I confess that before today I did not know the work of Matthew Power. The 39-year-old journalist died this week while working on a story about a British explorer who was walking the length of the Nile. I heard on NPR that Power died of heat stroke.
Power made a living writing about things others didn’t cover. He joined a bunch of anarchists and floated down the Mississippi River in a homemade raft. He covered the story when a conservationist was murdered in Costa Rica. He sold these stories and others to big-name magazines because he wasn’t afraid to boldly go with no other reporter had gone before.
He explained his process in a podcast that originally appeared on LongForm and was excerpted on NPR.
“The advice that I’ve always given to young writers who are starting out and trying to figure out how to get to do this kind of stuff — and I think it still applies, even in the sort of atomized, fragmented, media landscape that we live in — is to go to somewhere interesting,” he said.
What? You say you can’t pack up and go to Uganda or Costa Rica? Well, me neither. But there are plenty of interesting places near me and I bet you can say the same.
Let’s start with the places that aren’t interesting and then talk about what’s left by process of elimination. City council chambers aren’t interesting. Police stations, elections offices, strip malls – not terribly interesting. In fact, most of the places that appear in your paper from day to day, from week to week, aren’t all that interesting precisely because they are in the paper all the time. …
That leaves the places that don’t often make the paper. In my paper, the Half Moon Bay Review, one of those places is a weedy, swampy lot behind the chain grocery store. It’s where some of our town’s transients bed down. We heard some local do-gooders were planning to “clean up” down there and so we plan to see what life’s like before the clean up. Bus stations, pool halls, mountain encampments … anywhere you haven’t been in a while is likely to be dripping with stories.
Go to interesting places. Do it once in memory of Matthew Power. Maybe you’ll keep doing it.