ability to forge lives. Brady McCollough’s “Ohio steel town molded three Big 12 coaches” is a wonderful example of how setting can be used to develop character and impact readers.

This is more than a sports story. It includes themes of human growth, community decay and the possibility of resurrection. Whenever I think back to some of my favorite narrative pieces, I realize that they stride beyond the nut graf, forcing readers to consider societal struggles. Authors accomplish this by including action, introducing conflict, suggesting resolution (if applicable) and investigating larger human themes.

Place can serve as character. This is what makes narrative journalism so fascinating to me. It is a difficult -- but much more rewarding -- style. Through immersion reporting, an author makes an environment breathe. The writer can and must include the sounds, smells and scenes that touch his or her conscience during the reporting process.

Consider McCollough’s final scene:

As the team gets ready for a scrimmage last week, pounding around their new domain, Ron brings a poster into the locker room. It’s a rendering of a $1 million wellness center for Mooney, a vision that hasn’t even been announced.

“What’s that?” one of the players asks.

Ron looks beat up. There’s a fresh red scar under his right eye from a painting mishap — he cut his cheek on a piece of wood — and blotches of paint on the back of his calves. What’s that? It better be a future.

I love the “fresh red scar under his right eye.” I love the “blotches of paint on the back of his calves.” I love how McCollough uses seemingly frivolous detail to the untrained eye to convey hope amid struggle. His piece packs a closing punch.

Too often, we as writers and readers become distracted and settle for surface-level analysis. We live in a society that rewards our DSL lives. Take a moment. Slow down. Immerse yourself in place's power within narrative.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Katrina story will hopefully foster public conversation

A day after reading it, I'm still trying to shake the haunting thoughts and emotions that Sheri Fink's "The Deadly Choices at Memorial" evoked in me.

On a broad level, it's a disturbing story about one of the nation's worst recent disasters and the controversial end-of-life care decisions made at Memorial Hospital. (For another good Katrina anniversary story, see "After four years in exile, many Hurricane Katrina evacuees really know what it is to miss New Orleans," Times-Picayune.)

On a journalistic level, it's a compelling narrative chock full of the kinds of details and revelations that can only be achieved through in-depth reporting. While reading it, I constantly asked myself how Fink established such rapport with these sources, some of whom admit to easing patients into their death. Obviously, Fink is a doctor herself, so I'm sure that helped her gain the trust of other health professionals. But she also told the Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma that her reporting philosophy is believing that "very few people do things in this world to be evil. People generally believe in what it is they've done. And I feel like, as a journalist, if you can go in there and be willing to hear that — that honest truth, their reality — that's the real key." See the full video interview here. (Although she doesn't really give away what specific reporting techniques and strategies she used for this story.)

On a personal level, as a Louisiana native who lived through Katrina, the last sentence stuck with me the most: "As bad as disasters are, even worse is survivors who don't trust each other." I think this story will definitely spark conversation among medical professionals and emergency preparedness departments. But I wonder if it will spark the conversation that no one wants to have – the conversation about what people should do during a disaster if a family member is in the hospital or nursing home. What can people who leave these members in the care of a facility expect? Would they be better off trying to evacuate or care for these people themselves, if it is at all possible? The story reminded me of Tom Junod's "The Loved Ones," which touches on many of these same themes. Both the Esquire and New York Times Magazine stories are told dramatically through narrative, as I believe they should be; however, it is my hope that these types of article spur the less dramatic but still quite important and controversial stories that can help people make evacuation decisions based on the condition of family members and understand what protocols the facility plans to follow should evacuation not be possible.

On a personal note, my grandfather is suffering from Alzheimer's and was able to be evacuated with my family to Tennessee last year, but this year, he probably wouldn't be able to make that long trip without falling severely ill. My parents and grandmother fall into the "trust no one" category. I don't think they'd evacuate if my grandfather were in a hospital or nursing home, unless he had already been evacuated. But that's not the safest situation either if the coast has more people not obeying evacuation orders because they don't trust caregivers. The more that hospitals try to put this disaster behind them and not enter the controversial debate, the more scared the general public gets. And as everyone who lives along the coast knows, it's never a matter of if another severe hurricane will hit; it's a matter of when.

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/30/09)

Ted Kennedy's coffin inside The Basilica of Our Lady of
Perpetual Help in Boston. (Damon Winter/The New York

- Dan Barry on Ted Kennedy's final farewell
- Sheri Fink, a ProPublica reporter, on what happened inside Memorial Medical Center in New Orleans as floodwaters approached*
- Robbie Brown on young New Yorkers who summer in the South because their family roots lie there

*See Stephanie Detillier's post on this article.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Will the American sports bubble burst?

Michael Kruse's "For SEC, tech-savvy fans might be the biggest threats to media exclusivity" made me consider the relationship between sports and American society and where it all might be going.

A few weeks ago, I vacationed in central Europe and spent a considerable amount of time watching soccer highlights from my hotel feed. After a few hours, a curious realization hit me: It was refreshing not to be bombarded with Brett Favre minutiae and the latest (and illegal) MLB PED leak and news about preseason contract holdouts by unproven -- and naive -- NFL rookies. There, before my eyes, the sports world spun sans the "SportsCenter" theme music. Who knew this was possible?

Which brings me to the Kruse piece. This summer, I had a discussion with a college friend about the connection between American sports and the current economic situation in which the world finds itself. I asked him, Will the American sports bubble -- for our sake this includes BCS-level college athletics and popular professional leagues -- someday burst?

It is a possibility. Since ESPN's rise as the dominant sports-content provider in the broadband age (a position that will never be challenged in my lifetime), major American sports have reached an unprecedented saturation level. Professional athletes earn millions and amateurs begin branding themselves for future endorsement dollars as soon as they are old enough to comprehend Rivals.com's five-star rating system. It is a vicious monster. And it is growing.

It has to crest someday, right? I think social media might play a part. Eventually, society is going to have to ask serious questions about whether the American sports beast has crossed its bounds. The hype. The money. The LeBron and Kobe puppets. It is becoming too much.

Do not get me wrong. I feel fortunate to be alive during a time in which incredible innovation and exposure are possible. Social media will define my adult life, and it might prove to be an unintended check upon an American sports landscape that, with each passing year, becomes disconnected from reality.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/23/09)

Shamsia. (Lynsey Addario/VII Network, for The New York Times)

- Dexter Filkins on how he bought a school bus for Afghan schoolgirls
- Drew Jubera on how poor old Sammy Green got buried

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

An Abortionist's Life

The September issue of Esquire features "The Last Abortion Doctor," a profile on Dr. Warren Hern, one of the only remaining doctors in America to specialize in late-term abortions. The author, John H. Richardson, drew me in largely because of the access he got to Dr. Hern's office and staff, mother, wife and patients. The intimate details keep you reading on to find out what his mother really thinks about her son's profession, how his wife copes with the death threats, why many of his patients get abortions even though they're morally against the practice and what Hern really thinks about antiabortionists who rejoiced at the murder of Dr. George Tiller.

Throughout the piece, Richardson uses second person rather than first person. For example "Walking out, he leaves the door open. You hear voices drifting down the hall." I haven't seen this technique utilized much, but it did make me feel more involved in the story than if the writer had used first person. Richardson also uses "the abortionist" instead of "Hern." I suppose this technique was intended to humanize the word and challenge the notions associated with it. However, at times I became frustrated with the overuse of "abortionist." It seems like overkill to describe his mom as the "abortionist's mother" and his wife as the "abortionist's wife."

This story has gotten much flak because it describes Hern as the "last" doctor of his kind. Apparently, this is not the case. Newsweek is working on a profile of LeRoy Carhart, another late-term abortionist. Even the headline proclaims Hern "The Last Abortion Doctor." How could this have gone through the editing process without anyone realizing that other doctors exist, some under low profile because of the nature of the job? Words such as "last" and "only" usually raise red flags, so I wonder why they didn't in this instance. Otherwise, I thought it was a great read as was "The Man Who Couldn't Eat," a first-person piece by Jon Reiner.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/9/09)

Adam Lepak. (Jon Reis for The New York Times)

- Benedict Carey on how Adam Lepak is growing out of a brain injury
- Anne Barnard on the tough but contributive members of New York S.U.V. clubs
- Katie Zezima on the struggles Boston bicyclists face

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (8/2/09)

Sgt. Jacob Blaylock. (Shane Barker)

- Erica Goode on the rising trend of Iraq II veterans committing suicide
- Greg Bishop on how Rex Ryan, the New York Jets' new coach, is livening up a long-bored team
- Patrick Healy on gay life in Beirut

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (7/26/09)

Dr. George Tiller. (Mike Hutmacher/The Wichita Eagle)

- David Barstow, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting, on how abortion opponents struggled to bring down Dr. George Tiller, and eventually succeeded
- Alan Feuer and Allen Salkin on the decline of the wealthy but tormented New York artist Dash Snow
- Edward Wyatt on people who have managed to break in to the world of reality TV

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (7/19/09)

Kestutis Demereckas. (Jenn Ackerman/The New York Times)

- Michael Wilson on Kestutis Demereckas, the man who finds space for ever more plots at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn
- Joe Queenan on literary escorts
- Tom Wolfe on the day NASA failed, as far as he's concerned

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (7/12/09)

Lloyd Gaines. (Associated Press)

- David Stout on Lloyd Gaines' contribution to the civil rights movement — opening the way for blacks to be admitted to the University of Missouri School of Law
- Andrea Elliott, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, on some Somali-Americans who have been lured to participate in jihad
- Charles Siebert on human-whale interaction

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (7/5/09)

Gay Talese before boarding a ship. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

- Gay Talese on a boat trip around Manhattan he took
- Corey Kilgannon on what happened to Albert "Short Al" Kaufman, who had called in to the New York sports radio station WFAN every morning for decades but recently has not been heard from
- Mark Leibovich on Gavin Newsom and other people interested in succeeding California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Friday, July 3, 2009

My New Life in Obituaries

In writing and in conversation, I like to refer to obituaries. I love obituaries. But if I were to say I always have, I’d be lying.

I would like to say the trajectory of my more-than-passing interest in obituaries and obituary writers began when I was a kid, and, like my mother, I opened our preferred hometown paper, The New York Times, to the obituary page before any other. But the truth is, while I did grow up reading The Times, and while my mom did go to the obituaries first, I was addicted to the sports and automobile sections—the lively, inconsequential ones—in silent protest of my mother’s interest in the new dead.

Mother always said she kept up with the obituaries to make sure she was younger than the people who’d died. But I don’t think her loyalty was so simple.

It has taken me more than a decade to catch up. I have expanded my Times reading to the limit, perusing every section of every paper I can get my hands on. (This summer I live in a Mississippi city where The Times is sold only on Sundays, but when I’m somewhere else I try to obtain a copy to read every day.) I pore over two areas in the newspaper more than any of the others: the front page and the obituary pages.

About a year ago, when obituaries were still of passing interest to me, I checked to see if they concerned people I considered relevant. Usually they did not. But back then, I think, I lacked the compassion, and therefore the courage, to read about people I’d never heard of.

Since then I have become more flexible. Not only do I attempt to read every obituary published in the Sunday paper, but I check the Times’ obituary Web page several times a week, to catch up on the ones I haven’t read.

I keep tabs on who wrote the obituaries—Margalit Fox or Bruce Weber, Peter Keepnews or Christopher Lehmann-Haupt); I figure out what kinds of people they tend to write about, and I look out for exceptions, as well as the bylines of ad-hoc obituary writers. And recently I have been learning about famous Times obituary writers like Alden Whitman and Robert McG. Thomas Jr. I save up their greatest hits for times when I must be inspired or fascinated. (As a young reporter, I’m awestruck by the challenge to summarize a life, never mind an important one, and by logical progression I have profound sympathy for obituary writers. Small wonder I was thrilled to come across an essay by Gay Talese called “Mr. Bad News,” which is chock full of information on Whitman’s life and example of his work.)

To feed my addiction, I have signed up to receive an e-mail from an outfit named Celebrity Death Beeper whenever a significant figure passes. When I get such an e-mail, I check The Times’ Web site, anxious to see what the newspaper has put together.

For me, a standard Times obituary will make me appreciate a person I’ve never met (unless, of course, I have met him or her). A good Times obituary will reveal to me a world about which I knew little if anything, or turn me into a fan of a person, place or thing, or make me wonder, “Why didn’t I know about this person until now?” A great Times obituary will challenge me to make more of my life than I was planning to.

My obsession with obituaries has driven me to look forward to deaths, and especially big deaths, which cause The Times to bring out work by some of its most talented reporters, like Robert D. McFadden.

The excitement I derive from news of a major death has caused friends and acquaintances to call me morbid.

I don’t care.

If anything, I’d defend it as a symbol of care and curiosity. Obituaries help me understand more about the world and human nature. After all, my continuing consumption of obituaries has made me more and more confident of the power of a single individual.

In the last two weeks, we have been pelted with celebrity deaths, and consequently, corresponding obituaries. Ed McMahon went, and Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays, and Karl Malden. . . . Each was fascinating in his or her own right, but in the public conscious they may immortally be considered together. I wonder why we received such an onslaught.

Whatever the reasons, I’m not a big fan of actors, but I know many people who are. If any of them read an obituary in the last few days and decided the form is wonderful, I would be thankful, because I would be vindicated. The obituary fan club would have grown. How joyful that would be. My mother would be pleased.

I guess I have to thank her for turning me on to the pleasures of obituary reading.

I don’t think I’m completely morbid; she is one of many people whose deaths I do not look forward to.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (6/28/09)

Marvin Powell heading to work at the Pontiac Assembly Center on June 10, 2009, at 5:48 a.m. (Damon Winter/The New York Times)

- Jonathan Mahler on Marvin Powell and other middle-class African-Americans being pulled down by the fall of General Motors
- Cara Buckley on the increasingly stiff competition among helado vendors in the Bronx
- Graham Bowley on his and his friend's journey from Islamabad to K2's base camp and back

Monday, June 22, 2009

Praise for the Art of Writing

Quotes can be an effective motivator. Even the simplest statement, when said well and by the right person, can leave an imprint. Every once in a while I'll post up a quote or two with quotes about writing, its craft, and how it's done.

From the Spring Paris Review, in an interview with John Banville:
"The sentence is the greatest invention of civilization. To sit all day long assembling these extraordinary strings of words is a marvelous thing. I couldn't ask for anything better. It's as near to godliness as I can get."

From the Writers on Writing series (NYT), Paul West:
"I have a porous vision, into which anything can get, and I welcome all invaders, knowing the world is richer by far than a wall of identical shoe boxes, whose mildewed aura defeats what's creative.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (6/21/09)

Rafael Nadal. (Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

- Cynthia Gorney on Rafael Nadal, the No. 1 tennis player in the world (I think this article could win Gorney a National Magazine Award)
- Walt Bogdanich on "a rogue cancer unit" at the Philadelphia V.A. hospital
- Sarah Garland on a case of Long Island gang violence

And here are a few tardy highlights from last Sunday's Times (6/14/09):

- Daniel J. Wakin on outgoing New York Philharmonic music director Lorin Maazel
- Jon Gertner on the state of California's determination to build a high-speed rail system a la France and Japan
- Katie Thomas on a girls' basketball team in New York and why it, and so many others like it, is not as supported as the average boys' team

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (6/7/09)

- Ellen Barry on Sergei Kanev, a crime reporter in Moscow whose life is punctuated by death threats
- Alan Feuer on the fall of the great New York law firms
- Deborah Sontag on two divergent Muslim artists in New York

And here's a bonus: my mother's recommendation.

- Scott Malcomson on Shakira's efforts to improve early-childhood education in South America

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/31/09)

- Michael Brick on water safari in Texas
- Peter Baker on Bill Clinton, who has now spent more time out of the White House than he did in there, and how his legacy has changed since Barack Obama became president
- Lizette Alvarez and Michael Wilson on New York City projects in the old days, as Sonia Sotomayor, Obama's Supeme Court justice nominee, remembers them — before they got their bad rap

Monday, May 25, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/24/09)

- Sara Corbett and photographer Gillian Laub on the segregated proms for students of Montgomery County High School in Mount Vernon, Georgia
- Lynn Hirschberg on Conan O'Brien's move from New York to L.A.
- N. R. Kleinfield on the Rev. A. R. Bernard, who leads the Christian Cultural Center in Brooklyn

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/17/09)

- Amy Harmon, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting, on a family struggling to help their 34-year-old son, Joshua Thompson, avoid death by A.L.S. with an experimental medicine
- Bruce Weber's obituary of Sid Laverents, a peculiar homemade film auteur
- David Segal's profile of Daniel Boulud and his new New York restaurant

Friday, May 15, 2009

The new Newsweek vs. the old New York Review

New York Observer media reporter John Koblin delivers a hip introduction to the revamped Newsweek and its hotshot editor, Jon Meacham, in a voice that calls to mind Talese & Wolfe.

Contrast it with Janny Scott's 1997 New York Times profile of The New York Review of Books' top dog, Robert Silvers.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/10/09)

- Margalit Fox's obituary of Martha Mason, who spent most of her life in an iron lung
- David Segal's hilarious debut consumer-advocacy column, The Haggler (notice his perfect use of the third person when referring to himself)
- Tamar Lewin's American Album on Miles Woolley, a teacher at a Miami high school who is opposed to military recruitment there because of his experience in the Vietnam war

Thursday, May 7, 2009

A new age for the Missourian?

In my Intermediate Writing class yesterday, longtime MU journalism professor and narrative cheerleader Steve Weinberg spoke up about an interesting trend he observed in the Missourian.

A major narrative appeared on the front page of every Missourian for three editions in a row, he said.

First came a profile of Fred Parry in Sunday's paper. Then came Jessica Showers' profile of Jessica Huang, a fledgling writer of 10-minute plays, on Tuesday. And then on Wednesday came Jenny Rogers' profile of Charles Carter, a regular at the Salvation Army.

They came on the heels of last week's two-part series on the exoneration of Josh Kezer.

Steve said he hadn't seen this kind of work published consistently in the Missourian in decades.

The development, he suggested, could herald a new era of thoughtful, high-quality journalism for the paper. He seemed to read it as a sign of hope not only for it but also for print journalism itself.

I hope this is not an isolated development. I hope the Missourian will continue traveling in this direction for a while.

It's no surprise each of the three profiles topped the most-read list for several hours. People read good stories. People want stories. People need stories. The title of Joan Didion's nonfiction collection, I remember nearly daily, is "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live." If we want to live, we're going to need stories.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (5/3/09)

- Douglas Martin's obituary of New Age pioneer John Michell
- Outgoing South Asia Bureau Chief Somini Sengupta on Calcutta, her hometown
- Chip McGrath on Fenway Park

Friday, May 1, 2009

2009 National Magazine Awards

Check out the works that won 'em.

P.S. Chris Jones won the one for feature writing.

Esquire writer Chris Jones praises narrative

He is to become a professor at the U. of Montana. Read a journalism student's interview with him here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Shout-out to Andrew Astleford

News of this year's UWIRE 100 best college journalists went over Romenesko yesterday. Two of the 100 were Mizzou students. One of the two, Andrew Astleford, occasionally contributes sports stories to the Missourian that I love to read. I'm confident he'll be the kind of person the MU j-school will brag about churning out for years to come.

This is actually the second consecutive year Andrew made the cut for the UWIRE 100.

Andrew covered the MU Tiger football team last year and in 2007 with an understanding of what the real story was. He is what I might call a reliable narrator. When I read his stories, I don't look for quotes. I like to sit tight and listen to his narration.

- When the Tigers lost the 2008 Big 12 conference game to Oklahoma.
- When the '07 Tigers were so good, they called to mind the '69 Tigers.
- When hype surrounded Columbia, Mo., as the 2008 season began in the shadow of an amazing one in 2007.

UPDATE: Andrew has won this year's Atwater Writing Contest, which the MU j-school administers. On behalf of the contest committee, Columbia Missourian editor Liz Brixey writes:

With pleasure, we announce that Andrew Astleford has won this year's Atwater Writing Contest.

Submissions were exceptionally strong this year and made for some terrific reading, and we thank everyone who entered.

Andrew wins for three stories: "Seeking Relief, McHale's Life Took a Fatal Turn," about the late Tampa Bay Buccaneer Tom McHale, published in The Washington Post; "A Pitcher's Dual Dreams of Delivering at Sea, on Hill," about Atlanta Braves pitcher Mitch Harris, also in the Post; and "Daniel stayed true to his Tigers commitment," about the quarterback's loyalty to MU even when Texas came calling, in the Columbia Missourian.

The stories showed wonderful descriptive writing based on detailed reporting as well as strong use of dialogue. "He gets me in the beginning and takes me all the way to the end of every story," one judge said.

Andrew, who comes from Dodge City, Kan., is in the magazine sequence and plans to graduate in December. His summer schedule includes the Poynter Fellowship for College Journalists in St. Petersburg, Fla., and the Midwest Writers Workshop at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind.

Andrew spent two semesters at the Columbia Missourian under sports editor Greg Bowers and interned at the Orlando Sentinel and The Washington Post. Andrew placed 12th in 2008 and third in 2009 for sports writing in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program and third in 2008 for explanatory writing for the Associated Press Sports Editors. For the past two years, he has been named among the top 100 college journalists in America by uwire.com.

Andrew is now in Jacqui Banaszynski's intermediate writing class, and here is a link to a story from that class that appeared last week in the Missourian about former football Tigers Pig Brown, Darnell Terrell and Xzavie Jackson:


Andrew receives $600 and a copy of Eudora Welty's memoir "One Writer's Beginnings," which was a favorite of the late Jim Atwater, former dean and faculty member of the Missouri School of Journalism. This annual prize is given in memory of his love of writing, this J school and its students.

Please join us in congratulating Andrew.

Highlights from this Sunday's Times (4/26/09)

- Rod Nordland on Iraq's false spring
- David Gonzalez on a mixed-status family of Ecuadorian immigrants in Queens
- Deborah Sontag on Larry Fuller, a jazz pianist perennially on the side

Monday, April 27, 2009

Portuguese soup for the writer's soul

OK, so the title I chose for this post is horrendous, but I wanted to write something silly as the headline, so oh well. It's all I had time to think of during my break from this 10-page term paper. One the other hand, I love the headline of the story I'm posting.

I really like the Dan Barry's use of quotes and actions of the main character, Ines De Costa, to show her personality in this piece. It's a nice little narrative piece, so I figured I'd share it with you all.

Here's the article: In a City Under Strain, Ladling Out Fortification

Friday, April 24, 2009

Reporter-Centric Quiz

If you attended Narrative Round Table No. 2, which took place earlier this week, I talked about what I call a reporter-centric way of thinking. But I don't think I made myself clear.

So I prepared an informal quiz, to clarify what I mean, and to help you figure out if you too are reporter-centric.

I should note that I don't intend it to be insulting. If anything, it may be humorous. Actually, I hope you find it funny. And I hope you enjoy it. And so, without further ado, . . .

Please complete the following sentences to figure out how reporter-centric you are, and learn what that might mean for you.

1) When I read the newspaper, . . .
a. I glance at the pictures and scan the headlines.
b. I read each byline and if I recognize the name, I read as much of the article as possible.
c. Wait, wait. You mean that gray thing with words? I don't read that!

2) When researching a topic, the first thing I do is . . .
a. call a friend.
b. Google it.
c. search The New York Times archive.

3) After waking up, the first thing I do is . . .
a. comb my hair, brush my teeth, eat breakfast or go to wherever I need to be.
b. talk to someone and find out what's going on.
c. check nytimes.com, or go out and buy The Times.

4) If a crisis happens, I hope . . .
a. no one is hurt.
b. The Times unleashes one or a few of of its top reporters to tell a strong, interesting story for the next day's paper.
c. to find a TV and see what happened.

5) In the future, I'd like to . . .
a. do some good for the rest of the world.
b. do something I enjoy and get paid well for my work.
c. become a great reporter, just like the people I admire most.

6) The majority of the books on my bookshelf . . .
a. compile stories my favorite reporters wrote. The rest were mentioned in articles I read.
b. are about any old topic. Some are fiction, some are non-fiction. . . . The rest are necessary for my profession or classwork.
c. Um, I don't own books.

7) When someone famous dies, . . .
a. I mourn his or her death and keep him or her in my prayers. Maybe the person will come up in conversation.
b. I look forward to reading his or her obituary in the next day's Times. It'll probably be great. And if I'm lucky, it'll be written by Robert D. McFadden.
c. I don't always hear about it right away. It'll be news to me when people mention the death in conversation.

8) In my free time, . . .
a. Woah, woah—I don't have free time.
b. I talk with other people, write, draw, browse the Internet. . . .
c. I read up on reporters I heard about recently, borrow a book of theirs from the library, or read the day's paper or check the news online.

9) I think most reporters are . . .
a. the most noble people alive.
b. I don't know; I've never met one, or even thought about that. . . .
c. scumbags.

10) Altogether, I think about the world . . .
a. when other people talk about it.
b. now and then.
c. in terms of the reporters who would write about aspects of it.

Now, add up the points you scored for your answers, using this key:

1) a = 1, b = 2, c = 0
2) a = 1, b = 0, c = 2
3) a = 0, b = 1, c = 2
4) a = 0, b = 2, c = 1
5) a = 1, b = 0, c = 2
6) a = 2, b = 1, c = 0
7) a = 1, b = 2, c = 0
8) a = 0, b = 1, c = 2
9) a = 2, b = 0, c = 1
10) a = 1, b = 0, c = 2

If you scored between 0 and 5, you're probably not reporter-centric in the least, and you have nothing to worry about. You probably don't like to read much, and certainly not anything a reporter wrote. You might prefer a scholarly work, or a best-seller, or something a friend or a few websites recommended. You rarely, if ever, pay for a newspaper.

If you scored between 6 and 10, you're not very reporter-centric. You might think now and then about journalism, stories, and things of that nature, but you're not obsessed with them. You may know a reporter or two, and their thinking may have rubbed off on you. You may pick up a newspaper for the experience.

If you scored between 11 and 15, you may be on your way to becoming reporter-centric, or you were in the past and you realized how unusual is to be always thinking about reporters. You might subscribe to a newspaper, or you could be in the habit of picking one up on Sundays. You may know reporters. You might even be a reporter.

If you scored between 16 and 20, you're probably a reporter, and you may know several reporters. You may love reading. You're definitely reporter-centric. Which makes for a lonely but satisfying existence. You learn about reporters and look for their bylines for pleasure. You're in your own little world, and you may care little about the real one. You may wish to seek help.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pulitzer thoughts

I read two of the Pulitzer prize winning stories from this year and wrote a bit about what I noticed.

One Man’s Military-Industrial-Media Complex

By David Barstow of the New York Times

Read the story


my thoughts as a journalist

There is very thorough reporting strung together by consistent chronology in the piece. As a journalist, the question that first arrives in my mind is “how in the world did he get such transparent access with all of these top figures?”

There is a good story arch within that chronology as well. First of course the story shows McCaffrey’s credentials and why he was such a hot commodity. But then it dives into what he did, what it led up to,

I wonder what his notes looked like. How did he interview these high profile people and get information out of them? How did he organize his transcripts and turn into the story I read today?

This story arch is important in showing the complexity of the problems investigated in this piece. If it were just a list of facts, it wouldn’t be at all apparent to how deep the story goes or how much one man’s actions dangerously pervades the system.

As a reader:

It’s interesting: earlier today I was cynically thinking to myself “I wonder how much good ideas or readings actually do. Do they actually incite emotion or promote change of some sort?” But then I read this story and realized how as a citizen it makes me angry to see this going on and how much tax dollars are being wasted by bribes and greed. It’s not like I can do something about it right now, but maybe someone can as legal actions take place and people

It also raises the questions of how do consumers interpret and trust media outlets? Sure, a news organization might be credible, but if it’s unsure how their analysts are benefiting or not benefiting from a particular viewpoint, part of the credibility is stripped away.

Extra note:

I noticed that the winner of investigative reporting category had two corrections on the Times’ Web site, two days apart. It is interesting that a piece of journalism with two corrections was still at such a high caliber to win the most prestigious of journalism awards.

Girl in the Window

By Lane Degregory of the St. Petersburg Times


The alliteration and word usage at the beginning works powerfully. Often the perception of cops entering a house is one of authority, not stumbling back to the sunlight and vomiting in the yard. The words, too, that the “rookie renched” somehow gives the words more power than just simply saying “the cop threw up.” We were learning about word usage yesterday in intermediate writing, so I’m pleased that I noticed this so quickly and was able to observe the power it had to the beginning.

Detail, detail, detail infiltrates this story creating haunting imagery of what the little girl was forced to endure. I cringed and grimaced at my table in kaldi’s as I read of the conditions. Now THAT'S good writing then.

The reporting in this also was wonderful with the storytelling archetype of Danielle seeming to be a “rising from the ashes” figure.

I thought it’s interesting with how Degregory decided to end with info about the mother’s whereabouts and her background. I’m glad they included that and it seems to fit well at the end.