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.