May 6, 2011
It is extremely important to understand different units of measure and how to calculate these measurements. Sometimes reporters have to convert units of measure to find accurate numbers. Here are a few conversions, units of measure and formulas from chapters 9-12 of Wickham’s book.
- Time, distance and rate: make sure to keep units of measurement the same.
Time = distance ÷ rate
Distance = rate x time
Rate = distance ÷ time
April 29, 2011
In these chapters of “Math Tools for Journalists,” Kathleen Woodruff Wickham goes over polls, surveys, math related to business and how to calculate taxes. These are essential concepts to be able to calculate and inform the public about.
Business news, taxes and polls and surveys include math and it is important for journalists to know how to use and calculate these numbers.
To read more about standards for financial accounting and reporting of information, visit the Financial Accounting Standards Board.
APRIL 22, 2011
In order to ensure accuracy, journalists sometimes have to use statistics, percentages and data. These include numbers — and numbers can scare writers who are so used to using words. But numbers are important in many stories. They help explain to readers. They help readers understand the issue or event or concept.
Numbers are precise, said Kathleen Woodruff Wickham, the author of this book. They also help to put issues into perspective.
- Percent increase/decrease: Percentage increase/decrease = (new figure – old figure) ÷ old figure
Convert to a percentage by moving the decimal two places to the right.
- Percent of the whole: Percentage of a whole = subgroup ÷ whole group
Move the decimal point two points to the right.
- Percent points: Distinguish between percent and percentage point. One percent is one one-hundredth of something.
- Convert fractions to percentages: convert a fraction to a decimal by completing division, to convert a decimal to a percentage move the decimal point two points to the right
13/15 = 13 ÷ 15 = 0.87
- Simple/annual interest: Percentages are often used to compute interest. The amount of money borrowed is called principal. Money paid for the use of money is called interest. The rate is the percent charged for the use of money. Amount of interest charged depends on the length of time borrowed money is kept.
Simple/annual interest formula: Interest = principal x rate (as a decimal) x time (in years)
- Payments on loans: consumers usually make monthly payments on loans for home mortgages or cars. The term of the loan is how long the borrower has to repay a loan. The monthly payment and total interest paid can be calculated.
A = monthly payment
B = original loan amount
R = interest rate, expressed as a decimal and divided by 12
N = total number of months
A = [P x (1 + R)^N x R] ÷ [(1 + R)^N – 1]
More information: The ^N in the air beside brackets is to the power of, so multiply the result of the brackets by itself N
number of times.
- Interest on savings: savings accounts and certificates of deposit generally pay compound interest
B = balance after one year
P = principal
R = interest rate
T = number of times per year interest is compounded
B = P(1 + [R ÷ T])^T
- Salary increase: Original salary x percent increase = dollar amount of salary increase for first year
Original salary + salary increase = salary for first year of contract
First year salary x percent increase = dollar amount of salary increase for second year
First year salary + salary increase = salary for second year
- Percentile: a percentile is a number representing the percentage of scores that fall at or below the designated score. It is based on the relationship to all other scores. If a test-taker scored in the 65th percentile then 65 percent of the people who took the test scored the same or lower.
Percentile rank = (Number of people at or below an individual score) ÷ (number of test takers)
Or turn the formula around to find out the number of people who scored at or below a certain point.
Number of people scored at or below that level = (Percentile) x (number of test takers)
- Standard deviation: standard deviation is a figure that indicates how much a group of figures varies from the norm. A small standard deviation means the figures are consistently grouped around the mean. A high standard deviation can mean there are inconsistent results. Standard deviation is shown as data in a bell curve. It can be used as a unit of measure along the bell curve. The middle of the curve (the highest point) is the mean and the rest spreads out on either side. The steeper the bell curve the smaller the standard deviation (since more numbers are close to the mean). A more spread out bell curve represents a large standard deviation. Data can exhibit a typical distribution where 68 percent of the scores will fall within one standard deviation (either positive or negative), 95 percent will fall within two standard deviations and 99 percent will fall within three standard deviations.
Subtract the mean from each score in the distribution.
Square the resulting number for each score.
Compute the mean for these numbers. This figure is called variance.
Find the square root of variance.
- There are many federal statistics that can be important for journalists to know how to find and generate.
- Unemployment: every month the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) issues a report on U.S. employment. The employment rate is defined as the percentage of the labor force that is unemployed and actively seeking work. Labor force means anyone over the age of 16 who has a job or has looked for one in the past four weeks (except unemployed people who aren’t actively seeking work and people who are institutionalized, such as in prison). Being employed means the person did some work for pay in the week before the survey was taken or did at least 15 hours of unpaid work for a family enterprise. A group of 60,000 households is interviewed, called the Current Population Survey. This data creates the unemployment figures for each state and the nation. BLS adjusts some statistics to take into account seasonal employment changes. Visit www.bls.gov.
Unemployment rate = (unemployed ÷ labor force) x 100
- Inflation and Consumer Price Index: inflation continuously affects the economy. U.S. inflation is measured by the CPI, which is a figure determined by the BLS. It shows the amount of inflation in any given month for eight major product groups (food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation and recreation). CPI data are collected from 23,000 retail and service businesses each month. Information on rents is collected from about 50,000 landlords and tenants. CPI is reported in several ways. Sometimes it’s written as an index number (some number more than 100, shows how much prices have increased since the base CPI 100 was created in 1984). Or the change in CPI is reported as a monthly or annual inflation rate.
Monthly Inflation Rate = (Current CPI – Prior Month CPI) ÷ Prior Month CPI x 100
- Annual inflation rate: Compare the current CPI with CPI of that month in a previous year.
A = Annual Inflation Rate
B = Current month CPI
C = CPI from same month in previous year
A = (B – C) ÷ C x 100
- Adjusting for inflation: a historical figure is changed to represent how large it would be in current dollars. BLS has an inflation calculator on its website.
A = Target year value, in dollars
B = Starting year value, in dollars
AC = Target year CPI
BC = Starting year CPI
A = (B ÷ BC) x AC
- Future prices: If you want to figure out how much something will cost a year from now, you can with the current rate of increase of the CPI, if the rate will remain the same. Find the annual interest rate and apply it to the original price and compound it.
C = Cost after one year
K = Original cost
I = Inflation rate
C = K(1 + [I ÷ 12])^12
- Gross Domestic Product: GDP is the value of goods and services produced by a nation’s economy. It can gauge the direction of the country’s economy. When GDP increases, the economy is considered healthy and if it is decreasing the economy may be in a recession. The change in GDP is watched (rather than its level). GDP is often converted into “real” GDP, which holds prices of the measured items consistent to the prices they were in 1996. Real GDP shows changes in quantities of goods and services produced. GDP is reported quarterly and the rate of GDP growth is reported annually.
C = Consumer spending on goods and services
I = Investment spending
G = Government spending
NX = Net exports (exports minus imports)
GDP = C + I + G +NX
- Trade balance: Trade balance is the difference between goods and services a country exports and imports. For the U.S. the trade balance has been a negative number for years, meaning that Americans are importing more goods than exporting. There are seven major categories for exports and imports (capital goods other than autos; services including travel, royalties and license fees and other private services; industrial supplies; autos and auto parts; consumer goods; food and beverages and other).
Trade balance = Exports – imports
It’s important for journalists to have math skills, to at least understand what the formulas are doing. Journalists are communicating information and data to the public, so they must understand what they are communicating.
1. Percent decrease:
Bill Gates is decreasing his donations to charity from $735,460 to $356,789. By what percentage is the donation cut?
$356,789 – $735,460 = -$378,671
-$378,671 ÷ $735,460 = -0.5148
So the donation was cut -51.5 percent.
2. Percentage of a whole:
The concession stand at the local movie theatre makes $25,000 a year. The entire movie theatre makes $899,897. What percentage of the entire earnings does the concession stand produce?
$25,000 ÷ $899,897 = 0.0277
So the concession stand produces 2.7 percent of the whole movie theatre earnings.
Delilah Vale received an overall score of 78 on his ACT test. 4,683 other students took the test. Vale’s score is equal to or higher than the scores of 1,754 other students. What is Vale’s percentile rank?
1,754 ÷ 4,683 = 0.3745
Vale’s percentile rank is the 37th percentile.
4. Simple/annual interest:
George Fink borrowed $4,530 from the Risky LenderBank to make a down payment on an apartment. He agreed to pay 8 percent interest, payable in one payment at the end of three years. What is George’s interest payment?
$4,530 x .08 x 3 years = $1,087.2
So his interest payment is $1,087.2.
Chapter 8: Terrorism, war and disasters
Writing about terrorism, war and disasters is tricky, has to be accurate and on tight deadlines and is difficult to write. It’s hard to witness disaster, but people need information about what happens and the response to it. So reporters must go, witness, observe, interview, research and report.
These stories have vivid storytelling. They incorporate details, images, scenes and emotions to help readers understand the impact and what people are feeling and going through. This helps readers know what happened and feel some of what others are dealing with. These stories should “communicate the reality of the horror,” as Clark and Scanlan said.
Reporters who write about disasters and war must be somewhat hardened or able to deal with the tragedy themselves. They must find a way to check their emotions at the door and not let them infiltrate the story — because it is essential that the reporting remain objective. This takes a great deal of strength and resolve.
A lesson this chapter tries to teach is that reporters don’t have to strictly follow the five W’s and the H structure (who, what, where, why, when and how). The great writers in this chapter often wrote against or didn’t follow this strict structure, in how to set up their leads or the story. They went instead for a narrative lead, a scene-setting lead or a sentence that set the tone. This can work better than the structure of the five W’s and the H.
Like Richard Zahler, reporters should make the five W’s and the H work for them. Zahler wrote in ways where “Who becomes Character; What becomes Plot; Where becomes Setting; When becomes Chronology; Why becomes Motivation,” Clark and Scanlan said.
There’s a moral dimension of journalism that this chapter touches on. Journalism can offer stories about injustice, inequality, danger, conflict, war, disasters, corruption and so on — and the public has the right to know about these issues. This can be referred to as reporting for the public good. These stories can and do have power, with how the reporters write them, the details they use, who is offered as a voice in the story, the impact that is shown and the connection to readers that is made.
Stories should focus on the universal. They should show and connect the human aspect of a disaster, war or other event. This can help readers connect if they’re reading about tragedy from a faraway place, for example if they’re reading about the Rwandan genocide in Washington, D.C.
Anthony Shadid, one of the great writers mentioned in this chapter, tried to humanize the impact of war.
Sometimes it’s important to step back and listen, observe. Sometimes journalists don’t need to be talking and asking questions all the time — watching and listening can give them insight, details and events that they might have missed if they were focusing on asking and having a conversation with a source.
For Shadid’s story on the 14-year-old’s funeral in Baghdad, he “stepped back like a photographer to ‘capture the scene,’” Clark and Scanlan said.
Reporters also need to report — stories would not be stories without words, quotes from people. Without information and research. But acting like a photographer at times can be extremely worthwhile.
Additionally, sometimes it’s best not to follow the pack, not to go where the rest of the media is going and to search out your own stories. This is what Shadid did when he was in Baghdad. He went around the city, finding and writing stories that journalists otherwise wouldn’t have known about or reported, but nonetheless as important.
Research is extremely important. It helps the reporter know what he’s writing about and offers readers context they need to understand the story. Reporters should also be critical and practice creative thinking. It’s important for reporters to connect readers to stories, to natural and human-caused disasters, even if they are occurring far away from them. Clark and Scanlan said reporters and stories should bridge the gap between the reader’s experience and those on another continent.
Research includes interviews, observation and eyewitness accounts, reading, looking at databases or websites or journals, interviewing experts and more.
There are tools and techniques that the editors and great writers explain and use.
Clark and Scanlan describe the reporter’s tools as: curiosity, observation and empathy and the writer’s techniques as: analogy, metaphor and unforgettable imagery. Writing in this way will convey the human consequences, they said.
The little tricks that Mark Fritz, another great writer listed in this chapter, uses are: writing in your head, jotting a transition, hunting for precision detail, putting away your notes to think about what your story is about and what example you have that most compellingly explains your story.
Top 5 list of terrorism, war and disaster stories:
1. Boy, 13, Shot by Sniper at School, The Washington Post
Serge F. Kovaleski and Michael E. Ruane
In 2002 there was a rash of sniper attacks in Md. and Va. These reporters cover one of the shootings. They certainly conducted a lot of research for the article and provide context for the reader. They visit the issue of the sniper from many sides.
The snipers were found to be John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo.
This Washington Post graphic offers a map of where the shootings took place.
The reporters focus on the injured boy, his hospitalization and surgery. They also give scenes from the school where the shooting took place, providing details of parents and school officials gathering anxiously.
The reporters offer details of a police chief’s eyes becoming moist and his voice quivering with anger, while they give his remarks.
Speaking to reporters in Rockville, his eyes moist and his voice quivering with anger, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose said: “Today it went down to the children … Someone is so mean-spirited that they shot a child … Now we’re stepping over the line. Shooting a kid. I guess it’s getting to be really, really personal now.”
The reporters offer context and background of the past sniper shootings to readers. This helps them understand if they have missed the previous reports, informs them that this is an ongoing string of attacks and keeps them up to date.
They also provide details of what the victims were doing when they were shot — ordinary, everyday activities. This raises a level of intensity and danger.
The boy is the youngest of eight sniper victims. The first, a 55-year-old man, was slain Wednesday night in Montgomery. Four people, ages 25 to 54, were killed Thursday morning in Montgomery, a 72-year-old man was fatally shot Thursday night in the District and a 43-year-old woman was wounded in Spotsylvania on Friday afternoon.
All the victims were in public places going about ordinary activities — mowing a lawn, filling a gas tank, walking into a supermarket. But the shooting of a teenager in front of his school jolted parents and school systems across the region and raised an already intensive police investigation to a new level of urgency.
The reporters provide a human element and help readers understand the severity with many quotes from people in various departments.
It’s a horrible tragedy,” Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge said. “You get nauseous thinking about how cowardly, how inhumane this is.”
The reporters try to make sense of the shootings for the readers to be able to understand them better. They quantify and give updates from several, they include that witnesses saw a white van speeding away after one shooting. The reporters give the context from the personal level of the boy who was shot, his family members and then law enforcement.
They express the fear of the community through description and imagery of the schools in the area having lockdowns, Code Blue and Code Red drills and police stationed in the schools.
Montgomery County Executive Douglas M. Duncan said at one of numerous news conferences he held yesterday: “The community is in a state of fear, a state of anxiety … It’s a very fearful time.
“People are very nervous and very anxious, but they are going to work,” he added. “As people are very fearful, they’re going about their routines as best they can. Working together, we are going to crack this as soon as we can.”
2. Hurricane Katrina: The Rescuers; ‘First Go for Life,’ Workers Are Told, The New York Times
Blumenthal focuses on the rescuing of people after Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans. He gives multiple accounts and descriptions of what the chaotic, dangerous rescuing was like.
He describes in detail the scenes from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He gives vivid descriptions and explains by showing the reader what he and people he spoke to witnessed.
Natural gas bubbled up from severed lines. Petroleum fires flickered on the water.
Power lines dangled onto roads, and telephone poles teetered, snapped like matchsticks.
Levees breached in several places poured water from Lake Pontchartrain into the city.
These one sentence paragraphs add effect and show the intensity of the situation, much like Jim Dwyer did in the chapter.
Blumenthal includes storytelling quotes in his article, that offer a description and image to the reader.
All the folks that are easy to rescue get rescued right away,” said Dr. Joe Holley, a physician from Memphis who directs medical operations. ”The problem is the guy in the attic. That’s the one we’re looking for with infrared and listening devices.”
This shows the difficulty the rescuers faced in finding people who needed rescuing.
He describes the emergency worker teams who went out to rescue people, the equipment they had, their sleeping conditions (cars, no bathrooms) and their responses.
The teams, 70-member groups of firefighters and medical specialists, arrive with 18-wheelers and other trucks loaded with generators, chainsaws, tents and dogs that can sniff out the living and the dead.
His last phrase “sniff out the living and the dead,” sets the tone of the story. Blumenthal treats this subject matter and issue seriously and with respect, as it should be. He shows empathy in his reporting.
Blumenthal includes quotes from survivors, people being rescued, rescue workers and administrative executives.
‘It’s worse than I thought it was,” said Jim Strickland, the team leader for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Including these quotes helps readers see how different people reacted to the natural disaster and searching and rescuing of survivors.
His lead is extremely powerful. It is a snippet of a conversation among rescue workers.
‘If we come across a body floating?” Sgt. Chris Fisher of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office asked.
”Let it go,” Maj. Bobby Woods replied, as Sergeant Fisher and other rescue workers prepared for the day’s mission. ”Let’s first go for life.”
By putting this in the beginning, Blumenthal sets the tone of the story, shows readers how serious the disaster is and the philosophy of the workers.
3. About New York; For Old Armenians, Sorrows Arrive With Spring, The New York Times
Michael T. Kaufman
It’s clear that Kaufman did research for this article. Often times, people are not aware that this genocide even occurred. The Armenian Genocide occurred from 1915 to 1917, where the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire was greatly decreased.
More than a million Armenians were forced to walk across the Mesopotamian deserts into Syria, Kaufman writes. Many drowned and died of hunger. Many were shot to death. The estimates of the dead range from 600,000 and 1.5 million.
Kaufman helps give the reader context and background with this graf.
Until World War II and the destruction of the Jews, it was the sufferings of the Armenians, well documented by journalists and writers, that set standards of horror and contemporary barbarism.
Kaufman writes with description, vivid details and quotes that connect readers to the situation.
We don’t talk to each other about it because everybody has their own terrible stories,” said Alice Dosdourian, who is 89 years old.
“For four years I was hungry, and beaten,” said Hagop Cividian.
These powerful quotes show the sadness that remains with older Armenians. This shows readers that the tragedy still goes on.
To make the tragedy clearer and set the tone, Kaufman creates a stark contrast in the lead.
The forsythia at the Armenian Home in Flushing are blooming cheerily and the dandelions wink from the lawn, but for the old people who live there, April remains a time of heavy sorrows. They sit silently in sunny rooms, keeping to themselves what they saw and heard and smelled 80 years ago when their people were scattered and killed in the first of the century’s many genocides.
It seems that Kaufman spent much time observing the older Armenians in New York, spending time with them, talking to them, not pushing them because it is a touchy and difficult subject for them to talk about. They don’t even talk about it to each other, as Kaufman said. But in this quote, it’s clear that Kaufman was empathetic while reporting about this. “The old Armenians eagerly took advantage of a stranger’s visit to tell what they had seen and endured as children,” he said.
“But I never forget,” Mrs. Dosdourian said. “I think about what happened all the time. Sometimes I dream about it and I wake up and I hold myself and tell myself, ‘No, you do not have to worry, now you are in America.’ ” Mrs. Dosdourian has been in America since 1924.
Kaufman wanted to make clear to readers how this tragedy that happened long ago still affects the Armenians every day, even if they are away from the place where they suffered.
It seems that Kaufman strongly believes in the moral sense of reporting. He said the older Armenians should testify, should recount their experiences because they are among the last survivors, they need “to have the facts acknowledged.”
He also follows Dwyer’s writing tips by leaving an important quote for the end: “The only time I knew freedom was when I came to America five years ago,” Mr. Cividian said. “Only here I can do what want. I can think, speak and remember.”
4. Last Defense at Troubled Reactors: 50 Japanese Workers, The New York Times
Keith Bradsher and Hiroko Tabuchi
These reporters give numerous details to help readers see what the dire and dangerous situation is like in Japan after the 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and failing nuclear reactors.
They crawl through labyrinths of equipment in utter darkness pierced only by their flashlights, listening for periodic explosions as hydrogen gas escaping from crippled reactors ignites on contact with air.
They breathe through uncomfortable respirators or carry heavy oxygen tanks on their backs. They wear white, full-body jumpsuits with snug-fitting hoods that provide scant protection from the invisible radiation sleeting through their bodies.
These details set a scene for readers to latch onto and understand.
The reporters highlight the workers who had to stay behind in the nuclear reactor at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. They describe them almost as heroes, “braving radiation and fire.”
A small crew of technicians, braving radiation and fire, became the only people remaining at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station on Tuesday — and perhaps Japan’s last chance of preventing a broader nuclear catastrophe.
The reporters explain the danger and how this is a natural disaster. They describe the workers having to make “escalating and perhaps existential” sacrifices. This sets the tone for readers and also helps show to gravity of the situation for those involved, the workers, the government and the citizens of Japan.
There was definite research and reporting done for this article. The reporters write that the workplace in Japan is a source of community, that the 50 volunteers are seen as heroes and the last chance to save a greater number of people.
Japanese are raised to believe that individuals sacrifice for the good of the group.
This explanation offers context and an understanding of Japanese culture for readers, adding to their understanding of the story, the disaster and the human response to it.
The reporters also give a well-known example from history to help readers further understand and relate to the disaster. They write about Chernobyl and compare the Japanese nuclear situation as lesser than the Ukrainian disaster, but workers are still exposed to radiation which can cause long-term health effects.
Daiichi is not synonymous with Chernobyl in terms of the severity of contamination. The Ukrainian reactor blew up and spewed huge amounts of radiation for 10 days in 1986. But workers at the plants have a bond.
Chris Reinolds Kozelle
Kozelle writes about North Carolina native Nate Henn who dedicated most of his life to service. He was 25 when he was killed last year in a bombing in Uganda.
Kozelle makes a conscious choice to focus on Henn and his service, and not as much on the news aspect of the bombing. This is a human story that focuses on a person. It shows the human impact of a disaster, like Clark and Scanlan say is important to do.
Henn was in Uganda to advocate for the rights of children forced to be child soldiers. He volunteered with Invisible Children.
Invisible Children last year and spent much of his time as an unpaid volunteer, traveling with the group around the United States, said spokesman Jedidiah Jenkins. He became close friends with one of group’s success stories — a 20-year-old Ugandan named Innocent.
Kozelle offers storytelling, powerful and sad quotes in the story. They help the reader understand who Henn was, what happened to him and others and why it is a tragedy. Sometimes it’s stories like this, that offer a human element, that help a reader understand a larger disaster, war or terrorist attack than one that focuses on the attack in general.
Henn had arrived to Uganda last week on his first visit to the country. “Now that he had shown Innocent his country, Innocent was going to show him his,” spokesman for Invisible Children Jedidiah Jenkins said.
It’s clear that Kozelle worked to try to understand why Henn was so dedicated to service and what he believed. He does his research and talks to many people involved, including friends, family and Invisible Children representatives.
Nate loved kids and he just loved people in general,” said Brenda Kibler, a longtime friend of Henn’s who lives in Wilmington, Delaware. “He was always one of the first people to sign up for community outreach like Habitat for Humanity, missions, whatever.”
This quote offers insight into Henn’s life, beliefs and passions. Many of the quotes and descriptions of Henn show how he lived a selfless life.
Kozelle touches on the sadness that Henn worked with the nonprofit for one year before he was killed.
Chapter 7: The Profile and Feature Story
Feature and profile writing has been called the art of journalism, the art of journalistic writing. The feature story can be about diverse topics and issues. But what all good feature stories have in common is rich details, possibly metaphorical or figurative language and a person at the center of the story. Feature stories are about people — they are about issues and events, but they are truly focused on people. Feature stories offer the human side of a story. Features writers try to show the faces, the people behind the faceless institutions, as Clark and Scanlan said.
The profile offers a deep, detailed look into a person’s life. There are moments and scenes in the story that describe a person in extreme detail, that show who they are. These stories can get into the universal concepts and events that cross all our lives, that connect all of us. But these stories also show how people are their own, as well.
The great writers Clark and Scanlan chose to include in this chapter exemplified many of these qualities. They included storytelling quotes, several voices and sources. They wrote with details, many details. They worked to make their writing place the reader in a situation, in a moment or scene where he could understand better.
The writers didn’t only tell readers the details or points of the story. These great writers practiced one of writing’s great mottos: Show, don’t tell. Good writing doesn’t tell readers everything, it does show them, though. It shows them through details, descriptions, scenes with dialogue and settings and characters that come alive through the words.
As David Finkel, one of the great writers included in the chapter, said, “No matter whether he was at fault or not, there was so much tragedy in what had happened to him since the day he hit that bridge. But I didn’t want him to say that to me. I wanted to be able to show it in the things he did, by the way he carried himself, by his posture, by the conditions of his life.”
Finkel wanted to show the tragedy of John Lerro, not just have Lerro say, “It’s terrible. It’s sad.” He wanted to show readers. Showing can be a more effective strategy.
Sources should also be treated with fairness, honesty and thoroughness, as the editors said. This will give reporters access to places and events and sources’ homes or jobs, to get to know them better, to get to know all sides of them. But reporters should realize that this access is gained, and should always work to represent and write about sources truthfully, accurately and fairly.
One of the most important parts of writing a story or interviewing is listening. Writers, journalists, have to be good listeners. Allowing a source to talk, picking out the way he speaks, his dialect, how he acts, if he has nervous hand gestures or habits, these quirks and details go into feature stories and profiles. Letting a source talk and then listening to him is so important in feature writing and all writing. Writers gather so much information from listening and observing a source.
Top 5 list of profile and feature stories:
1. Pearls Before Breakfast, The Washington Post
Weingarten describes a violinist through scenes, through moments and details. His description and portrayal of the violinist at a metro stop helps readers see, hear and know more about him.
The Washington Post set up a sort of stunt with a great violinist — Joshua Bell. He would wear street clothes and perform to unaware commuters.
Weingarten offers an interesting question to readers: “In a banal setting at an inconvenient time, would beauty transcend?”
In this article, Weingarten is helping readers get to know this violinist, without meeting him. They get to know him through several moments Weingarten included in the article, through the details. Readers walk away feeling that they know the violinist. He even describes the violin in detail, comparing it to the human voice.
Weingarten not only offers a picture of this man’s life, but also the passersby, the thousands of commuters who walk past him every day. He gives fragments of potential thoughts:
Do you stop and listen? Do you hurry past with a blend of guilt and irritation, aware of your cupidity but annoyed by the unbidden demand on your time and your wallet? Do you throw in a buck, just to be polite? Does your decision change if he’s really bad? What if he’s really good? Do you have time for beauty? Shouldn’t you? What’s the moral mathematics of the moment?
This sort of creative strategy of rhetorical questions helps the reader understand, places the reader in a situation he has most likely been in before, or if not, he can understand.
Weingarten goes into details of how Bell plays the violin, “he’s almost dancing with the instrument, and his hair flies.” He writes to show readers the violinist and Bell as a person.
2. The girl in the window: part one The Feral Child, St. Petersburg Times
DeGregory gives many scenes and details to describe this difficult, saddening topic. He wrote a series of articles about a malnourished girl who was neglected by her mother. The first few paragraphs describe the terrible condition of the house and the girl’s room when investigators went in.
“I’ve been in rooms with bodies rotting there for a week and it never stunk that bad,” Holste said later. “There’s just no way to describe it. Urine and feces — dog, cat and human excrement — smeared on the walls, mashed into the carpet. Everything dank and rotting.”Tattered curtains, yellow with cigarette smoke, dangling from bent metal rods. Cardboard and old comforters stuffed into broken, grimy windows. Trash blanketing the stained couch, the sticky counters.
The floor, walls, even the ceiling seemed to sway beneath legions of scuttling roaches.
“It sounded like you were walking on eggshells. You couldn’t take a step without crunching German cockroaches,” the detective said. “They were in the lights, in the furniture. Even inside the freezer. The freezer!”
This writing is descriptive and highly detailed to give readers the sense of the house, the extent of the child abuse.
When DeGregory writes about the daughter, he doesn’t hold back any details. He isn’t afraid of showing the truth to the readers, though it may be hard to get through and difficult to understand that this neglect could happen and be allowed.
She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side, long legs tucked into her emaciated chest. Her ribs and collarbone jutted out; one skinny arm was slung over her face; her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. Though she looked old enough to be in school, she was naked — except for a swollen diaper.
These scenes include storytelling, powerful quotes from several people involved in the child abuse case. DeGregory takes care in writing these articles, he finds out all the information and gives it to the reader clearly. This topic can be confusing or difficult to read, but DeGregory writes honestly, with thoroughness and care.
3. At a certain age, nothing is more important than fitting in, The Oregonian
Tom Hallman Jr.
This series of articles details a 14-year-old boy’s life living with a vascular anomaly, a mass of tissue that deformed the right side of his face. The articles focus on the boy, Sam.
Hallman uses details, figurative comparisons and pictures to show Sam’s deformity.
A huge mass of flesh balloons out from the left side of his face.
His left ear, purple and misshapen, bulges from the side of his head. His chin juts forward. The main body of tissue, laced with blue veins, swells in a dome that runs from sideburn level to chin. The mass draws his left eye into a slit, warps his mouth into a small, inverted half moon. It looks as though someone has slapped three pounds of wet clay onto his face, where it clings, burying the boy inside.
The articles are framed through different scenes of Sam. Hallman starts out with, goes into Sam’s birth and follows him on his many medical journeys — doctor appointments, surgeries and potential surgeries.
Hallman includes many scenes throughout the article. He describes Sam’s difficulty keeping up with others in sports, exercise and play. He shows how Sam struggles to keep up with his younger brother when they go bike riding.
Hallman also gets several emotions across without completely declaring them. For instance, he shows Sam’s shame or sadness about his deformity with this line, “He must imagine what he looks like. There’s no mirror to examine his face.” Hallman doesn’t flesh out all the details of how Sam feels, but this detail is enough.
While Hallman shows the difficulties and differences that Sam faces, the stares and people calling him “ugly” or “different, throughout the article he also shows how Sam is a normal 14-year-old boy. He includes details of Sam’s breakfast, cereal topped with chocolate syrup, and how the girl he has a crush on makes his palms sweat. Hallman includes details of the struggles as well as how he is another adolescent boy. In this way, he doesn’t sensationalize, he doesn’t glorify a life with deformity, he shows Sam more accurately and honestly.
4. The Umpire’s Sons, The Sun
Pollak writes about a family’s struggle with a genetic disease. The disease kills one of John Hirschbeck’s, an American umpire, sons.
Pollak explains how baseball was comforting to the Hirschbeck family. She uses scenes and emotions to help explain the disease and its effects to the reader.
When the worst thing happened to Hirschbeck, when his children were diagnosed with a deadly neurological illness, he was thankful for baseball. Not just for the season off, or the fund-raiser where famous players sold shirts and signatures to help pay medical bills — but for that simplest of baseball pleasures: games to watch with his son.
Pollak uses parallel structure, a technique often used in creative writing or literature that helps to get a point across and serves as a clarity tool. The same sentence structure is repeated throughout the sentence or paragraph. Pollak uses the technique in several paragraphs.
The Hirschbeck boys shared. They shared a big bedroom in a warm, tidy house in Poland, Ohio. They shared a mutated gene, passed silently from grandmother to mother to children, silently because it didn’t kill girls, silently because it is so rare few people have ever heard of it. So difficult to say that it goes by initials: ALD.
The various sentence structures Pollak uses are very deliberate. She becomes direct in her writing, in what she wants readers to feel and get out of the story with her sentence structure. She uses brief, terse sentences when giving sad information. “The diagnosis was ALD. A year to live. No cure.”
Pollak describes scenes and moments to help the reader see, feel and understand.
Years later, Moser would still remember how the umpire cried. How he sobbed, inconsolable. How he held the doctor’s hand and begged him to say it wasn’t true, that he wasn’t going to lose both sons, not John, not Michael, too.
Again, the sentence structure here works to produce an effect, an effect of hopelessness and sadness that parents feel when they find out their children have medical problems, don’t have long to live. That feeling is so raw, so terrible, and Pollak decided to describe it through sentence structure.
5. One Man’s Trash, The New York Times
Murphy offers a great example of a profile story. She profiles Dan Phillips, a man with a very interesting job. He takes trash, recycled material and extra material to make low-income houses.
Murphy describes Phillips’ reasoning for constructing low-income houses. “He was disturbed by the irony of landfills choked with building materials and yet a lack of affordable housing.”
She gives details about the building materials Phillips uses, from picture frames to cattle bones from nearby farms.
A few houses stand out: their roofs are made of license plates, and their windows of crystal platters. They are the creations of Dan Phillips, 64.
80 percent of the materials are salvaged from other construction projects, hauled out of trash heaps or just picked up from the side of the road.
Murphy describes Phillips as a person and by what he does. She includes in the article that he is a self-taught carpenter, electrician and plumber, helping readers understand that he did not go into this job at first. Murphy call’s Murphy’s life “astonishingly varied.” He has worked as an intelligence officer in the Army, a college dance instructor, an antiques dealer and a syndicated cryptogram puzzle maker. It was a deliberate choice for Murphy to include these details that add to the reader’s understanding of Phillips and that he teaches himself and gets involved in different projects.
Murphy gives the reader insight into what Phillips values and thinks is important, such as sustainability and using recycled materials. She describes Phillips’ biggest reward as “giving less-fortunate people the opportunity to own a home and watching them develop a sense of satisfaction and self-determination in the course of building it.”
An example is Kristie Stevens, a single mother of two school-age sons who earned a college degree last spring while working part time as a restaurant and catering manager. She has spent the months since graduation hammering away on what will be her home.
“If something goes wrong with this house, I won’t have to call someone to fix it because I know where all the wires and pipes are — I can do it myself,” she said. “And if the walls are wonky, it will be my fault but also my pride.”
While Murphy quotes another person other than Phillips, Stevens describes him as she describes her new home and her pride in being able to build it. Incorporating other voices and people in Phillips life is important to give readers a more conclusive view of Phillips.
Chapter 2: Local Reporting and Beats
The second chapter of “America’s Best Newspaper Writing” offers a nice introduction to local reporting and beats.
Local reporting is covering events in a local region, in a closer in proximity region.
Local reporting can also have beats. For example, if a reporter was covering education in a town, Burlington, N.C., he may have beats such as: Town beats, county beats, school boards, town council.
The New York Times Media Decoder blog had a post on March 25, 2010 about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting working against the decline in local journalism. CPB set up funds for seven regional reporting projects.
Beats are a topic or similar topics that a reporter focuses on in several articles. The reporter has to go to the location of the beat.
The New York Times describes beat reporting here.
Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute describes beat reporting here.
Some beats include:
- Crime, cops
- Health, medicine
- Education (Ex. higher education, elementary education)
- State government coverage
- Cars, automobile reviews
- International affairs
Editors Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan explain and show the importance of focusing on a topic and gaining experience on the beat.
The great writers included in this chapter seemed to have followed a pattern of tightly constructed articles. This focus makes a topic more understandable for readers.
Clark and Scanlan make a point of how important the lead is to a story. The lead offers a point of entry into a story. How a reporter starts the story, when and how a reporter chooses to bring the reader in is extremely important, Clark and Scanlan said. The article’s lead sets up the tone and theme from the outset.
When writing a lead, ask yourself, ‘How do you bring the reader into a story?’
The length of a story should also be given much thought. Brevity can be a powerful and effective technique, but it doesn’t work with all topics or stories. Some articles can be short and be just as effective as if they were 400 words longer. The writing and story must remain accessible and comprehensible. Writing doesn’t have to be dry, formal, dull and lengthy all the time, according to Russell Eshleman Jr. Eshleman Jr.’s articles about the state government were very concise and brief, but the story was still strong.
Articles should have an authentic, distinctive and powerful voice. This gives the story flavor, flair and personality — it makes it different from any other story. Sometimes, directly addressing the reader can work to give the article voice. “You have no idea what that means to a kid like Dewon,” Mitch Albom said about compliments given to a black teenager who grew up in the city. “The bullet life goes on every day in Detroit, right under our suburban noses. But you can’t get it behind you.” This direct address serves to bring the reader into the story, helps push Albom’s point of the column. He ends the column by saying youth have learned the lesson that guns are not toys and shouldn’t be so accessible, from experience, by what’s the excuse for the rest of us, for adults? The direct address makes the reader feel a bit guilty. Boswell also uses this technique when he tells the reader to pick up “a back page of The Sporting News and squint down at the onetime headline names now just fine print at the very bottom of a column of averages.”
Articles that include metaphors and allusions help to broaden cultural knowledge and make stronger connections with readers. Thomas Boswell alludes to a poem by Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson in his sports writing. These references and comparisons help readers’ understanding.
The great writers in this chapter also made use of very descriptive, showy details and anecdotes. This figurative language, detail and description helps readers see events, see people, hear dialect and voices, hear the atmosphere, smell the atmosphere and feel. Readers live vicariously through articles, stories and writing, so writers must include many details to help readers along. Writers work hard to set scenes and show places, instead of merely telling readers what happened. Telling is bland, showing is where the details and good writing are found. Writers work hard to allow their readers to see, hear, taste, smell and feel like they were at the event or witnessing the source speaking. Writers work to describe.
The editors mentioned the resonant detail that is evident in good stories, good articles. The resonant detail is a part of the showing of events and people, it sticks out in the article, it remains with the reader after they have finished the article and walked away. It sticks.
There were many resonant details in Jonathan Bor’s article about the first resident in Syracuse to receive a heart transplant. One that was extremely vivid was, “Doctors had used a power saw to cut through his sternum, and a clamp-like retractor to spread his chest apart.” The description is very detailed and offers readers an image to help them be there, in the moment, and not just read about it.
These tightly constructed articles of the great writers is planned and implemented carefully and with rigorous discipline, like Neil’s articles. The construction of the sentences within the article is a key element to good writing. Varying up how sentences are constructed offers relief to readers and keeps the story interesting. Some of the great writers in this chapter varied their sentences by writing one or a few long sentences and then one short one. This creates a sort of rhythm that is so beneficial to writing, to conveying information. Pacing and rhythm is created when a writer provides sentence length variation. Rhythm can give sentences and articles a sense of music, but it also helps the readers to not read the same sentence construction again and again — that can become boring and lifeless. Putting a musical quality in stories, crafting stories with rhythm is more interesting and effective.
The flow or pacing of a story is also important. When crafting an article or story think of telling a story, learn from the great storytellers who told “long, beautiful stories with drama and danger and great detail,” like Rick Bragg did. The flow is an essential part of the story as it helps weave together the complex issues. Journalists must translate complex issues for readers, according to Clark and Scanlan, and their stories must move readers toward a feeling or action. Writing can’t just be telling a good story, it must be reaching for something more, trying to get under the surface level, trying to push for something better or reform or a change. When a journalist writes an article, he must think about the common good, he must think about ethics, he must think about how influential his writing can be.
The take-home message of this chapter is not that writing is easy and one can use these techniques to always create a great, informative story. The message is that a writer isn’t ever done and set in his ways. Writers must always continually learn new ways, better or other ways, how to select quotes and details better, how to describe better, how to tell a story more effectively, how to get more detail and storytelling quotes from a source. Writing and being a communicator, a journalist is being involved in a perpetual learning process.
Top 5 list of local reporting and beat writing articles:
1.Family of Fairfax teen suicide victim wants changes in school disciplinary policies, The Washington Post
By Donna St. George
This story is an example of local reporting, and possibly beat writing on education or local high schools. The article opens up and reveals a debate going on in the education community, about high school rules and enforcement policies and what violations should be given a certain level of disciplinary action. It also brings up suicide caused in part from the pressure and stress of the disciplinary actions and hearings and expulsion of a sophomore from his high school, friends, teachers and football team.
The lead brings the reader directly into the story, into the most recent event: the suicide of a local high school student. This sets up a somber and serious tone immediately. The tone helps push George’s, the student’s and his family’s and a school board member’s point that the disciplinary actions need to be reviewed.
The family of a Fairfax teenager who took his life as he struggled with the fallout of a high school suspension called for changes in the county’s disciplinary policies, in a letter sent Monday to school and county officials.
George has storytelling quotes in this article. George quotes a school board member who completely critically questions the effectiveness of disciplinary actions against students, of requiring disciplinary school transfers
One particularly strong and emotional quote is from the father of the student who committed suicide. The father said he and his wife “are not looking for a pound of flesh,” he said. “It doesn’t get us anything. Nick is still not going to be with us.”
Their goal, he said, is policy change so other families do not “have to endure an abusive system” or face similar tragedy.
The article is shorter compared to others in The Washington Post. George’s article fits on one Web page, while other articles often go on for three or five pages. George’s article is example of brevity, but it still manages to give a lot of information.
The pacing of this article is deliberate and thought out. George gives the reader a background on the Fairfax student’s “stupid decision” as he called it in a letter, the disciplinary actions, his letter that the expulsion was too extreme of a punishment and then his eventual suicide. The pacing and timeline of the article allows the suicide to be more understood by readers.
2. New hope for halting a killer illness, The Baltimore Sun
By Diana K. Sugg
This Pulitzer Prize winning article for beat reporting is about sepsis, a serious medical condition. Sugg provides a short description of the article up front, “Sepsis: In their efforts to fight a degenerative, often-lethal infection, doctors explore a new drug treatment.”
The article uses a character, not just a source, to tell the story through. JoAnn Barr’s experience with sepsis provides the detail, information and tone for the story.
Sugg’s lead sets the serious and grave tone of the article, of how the illness begins and affects people.
She thought it was just a cold. Her throat was sore, and she felt tired all over. But as JoAnn Barr got her son ready for school that morning in March, she started gasping for breath. Within a few hours, Barr was on a ventilator in intensive care, her blood pressure bottoming out, her kidneys failing.
The lead uses details and one woman’s experience to help tell the story and get the reader into the article. It’s very effective.
Sugg describes “the fast-moving, often-lethal condition known as sepsis” through Barr’s experiences. Using such details allows the reader to live vicariously through the writing, to see and feel what Barr did, to understand sepsis better.
Sugg uses strong descriptions throughout the article. One description is, “It’s an illness that rages through the victim’s bloodstream, unleashing a fury of reactions that kill tissues and shut down organs.” Descriptions should work to make the reader understand and have clear images. Sugg’s descriptions do this.
Another strong description is, “the illness explodes with symptoms including violent chills, delirium, a spiking fever or faintness. When Barr felt short of breath, she called a neighbor, but when they arrived at Carroll County General Hospital’s emergency room 10 minutes later, Barr’s blood pressure was so low she was almost unconscious.” Sugg first explains the symptoms of sepsis, but she goes on to show how it manifested itself in one woman, in Barr. This truly helps readers to understand better and connect with the illness, connect with Barr.
Sugg also alludes to an author’s description of sepsis, furthering the reader’s understanding of the medical condition.
One author described sepsis in 1881 as “the rude unhinging of the machinery of life,” said Dr. Gordon R. Bernard, a Vanderbilt University professor of medicine and founding chairman of the International Sepsis Forum.
Sugg’s use of storytelling quotes is extremely powerful in this article. She quotes Barr, many doctors and Barr’s husband.
One doctor’s quote is very emotional: “It’s the most awful, scary thing to actually take care of,” said Dr. Trish Perl, Johns Hopkins Hospital’s epidemiologist. “You just watch people die, and it doesn’t matter what you do.” It took a lot of deep reporting and time on the medical beat and hospital to get such quotes.
3. Government blind to child-care fraud, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
By Raquel Rutledge
Rutledge’s article is one of a series of Journal Sentinel articles about people who con the child care system of Wisconsin. This is an example of local reporting and possibly beat reporting about child care and fraud.
The lead brings the reader into the story at a crucial point, months ago when Sue Meyers, a child care caseworker awarded more than $700 a week of state child-care subsidies to a woman known to be scamming the system. The woman was a convicted cocaine dealer. Meyers retired soon after that. The reporter lets the reader know that Meyers denied to comment for the article, further showing her in a negative light.
Rutledge focuses part of the article on Katria Wright, the cocaine dealer and woman who conned the publicly funded Wisconsin Shares program, a child care system, out of thousands of dollars. This offers many details and personal experiences for the article. The other sections of the article are broken up by subheads and offer different points and perspectives on the story. For instance, one section details the lax oversight of Washington, D.C. of child care fraud.
Rutledge writes with much authority in her voice, with a strong, powerful voice. She isn’t afraid to accuse government officials, especially child care caseworkers, of sharing the blame of fraud.
While unscrupulous parents and providers steal from the system, government officials – from caseworkers and data-entry clerks to lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle – share the blame.
They haven’t stopped it.
The construction of these two paragraphs is deliberate. Rutledge chooses to make the second graf one sentence, a brief sentence with a punch. She varied the construction and length of the sentences, like the great writers did in the chapter.
She interviews many people from different perspectives and parts of the story, including caseworkers, government officials and state representatives. She is holding people accountable. “Accountability dissipates,” Rutledge writes. “Many counties haven’t reported any cases of child-care recipient fraud for years. Investigators who consistently find fraud in their counties say investigators elsewhere simply haven’t been looking.”
Rutledge also effectively chunks the information. She uses subheads, bullets to break out the information, many infoboxes or infographics, pictures, a graphic of documents and legislation, an infographic of a timeline of important dates in the story when the child care system was conned and there was neglect from caseworkers.
4. Serious crime on Metro hits 5-year high, The Washington Post
By Ann Scott Tyson
Tyson uses statistics, interactive graphs and storytelling, descriptive quotes to tell the story of crime rates rising on the Metro transit system in D.C. and Md.
The lead gives sufficient background to the readers. Tyson explains that serious crime has increased in the Metro by 12 percent last year. She also includes what the crimes have mostly been: robberies of electronic devices and aggravated assaults.
This is Tyson’s beat — Metro and crime.
In the article, Tyson breaks down the statistics to show how individual types of crime have risen in number.
Tyson also includes descriptive quotes and resonant details. One in particular is of a woman who recalls being robbed on the Metro, how a thief took Jennifer Schell’s iPod so fast the iPod buds were “still in her ears and a dangling wire left where the device should have been.” It is these details that stick with the reader and help him understand the story better.
Tyson also reaches to connect the story to nationwide statistics and trends. “The electronics thefts, following a nationwide trend among big-city transit systems, became so prevalent,” she writes.
5. Montgomery College sued over illegal immigrant policy, The Gazette
By Erin Cunningham
Cunningham starts the story out in a great place. The lead includes a personal anecdote about illegal immigration, education and how one student at the local community college couldn’t afford to go to school without paying the lowest tuition rate available. The ability for illegal immigrants to pay the lowest rate is being threatened in a lawsuit. The lead is one sentence and offers an emotional pull: “Yves Gomes has been supporting himself since his parents, who were in the country illegally, were deported in 2008.”
Gomez is attending community college and getting an education — but several government officials and Md. residents believe he is cheating the system and taking away tax dollars. Three Md. residents filed a lawsuit against the college “seeking to overturn its practice of granting the lowest tuition rates to some illegal immigrants, like Gomes,” Cunningham wrote.
This article is an example of beat reporting and local reporting. The beat is education and falls under an issue of much debate — illegal immigrants’ rights and education.
Cunningham includes storytelling quotes from Gomez, other students, lawmakers and officials from Judicial Watch, the watchdog group that is representing the residents in the lawsuit.
- “It’s taxpayer waste, fraud and abuse,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
- “Basically, they are trying to make it hard for us,” Gomez said.
The voice in Cunningham’s piece is clear and sure. Toward the end of the article, Cunningham writes, “Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said helping make college affordable for all students will benefit the local economy.” Allowing people with differing opinions to have a voice in the article is important. But Cunningham makes the choice to have Ervin end the piece. Ervin’s opinion sticks with the reader.
Ervin’s quote is especially powerful, and Cunningham again made the deliberate choice to construct the article to leave the reader with her voice and opinion. “I see no problem with allowing children of immigrants to attend college and not make it cost-prohibitive for them to participate in our economy,” Ervin said. This construction may show that the reporter believes more strongly with Ervin’s side, so the construction was chosen this way. But the reporter does not show bias in any way or through voice, it is through selection and construction that the message and story is told.
Chapter 1: Deadline Writing
The first chapter of “America’s Best Newspaper Writing” offers a nice introduction to deadline writing. Deadline writing is when an event occurs and the there is an immediate need for the public to become aware and informed about it. There may be a level of danger or violence involved in the event or that may be the result of the event. The event may be unexpected. These stories must be reported, written and sent to print extremely quickly — hence a deadline that must be followed.
For the majority of the chapter, Editors Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan discuss the importance of infusing creativity and narrative elements into journalistic writing. This helps make the article more readable, interesting and have smoother transitions.
The great writers who were included in Chapter 1 used elements of narrative writing in their articles. They used dialogue, setting, characters and characterization, scene, specific diction, descriptions of the weather, alliteration, access to places and people, plot, climax, pacing, rhythm, variation of sentence structure and words, tight and focused construction, allusions, theme, focus and the list goes on. The hallmarks of good narrative writing includes all or a number of these elements, according to the editors. “Characters are used instead of sources, scenes instead of summaries, dialogue instead of disembodied quotes,” Clark and Scanlan said.
Reporters have to consciously write about people, like Richard Ben Cramer did in the story about the shiva for a child slain in a Palestinian raid.
The great writers in this chapter know there is nothing that makes up for actually being present at an event, at the scene, doing real reporting and talking to people in-person. Nothing makes up for the emotion a reporter will experience and get as reactions from sources and interviews. The details and descriptions a reporter will pick up on and record are necessary elements to an effective, complete and successful story. Francis X. Clines, one writer listed in the chapter, believed that being at an event is the only way a reporter can “soak up the sensory details that bring a story to life and listen for the quotes that make it breathe,” Clark and Scanlan said.
Selection is also extremely important in any journalistic writing, but especially deadline writing. A reporter cannot use all of the amazing quotes, stories, details or facts he writes in his reporter’s notebook. Reporters must choose what to use and what to cut, oftentimes before they even start writing. It is smart to start the selection process during the event or speech or in the car or metro ride to the office after the event. Collecting thoughts and choosing what quote is more important, descriptive and storytelling during the event or on the ride home saves time and helps the writer begin to formulate the story and article.
There is not enough space in a newspaper or article to fit in all of the emotions, facts, and quotes collected during the reporting and interviewing process. If an editor says an article has to be 400, 600 or 1,200 words, that’s the final verdict. Reporters cannot go over word count or the space (inches) allotted to the article. This is why selection is so crucial.
The reporters in this chapter were thinking about theme and focus immediately, once they received their assignment or came up with the idea as an enterprise story. They were thinking about how to frame the article, who to talk to, what and who to focus on. They are thinking about more than telling a story and finding quotes and details. Reporters like David von Drehle are searching for meaning, as Clark and Scanlan said.
They were able to be so concise and clear in their stories by thinking of the lead while reporting, thinking of storytelling, descriptive quotes when interviewing and making a note of them and by writing during the event. Lenora LaPeter began writing her lede at the courtroom. She went to the back of the room and began writing her article while the court was in session. This is how she was able to use valuable time and find focus early on. It helped her in the long run by already having something down on paper and knowing what she was going to focus on or where the story was going. It is so important not to procrastinate, not to wait and wonder about a lead and focus, but to report and interview thoroughly and efficiently and write it out quickly. This is not to say that the story shouldn’t be edited — all stories should be copy edited and if possible more eyes should see the story before it goes to print or published online. The more people who see the article, the more errors are likely to be found and the better the story will be because confusing or slow parts will be reworked and improved.
Top 5 list of deadline writing articles:
1. Bahrain Protests Expand on Third Day, The New York Times
By Michael Slackman and Nadim Audi
This article is an example of deadline writing because it describes the ongoing protest in the Middle East. It informs readers that the Internet and cell phone service has been slowed down by the government. The quotes are very descriptive and storytelling, they don’t just fill up space. The first quote is from a Shiite protestor, explaining how Shiites are gathering together to cause change. Another quote is a chant from the crowd, setting a mood of the article and story, that the people want the regime to fall. It is clear that Slackman and Audi were there to witness the speeches and protest. They included details that a reporter can only gather if he was there at the event, taking notes and talking to people as it unfolded.
The final grafs of the article summarize a night scene at the end of a successful day of protests in Bahrain. The people congregating in the public square, smoked tobacco in water pipes, sat on rugs, children played with each other and became a community of protestors. The reporters explain how BBC Arabic was projected onto the side of a monument, making the square seem like a living room. This detail and description can only be gathered from reporting at the scene, from talking to people, from being present, using narrative elements and writing a focused story.
By Sarah Armaghan, Bob Kappstatter and Joe Kemp
Directly from the lede, the reporters, Sarah Armaghan, Bob Kappstatter and Joe Kemp, use details and descriptions. They describe the thieves as dapper. The story goes on to give a description of the thieves’ clothing. These details seem to have been collected later, after the crime had taken place, but the effect of the narrative element remains strong and adds to the story.
The reporters also gathered quotes from neighboring shop owners, one who didn’t want to give his name. The shop owner describes through his quote what he heard. Another witness described what he saw and what the owner did — the owner chased the robbers with his licensed gun.
The reporters spoke with several sources. While the quotes weren’t as storytelling and descriptive as they could have been, they did elicit and show emotion.
By Danielle E. Gaines
This article uses narrative elements such as detail, timeline or chronology and focus. The lede describes how many Maryland residents were left in darkness for days when Pepco, the electricity company in the region, failed to fix old power lines. One community in Maryland escaped the widespread power outages in the Jan. snowstorm perhaps because they sent in letters of complaint in Nov. to the electrical company, Pepco.
The story focuses on people, on characters and not sources, from the start. The focus of the story is community members who sent in letters of complaint, community members who were stuck without power for days and what they had to go without or do differently. The residents experienced power outages even when the weather was nice. The article offered an example of community members working together to cause a change: Pepco came into the neighborhood and fixed an underground cable that wouldn’t have been worked on for months. The people were requesting information and answers from their councilmen and Pepco. In a way, this article is about a community that goes against a company. The community members documented power outages and how long they lasted and it was found that Pepco documented far fewer outages.
There are storytelling quotes throughout the article. Additionally, the structure of chronology helps the article read better and more understandably. The reporter went through several months and events, such as the Nov. meeting where the Pepco region president said residents could send him letters about power outages to Jan. and afterward, when residents didn’t experience power outages during a snowstorm that caused outages for much of the region.
By Alex Ruoff
The lede sets up a scene, almost, where nursing staff at a state mental hospital become the antagonists and are lying, napping, being lazy and failing to perform their duties. The patients and convicted felons become protagonists, in a way. The patients are being neglected and one patient, Susan Sachs, was strangled by another in their absence. This detail and depiction of the nurses is effective and thought-out.
The characterizations of the people involved in this story are really great and powerful. The man who strangled one patient, El Wahhabi, is described through both of his crimes — the murder that got him into the justice system and the strangling.
The article is very concise and clear. Ruoff uses a type of timeline or chronology to make sense of what went wrong when in the state-run mental hospital. He goes through several times within the article, explaining that the nurses failed to complete a mandatory door lock of the patients’ rooms, which allowed Wahhabi to get into Sachs’ room.
Ruoff gives several instances where the nurses showed signs of neglect. He cites videotaping, where nurses were seen to be napping and signing out round boards but failing to conduct rounds.
At the end of the article, Ruoff also goes through what has been changed as a result of this incidence. He explains that an investigation is underway, steps have been taken to keep patients with history of predatory behavior segregated and security officers have been told to check up on nurses periodically.
Ruoff seems to ask questions from all angles and to consider what readers would be wondering. He informs readers that the CEO of the hospital is resigning soon and he makes a point to ask her if the death influenced her decision, which she said it did not. Even though he received an answer like this, he decided to include it in the article. This is a part of careful selection.
5. A Father’s Pain, a Judge’s Duty, and a Justice Beyond Their Reach, Los Angeles Times
By Barry Siegel
This article is extensive and covers much content. Siegel covers the neglect of Paul Wayment, a father who he took his young son hunting with him and left him sleeping in the car. The son died as a result, the man became grief-stricken and killed himself as a result of the long court proceedings. The judge finally ruled to send Wayment to prison, even though he didn’t want to since the father was so distraught.
The article focuses very much on characters and not sources. Judge Robert Hilder becomes a very important character in the article, as he is the one making final decisions about life and death but the readers see him visibly struggling with the decision and the case. The readers learn about Wayment, the one decision that changed the rest of his life and his struggle with it. Wayment is not seen as a felon who committed a terrible crime — he didn’t — he was a father who unfortunately made a decision that ended his child’s life. The reporter’s careful wording and descriptions, ensuring he gave Wayment an accurate portrayal is very deliberate.
Siegel utilizes many narrative elements in his writing. He uses pacing very effectively. The article is very long, but Siegel divides the story into chronological parts and different sections with diverse emotions. One part focuses on a father’s grief with his decision and resulting death of his child. The thread that runs through the entire article is not entirely focused on the father, on Wayment, but actually on the judge, another man who struggled with a decision.
Siegel’s use of storytelling quotes is also truly effective in the article. He quotes Wayment, the judge, the lawyers, Wayment’s family members and several others involved to portray an accurate and descriptive story. Siegel seems to leave nothing out, but at the same time has certainly used careful selection.