In Writing techniques on August 26, 2016 at 8:23 am
This is hardly a new concept I’m about to drop right here, but consider it a reminder: Stories with raw emotion are the best stories.
I was reminded of that during the recent Olympic games. What moments do you remember? (OK, forget about that swimmer who lied and a certain soccer goalie who whined more than she won.) Michael Phelps celebrating with a shout to the heavens and his fists clenched. The joy of Usain Bolt every time he ran. Two long distance runners who helped each other finish after tripping in a distance event. Monica Puig, in the photo above, winning the first-ever gold medal for an Olympian from Puerto Rico.
The emotion of the Games transcends the games themselves. Did you know that, in the United States at least, more women than men tune into the Olympics? It isn’t because women are traditionally the largest sports audience in the nation. It’s because each of the athletes have stories of perseverance, sacrifice and family.
And you know what? There are stories throughout your community that combine those elements. I don’t mean to condescend, just offering a reminder. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on April 17, 2014 at 3:36 pm
Well, the Pulitzers were announced. Did you win one? Me neither. Andrea Elliott and Ruth Fremson of the New York Times didn’t win one either and it wouldn’t surprise me if they were a bit more disappointed than I am today.
Elliott wrote a thoroughly stunning long, long story of a single Brooklyn homeless girl named Dasani. Her incredible writing and Fremson’s equally stirring photos were up for a local news-reporting prize but were beaten by The Tampa Bay Times, which had its own story on a local homeless shelter.
This week I stumbled on a discussion of the Dasani story in the Columbia Journalism Review. It is an examination of subtle troubling aspects of the Dasani report and I found one complaint particularly interesting. Have you ever heard of the risk of the “single story?”
Bill Grueskin is a professor at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He uses the term to describe one problem with stories like the Dasani narrative. He notes that reporters often define a story first and then seek characters to flesh out that perception. They tell a single story in hope that it illustrates a wider truth. New York Times reporters find one homeless person to tell the story of thousands in New York’s boroughs. Television producers find one precocious kid in Georgia to stand in for all child beauty pageant winners. And community papers like ours find a single cancer survivor, a single Muslim, a single student-athlete to tell the travails of others we often mistakenly think of as more or less the same. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing on March 1, 2012 at 11:29 am
I just finished a book of California short stories that included a piece by D.J. Waldie. I liked his story – a fine portrait of the L.A. suburb of Lakewood – and noticed that it came from a blog called “Where We Are.” The blog is a production of the Los Angeles PBS affiliate, and Waldie is a retired employee of the city of Lakewood.
Waldie appears to traffic in the little stories found in the everyday world around us. Even in the flat terrain of the L.A. sprawl, he finds pearls. Sometimes you don’t appreciate these jewels until you shine them up and present them.
Here’s where Waldie’s blog led me last night. Telling L.A.’s Stories is a production of the journalism students at Loyola-Marymount University and the brainchild of longtime Los Angeles journalist and instructor Lynell George. Here’s how she explained it in an email to me:
I started the blog back in 2010 with the first Telling L.A. Stories class I taught at LMU. The pieces the students were writing about their Los Angeles were so strong, I felt that they needed a bigger audience. The students inspired it. I’d been encouraging them to dig deep an think about what it was to be a native of L.A. or a transplant and how that has shaped their personal story. Did they think that their L.A. was represented at all? How could it be represented better? And, as you point out, what were the stories all around them that they felt got stepped over, ignored, erased? … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing on September 16, 2011 at 10:28 am
Sometimes the story you seek is not the one you tell. Wayne Ford’s tale of local philosopher Bobby Kirk in the Athens Banner-Herald is one hell of an example.
If you watch the Colbert Report, you know the story already. Ford went off in search of a local roustabout who had gotten into a bind with the constabulary there in Oconee County. The arrest of a guy who is routinely arrested for petty crimes turned out to be pretty mundane. Ford decided to walk down Rogers Road and pay a visit on local philosopher Bobby Kirk. In lesser hands, the fact that it was “too hot to fish” would have been pretty boring, too. However, Ford just got it.
Kirk is a regular guy in the woods who told the kind of common-sense truth that makes the South famous. He rambled on for an inside-the-feature-section story about the weather that was a kind of inside-the-park home run for Ford. A little story … but one worth telling. The headline was something like: “Too hot to fish.” … Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing on September 8, 2011 at 8:49 am
Some stories are so big it’s hard to get your arms around them. Terrorism, recession, Mexican drug murders… these are things that seem so enormous and profound that they can’t be given justice by one good newspaper story.
Well, here’s how one woman told the story of unemployment in this country through the eyes of a single man.
It begins with an introduction:
On June 25, 2010, Frederick Deare punched out for the last time from his job driving a forklift at the Old London factory in the Bronx. That summer, everyone at the plant was being laid off: the oven operators, the assembly-line packers, the forklift drivers, the sanitation workers. Total jobs lost: 228. Old London, the snack manufacturer that invented the Cheez Doodle, was moving its operations to North Carolina. At 53, Mr. Deare, known as Freddy or Teddy Bear to his co-workers, would have to find a new job.
From there New York Times reporter Jennifer Gonnerman reminds us of our industrial past, a time when men like Deare were allowed some dignified employment. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Online media on November 26, 2010 at 10:29 am
And now, for some light reading, I offer Edward Segel and Jeffrey Heer’s academic paper on “data stories.”
OK. I don’t expect you to read all this (although, it’s not too terribly tough to get through.) I just wanted to note that there is incredibly serious thought going into the difference between how we experience traditional narratives and how readers best relate to the new online data stories that are emerging.
Segel and Heer are Stanford guys who identified seven “genres of narrative visualization.” In other words, they observed seven existing ways in which online storytellers are attempting to get their messages across. Some of them – if not all of them – will surely look familiar to you.
Here’s the takeaway for me: Readers and storytellers are often at odds in the storytelling process. The paper’s authors find that storytellers like ourselves prefer linear devices – typical news stories with beginnings, middles and ends or even slideshows that advance from one image to the next – and often couldn’t care less for interactivity. After all, we have something we want to say… we aren’t looking to listen… Read the rest of this entry »
In Writing techniques on March 25, 2010 at 11:39 am
I’ve used this space in the past to talk about nut graphs – those necessary evils that interrupt your award-winning prose in order to put the tale in context and explain why readers should hang on your every word.
Today I wanted to point to a Wick newspaper story that beautifully integrated the nut with the rest of a very full meal. Jonathan Clark’s story about the delays walking across the Nogales border is time well spent and the way he handled the top assures that readers are likely to make their way to the bottom:
The line, more than 200 people deep, stretched back from the Dennis DeConcini pedestrian border crossing, winding through an open-air corridor and out into the narrow lanes of pharmacies, dental offices and curio shops of downtown Nogales, Sonora.
As the sun set on the barely moving queue, a pre-teen girl waiting with her family shifted back and forth on flip-flop-clad feet in an effort to keep warm. A few steps away, a well-groomed, 30-something man took out a cell phone and dialed his girlfriend on the Arizona side of the border, assuring her that he’d be across soon for their Saturday night date… Read the rest of this entry »