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
When I was a journalism teaching assistant at the University of Illinois, I signed up for a seminar called Writing Across the Curriculum, which was designed to help teaching assistants incorporate writing into their classes in more meaningful ways.
During the two-day workshop, one of the activities involved each participant drawing a sort of comic strip describing his or her writing process. Up to that point, despite holding degrees in creative writing and journalism, and having worked as a newspaper reporter for a few years, I had never really given much thought to the individual steps by which I gathered information and turned it into a piece of written work.
As we went around the room and shared our drawings, it was evident that the writing process is incredibly idiosyncratic. It didn’t just vary among academic disciplines but also from each individual writer to the next. Some people’s processes included breaks to go for a jog or to do the dishes. So, while some wrote more efficiently than others, there was no single right way to approach the task.
One of the beauties of Robert S. Boynton’s “The New New Journalism” (Vintage Books, 2005) is that it shows that this phenomenon is not exclusive to a group of a few dozen graduate students at a Midwestern research university.
Posted in Book Review
Tagged Book review, Jane Kramer, Jon Krakauer, Lawrence Weschler, Lawrence Wright, Leon Dash, Literary journalism, Narrative journalism, New Journalism, New New Journalism, New York University, Reporting techniques, Robert S. Boynton, Ron Rosenbaum, Susan Orlean, The New Yorker, Tom Wolfe, University of Illinois