It’s a tenet of reporting so basic that it was right there on the syllabus for “Introduction to Journalism” when I was a teaching assistant at the University of Illinois: “The most important thing a journalist can do is show up.”
In a time when technology makes it possible to gather information from great distances — for instance, using Twitter to monitor messages coming out of volatile countries or Google Street View to explore a far-off city without getting on a plane — it’s a lesson that bears repeating. Nearly every story will be better if the reporter goes to where the action is taking place.
Last week, I had the good fortune of showing up at a lecture hall at the College of Media at Illinois (where I am employed as a reporter for CU-CitizenAccess.org) for a talk given by David Finkel, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Washington Post, titled “Beautiful Stories: Creating a Journalism of Felt Life.”
The focus of the talk was Finkel’s 2009 book “The Good Soldiers,” a ground-level account of the 2007 troop surge in one of the most dangerous areas of Baghdad. At the time, Finkel said, there were already “great macro, big-picture journalism done on the war,” along with soldier memoirs that were beginning to be published. Continue reading