January 2010 Archives

The Emotional Core of the Story, by Tom Wolfe - JPB

| 1 Comment

Journalism 4001, Tuesday 2/2

The Emotional Core of the Story, by Tom Wolfe

Tom Wolfe's essay starts out with a quote from Philip Roth, "We now live in an age, in which the imagination of the novelist lies helpless before what he knows he will read in tomorrow morning's newspaper." Wolfe spends the next three paragraphs describing the contrast between what a novelist would write about a blond heiress caught staring in a pornographic movie and the real life of Paris Hilton. Wolfe's observation only reinforces my own father's view that "fact is always stranger than fiction."

Wolfe says that fiction has to be plausible, while I believe many real world events are far too chaotic to be plausible. Far too often, history is made by innovations and groups that are not in the public consciousness. Wolfe's essay makes me realize how powerful cell phones, or shirt pocket computers, have become. Not only have cell phones become technically advanced, but have powerful holds over the minds of their users. One mother told me that her teenage daughter sleeps with her cell phone hanging on a cord around her neck, so she will not miss any calls.

Wolfe says that there are two types of nonfiction narrative, the autobiography and using storytelling devices we learn about in our class. Wolfe talks about New Journalism, but never gives us a really detailed description of it. Therefore, I looked up this expression online.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Journalism

Wolfe's phrase, "provide the emotional reality of the news" page 151 is similar to a comment about writing speeches for a political campaign that I saw on C-SPANS2's BookTV, "Forget the brain and go for the heart." Can you imagine that it is it possible for a writer to simultaneously convey facts in a way that touches the readers' emotions?

Let's consider an example of real world news. It is one thing to report about a native of Haiti who was buried under the rubble of a collapsed building for several days. It is another thing for the reporter to convey via his or her word skill what it was like to be buried alive under the rubble of a collapsed building for several days.

Wolfe's turns his attention to the concept of Zeitgeist that means in English "the spirit of the age." Hegel's theory describes that every age has a "moral tone" that is an unavoidable influence on the minds of all who live in that age.

One example of Zeitgeist is the famous and effective 1984 political campaign television commercial for Reagan's reelection. In this case the horizontal plane was the setting of the 1984 U.S. presidential campaign. The vertical plane was Reagan himself.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Morning_in_America

Wolfe then makes a comment that to find the state of Zeitgeist in America that one must seek out the people that live between the coasts.

Wolfe states that journalist Stephen Crane asked questions that would be useful to any nonfiction narrative reporter. "What are they thinking? What is it like to be one of these people?" Crane's nonfiction narrative writing technique conveyed the emotional heart of real world human drama into the minds' of his readers. Wolfe says that such nonfiction narrative reporting is needed today or newspapers may not be around tomorrow.

I suppose that Wolfe is telling me to craft well-rounded stories that highlight the emotional drama of the individuals with my narrative nonfiction, than make general statements than puts some emotional distance between what I witnessed and my readers' minds.

I will conclude my essay to you with two traditional newspaper credos, "Publish and be damned" and "Print the news and raise hell."

Jonathon Lebed's Extracurricular Activities, By JPB

Journalism 4001, Tuesday 2/2

Jonathon Lebed's Extracurricular Activities

By Michael Lewis

Michael Lewis's article starts off by telling his readers that Jonathon Lebed was the first case of a juvenile to face proceedings for stock market fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Michael Lewis then says he found some inconsistent statements when a publicly announced settlement told the public that Jonathon Lebed had artificially pushed up the value of stocks in small companies eleven times and had made a profit plus interest that totaled to the sum of $285,000 dollars. Yet, Jonathon Lebed's lawyer told reporters that his client had made many more trades and still retained half a million dollars of profit.

Then, the story really got interesting as Michael Lewis interviewed the Lebed family. It was fun to read about how this young man became interested in the stock market and how he learned how to make money in the stock market. Most interesting was how Jonathon Lebed and two friends created Triple Threat, an investing team to enter a CNBC stock-picking contest for students and Lebed's team had finished in fourth place. I wonder if SEC administrators were keeping track of Lebed because he had done so well in CNBC's contest?

Michael Lewis uses a nice linking idea, Jonathon's father Greg Lebed worked as a middle manager at Amtrak and after hearing the news that his son was in trouble with the SEC, "Hit the roof and hopped on the high-speed train to triple bypass." I enjoyed reading the contrast between Lebed's excitable father Greg and Lebed's calm mother Connie.

On page 24, during the first SEC interview, the SEC administrators asked Jonathon, "Are you aware that there are laws that regulate company projections?" Then, the SEC attempted to link Jonathon to a grown-up criminal named Ira Monas. When no real connection could be made between Jonathon Lebed and Ira Monas, the SEC officers let him off with a silly warning instead of telling him sound legal advice. These administrators didn't appear to take Jonathon's trading seriously and didn't tell Jonathon about what these laws were, how these laws applied to him, and how to avoid trouble in the future.

Lewis's article then explains the philosophical differences between Jonathon and the SEC. On one hand, Jonathon believes that "everybody is manipulating the market." On the other hand, the SEC was founded in 1934 to stop stock-market manipulation by Wall Street elite, reassure the public that no one was manipulating the stock market, and prevent another stock market crash.

However, in 1934 no one knew about the future Internet and how powerful that would become as an information exchanging tool. By using the Internet as a tool to collect information on corporations, even someone like Jonathon Lebed could become skilled in trading stocks. By networking together and sharing information as a group, individual amateurs outside of Wall Street had become twice as accurate in their stock predictions as the professionals. SEC laws had not taken into account rapidly changing technology that could distribute market information to ordinary people. SEC laws didn't take into account that a young man could trade stocks from his bedroom and his high school library.

What I came away from Lewis's article was that the SEC is regulating the stock market without truly defining what normal market operations are considered legal and what is illegal manipulating the market. I wonder why did the SEC bureaucrats know so little about what Jonathon Lebed really did?

SEC bureaucrats claim that Lebed used multiple accounts to post his messages. Thus, the SEC claimed that Lebed was attempting to appear to be many people. But, by simply talking to Jonathon, Lewis found out that Lebed did what he did because of the message posting policy of "Yahoo! Finance" that Lebed could not send out more than a few messages from any individual account, than any real desire to trick anyone. Perhaps, there was a lack of respect by the SEC for Jonathon Lebed's trading and a lack of respect by Jonathon Lebed for SEC bureaucrats who didn't tell him not to do certain things on the Internet that resulted in a lack of meaningful communication between them.

One things for sure, if no one had any questions from the readings...today's class would have brought enough to fill the entire semester. I do think that these authors we have read about are beyond passionate about what they do. Their stories are stunning, and to me amazing. How do they come up ideas like this? What makes them wake up one day and think...yeah...that would work and make a good story!

It just amazes me. My dream story that I would pursue if I had the time and money, would be a follow up on the Columbine students that endured the rampage. Where are they? How did it effect them? DID IT effect them?

A story idea that is more than likely bad, but might work, is a story on a student that is here from another country on their own. What drove them to come here? Why here? How has their experience been?

1/21 class discussion

I enjoyed our debate on if a journalist needs to extraverted or introverted. I find that no matter the person, meeting a complete stranger and asking them to open up to you and your questions can be very intimidating. I also think that a good story can be found anywhere. I believe that one could find any student here at UMD and write an interesting story about that person's life experiences and their beliefs. I think an in-depth look at any human being can be a great story.

Inspiration for Writers

| 2 Comments

Inspiring. The passion that these writers have for their work is surpassed only by their love for quality work done by others. Ira Glass was especially exuberant and open when he said things like "this just kills me every time," referring to specific passages of others' work that have stuck in his memory.

I, myself, was inspired by his views on traditional 5-W's journalistic style. He said "There's a whole class of reporters - especially those who went to journalism school, by the way - who have a strange kind of religious conviction about (writing dry, formal stories). They actually get indignant; it's an affront to them when a reporter tries to amuse himself and his audience."

The "Invitation to Narrative" was a challenge to myself, because it explicitly showed how much these writers invest into each story. They go to foreign countries and live with their stories for upwards of a year. They are dedicated and fully invested in the story.

Inspiring.

Bellamy 1/21

| 1 Comment

After reading the introduction to The New Kings of Nonfiction, I am very excited to read the stories contained in the book throughout the semester. As Glass points out, all of the stories were written by great reporters, and many of the stories have similar characteristics. (Talking about the collection of stories in the book and their similarities) "First and foremost, they're incredible reporters. And like the best reporters, they either find a new angle on something we all know about already, or -- more often -- they take on subjects nobody else has figure out are worthy of reporting." (pg 4) I am looking forward to reading these stories and breaking them down in detail, mainly because of the struggles I've had in taking on new angles in stories I've written. Based on most of what I read and the style I generally have to adhere to when producing content for umdbulldogs.com, I often struggle to come up with much of anything outside of the basic who what where when why and how. I think reading this collection of stories will enhance my curiosity and ability to uncover new angles in my reporting.

What stood out to me from Part I : An Invitation to Narrative in Telling True Stories was Gay Talese's section entitled "Delving into Private Lives." Talese talks about the 1999 Women's World Cup Final between the United States and China, a match the US won via penalty kicks. He said that the more interesting story would be to focus on Yu Ling, the Chinese player who missed her penalty kick, opening the door for a US victory. Between the New York Times, Newsweek and Time, everything focused on the United States' Victory and the ensuing celebration, but nothing focused on the Chinese player who failed to score. Talese points out that the most interesting question might be, "What was it like for a twenty-five-year-old-woman to screw up in this Communist regime emerging as a world power?" (p. 8) I thought this was an interesting take. I take in a lot of sports coverage, and almost every story focuses on the winning side of a given game or match. The more I think about it, I think this is because the level of effort required to obtain usable quotes from someone on the losing end is substantially more than that of someone on the winning side. From my own experience, I think the general bad mood displayed by players, coaches and representatives from a losing team can intimidate a reporter. I think this results in more abrupt interviews and more "softball" questions being tossed at the interviewee. After reading that section of Part 1, I am going to make a point to get more out of someone from the losing side when covering a game, which is something I've tried to avoid to this point in my career as a journalist.

Questions for class:
Is the basic, objective (inverted pyramid) format taught to all young journalists helping or hurting? Do the limitations imposed by that style take away from a reporter's curiosity and ability to be creative in the future? Since New Kings points to more creative pieces as some of the best writing, it makes me wonder if the inverted pyramid is something young reporters should learn later, rather than right away.

Blog #1 Telling True Stories and The New Kings by Molly

| 1 Comment

I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Telling True Stories right off the bat. The first excerpt from Banaszynski recalling her experience in a Sudan famine camp was gripping to me. I enjoyed how she pointed out that despite this groups' struggle to survive, singing every night was a nightly occurrence and was this group's way of storytelling. On page 4 she explains, "Even in the face of death these stories live on, passed from elder to younger, from generation to generation, carried with as much care as those precious jugs of water." This quote reminded me that so many of us forget to be gracious for every little thing daily, no matter how small it may seem initially. The other quote that stuck with me within this story mentioned that stories are the connective tissue of the human race. This resonated with me because I completely agree. Stories live on and on, and shape the way each person lives their own lives.

To be honest Glass's The New Kings of Nonfiction did not connect with me the same way Telling True Stories did. The question I kept asking myself was, "what is the relevance of this paragraph?" I think I am going to need to spend a significant amount of time working to understand and appreciate this book.

Assignment due 1/21/10

| 1 Comment

The New Kings of NonFiction was better than a text book or going to the dentist but I don't think it was my cup of tea. I read the introduction, trying not to nod off, thinking that there was a lot of useful information in this book, but it was so scattered. I felt that as soon as I understood one topic, it jumped into another without much of a transition. I had a hard time following, but maybe that was just me. Maybe it was because I was tired and hungry.

It isn't necessarily that the "New Kings" book wasn't inspiring but like in pg. 10 & 11 the author is talking about Weschler and Orlean and how he likes both of these writers, then all of a sudden WHAM!! Chuck Klosterman pops up. Who is this guy? Did I read about him earlier and forgot about him. I dunno and by the time my mind as made this crude transition, there are three little stars and we are on to another topic.

As I have been saying all along, it's not that there isn't a lot of valuable information, but there isn't much flow. I had a few questions from reading this section; the main one being "How am I going to read this book that I feel is poorly written and take any advice from this guy about writing?" and along those lines maybe it's just me but "how do I get any of this useful information from this book if my mind can't work around the crude transitions?"

I did find one thing that I was intrigued by and I wasn't distracted about, I like that he thinks that "Literary nonfiction" is a bore, a phrase for losers, and it's pretentious. (p. 12 I agree full-heartedly.

The book Telling True Stories is a much better fit for me! I feel that it made more sense, was written better and also had some great information. I liked how they talk about stories and how significant they are. From the way Sudan-people would live in horrible conditions but every night would sing about their history, tell stories. I like how the said that "stories are our prayers, stories are parables, stories are history, stories are music, stories are our soul."

This saying hit a cord with me because oddly enough 5 years ago I was a senior in high school and my senior quote was "Everyone's life is a story, it's not how you tell it, it's how you life it!" In some ways that is true, but now on my fifth and final year of college, with a Journalism Minor and a Communication Major, it is important for everyone to life there life to the fullest (the greatest story) but it is a Journalists job to tell the stories. So if I could change my quote I would. "Everyone's life is a story. Life it well and a good journalist will tell it great."

One really important thing I learned about this section of the book is that you need to take interest in the subject, not just look for a story. Give yourself all the time in the world, and don't give up until you have it all. At the end of every interview, ask them who they can talk to next. And above all else, just enjoy your work and keep in mind that in the end the work is mind-stretching, life-enhancing, slap-up fun. (p. 16)

Another thing that I found interesting in this book is when they state that "chances are, you've come into this work because you genuinely like talking to people. If not, you should probably find other work." I think that being extraverted and open to talking to people is a very good/strong trait to have in a journalist because you are talking to a lot of people. But introverts also have the advantage that they don't talk much, they just listen. So I was wondering what other people think of that "Who would be a better Journalist? An extravert or an introvert?"

Stories Connecting People

| 1 Comment

"Stories are the connective tissue of the human race". This quote from Telling True Stories made me think a lot about journalism and how important it is in our society. Banasynski goes on to say that stories are our prayers, parables, history, music, and soul. This made me think about how much story telling means to our culture. It is in essence what connects us to the rest of the world. There are certain parts of the world that I will never see. The only thing I know about them is what I have been told. It is kind of a scary thing to think about. Since stories shape our vision of certain aspects of the world, how are these visions changing as journalism changes? As journalism advances are we able to see and know even more based off the story telling of others? How can print journalists convey meaning and feeling at the same level as a photo journalist? An example of connecting people through print story telling would be the story Among the Thugs. The reader has no connection to the people or situations in the story without the writer telling them. I think that's what makes journalism and story telling so fun. If done right the writer can really make and impact on the audience. I guess the question now is, how do we do that kind of writing? How do we make people feel something?

First Blog - Jessica Peterson

| 1 Comment

I haven't read very much nonfiction writing throughout my life, but after reading the first parts of each of these books I am very interested in exploring nonfiction pieces of writing this semester. I became so interested in the reading that I forgot that I was supposed to be jotting down quotes that could create inspiration for my blog. The part of the reading that intereted me the most was the story by Jacqui Banaszynski in Telling True Stories. Her decription in the first paragraphs enabled me to visualize what life is like for the people of Sudan. It brought me there; I felt like I could see it. While reading this, one of the first things I thought was, I could never do the kind of journalism Banaszynski does. I could never travel to some place that far out of my comfort zone and then badger the struggling people with quetions. I wouldn't want to make them feel uncomfortable asking them to get personal with me about what I would consider a less than desireable life style. But as I kept reading, I started to realize why Banaszynski went there and why she wanted to tell that story. In this work, Banaszynski quoted Alex Tizon saying, "Stories give shape to experience and allow us to go through life unblind (5)." After reading that quote I realized the importance of the story Banaszynski wanted to tell. She wanted the audience to become aware of what it's like in other parts of the world that are unfamiliar to us. She wanted to share this experience with others so that they could understand the living condisiotns in Sudan and understand the importance of story telling. Banaszynski said that we can only stay human if we tell stories (5) and I agree with her. Storyies can be very impactful and they can have a great effect on the lives of others. My question for the class to ponder is: What kind of conditions would you expose yourelf to in order to learn about someone's story and tell their story?

Lets make it personal

| 1 Comment

I am wrestling with ideas right now as there is a conflict between the words of these authors and everything else I have learned about journalism over the past three years. It is difficult now for me to think about writing without considering the concepts of news and newsworthiness. This is most likely because I have only recently become aware of the difference between "news" and "journalism" and the fact that a writer who excels in one may not necessarily show promise in the other.
Many in the field of journalism hold the notion that it is bad practice to insert one's self into their story for fear of slanting news. This is where our discussion about the difference between bias and opinion or personal view becomes relevant.
Bill Buford says, "there is no such thing as the perceived without someone to do the perceiving, and that to exclude the circumstances surrounding the story is to tell the untruth."
Someone has to report the news; which means they first have to see it and experience it. Human beings do not have the ability to experience things objectively; and to pretend that is the case is just as bad as leaving out some of the news itself. The only way to fail in nonfiction is to lead readers astray and cause them to believe something other than the truth. To insert yourself into a story is to make it as honest as possible.
Now I suppose this is just the fundamental difference between reporting breaking news and writing "literary nonfiction", which is a term I often associate with "infotainment". But until now, I have overlooked the actual importance of, and necessity for this kind of personal transparency.
A good example of this is where Ira Glass writes, "when I am researching a story and the real-life situation starts to turn into allegory...I feel extremely lucky, and do everything in my power to expand that part of the story."
It's not reporting. It's storytelling. It IS entertainment, and ya know what? That's okay.
There is no doubt in my mind that this is what people want to read; but this kind of writing seems to carry a stigma. Many pass it off as "magazine journalism" and I want to know why.

Kate's reaction

| 1 Comment

I was really interested in the way that Jacqui Banaszynski talked about storytelling and the way that it was used by the people effected by the Ethiopian famine. On page 5 Banaszynski says that the human language is only different from the animal language in the way that we have stories. "Events pass, people live and die, life changes. But stories endure" (4) was one of the more impacting lines in this particular story for me. The way that cultures use stories is just really fascinating and most people don't ever think twice about how valuable a simple story can be.
I liked when Glass mentioned writers like Michael Pollan and Mark Bowden and how great writers are all entertainers in terms of the way they tell their stories. On page 9 Glass gives an example of using voice in a story with Susan Orlean's "The American Man, Age Ten". I think in storytelling sometimes it can be hard to express how the person in the story was feeling.

1-21 Blog Response - Lauren Renneke

| 1 Comment

The New Kings of Nonfiction:

After reading this introduction I am excited to see what the rest of this book has in store. I've never really read nonfiction before for pleasure, which I believe will change starting now.

I enjoyed what Glass had to say about having empathy towards her interviewees. "I have this experience when I interview someone, if it's going well and we're really talking in a serious way, and they're telling me these very personal things, I fall in love a little" Glass said (pg 11). This really moved me in a way because I can totally see myself doing this same thing. I have a tendency to take things very personally so when someone tells me something, something so personal, I want to believe that they trust and respect me. For example, I've only written for The Statesman a couple times but when I was interviewing people I started to sympathize with them. One business woman told me an elaborate story about how her business was failing due to the economy and how she now doesn't know what to do to keep herself on top. This led me to asking so many questions that I was completely off topic by the time the interview was over.

This idea of empathizing with your interviewees leads me to one question for the class; is it possible to ask too many questions in a way that you start becoming unprofessional?

Telling True Stories:

All of the authors in this first part had incredible insight towards writing. The person I connected with most was Halberstam who gave some great advice on reading. "When you find a reporter whose work you admire, break his or her code" Halberstam said (pg 13). This really made me think about my own writing. If I read more, then I'll have so much more material and experiences to base my writing off of. It's almost like the authors and teaching you first hand to be a better writer which is very inspiring.

I think this idea of reading good writing improves your own writing, correlates directly to what Boo said in Difficult Journalism That's Slap-Up Fun. Her idea of storytelling as a three part process (pg 16) where thinking goes in-between reporting and writing is fantastic. In order to become genius writers you must look at what others have written, think about it and then to try create your own original piece. Seems difficult, but I suppose that's why we're all in this class in the first place.

A question I leave for the class is; do you think you'd be able to do what Boo and Banaszynski did by taking the roads and exploring the world, hoping that a story would come upon them, and when it did, staying there for months and even years to get the full idea?

1/21

| 1 Comment

Curiosity seems to be the driving force behind the prevalent nonfiction writers mentioned in both introductions. A continuous curiosity for the larger meaning of a story, one that can't be quenched with the normal constraints of a daily newspaper.

I liked Katherine Boo's entry in Telling True Stories about riding buses around neighborhoods that you don't know well even though it might take some "subversion of your editors." The openness she implies by "reporting by not preparing" and being ready to hop a bus to Georgia if the story dictates intrigues me. The flexibility of not being told where the story is and how it is supposed to be reported makes narrative journalism exciting to me.

The New Kings of Nonfiction has already caught my attention after reading only the introduction, but I may be biased because I am a fan of Glass' This American Life. All of the examples he puts forth in the introduction are entertaining. Not only do the authors have fun putting themselves in others shoes researching the story, they try to make serious issues entertaining to read. This seems to be a valuable instrument in making important issues known.

Krebs 1/21

Each author featured in the introduction of "Telling True Stories" refers to what they do by a different title:story-telling, creative nonfiction, narrative writers, narrative reporting.

But what they do is essentially the same- providing slightly different instruction on how to do so along the way. It seems to me that the writers' consensus would be that nonfiction means the same to all. Their writing isn't fake.

David Halberstam said it best when he wrote, "that's never going to happen again" (11).

It happened once and as writers it's our job to tell it, create it, recreate it, report it...whatever you want to call it.

Other ideas that excite me about this book:

What happens next?- the three most beautiful words in writing.
Time is crucial. The idea is vital.
Prepare by not preparing.
Curiosity is a muscle. The more you use it the stronger it grows.

I haven't put name to any of my habits of reporting or writing yet the advice and action of these authors is instantly recognizable and entertaining to me- kind of like an inside joke with a good friend.

Ira Glass wrote, "You've got the plot of the story, and you got the ideas the story is driving at" (8).

I'm wondering if that statement has a place next to any of the pieces of writing in "Telling True Stories."

At face value it doesn't seem like it to me. I am less motivated by Glass than I am by the writers in, "Telling True Stories."

It seems to me that even the excerpts that follow Glass's comments don't fit under a formula as simple as the one he sets up in the beginning of the book.


Reading assignment for 1/21 by James Patrick Buchanan

| 2 Comments

From: James Patrick Buchanan

TO: John Hatcher

Journalism 4001, Thursday, 1/21

The New Kings Introduction

Ira Glass wrote "But I didn't see anything wrong with a piece of reporting turning into a fable" or allegory about modern America. In my own mind, these "funny, vivid anecdotes" in nonfiction storytelling are what give my audience real insights into a given context and the bigger issues of the day. Readers can relate to the story of one unemployed adult much better than a dry story about one million unemployed adults.

For example, suppose you are writing a news story about reasons why people would ride the possible Northern Lights Express (NLX) line from Minneapolis to Duluth. You could write about a winter ice storm that sends cars and vans off the highways between Duluth and Hinckley.

You could ride along with a tow truck crew, interviewing these drivers, passengers, and tow truck crews about their experiences during an ice storm. You could interview these unfortunate drivers and their passengers, asking them what would be more expansive, paying for a tow truck to pull their cars and vans out of a ditch and possible car repairs, or buying a ticket on the Northern Light Express? How could a reader not be entertained by such a story?

I got this idea while I was taking a bus ride to the Twin Cities on Interstate 35 during, as you may have already guessed, an ice storm. At one point, I saw a young man on crutches all by himself, standing beside the highway. I wondered what he was doing there and how he managed to get to the middle of farms and forests on crutches? When my bus passed him, I saw his car had skidded off the road and down into a deep drainage ditch.

While I'm taking on the role of a student reporter, I would like to know just what this man was thinking as my bus passed him by? How did he manage on crutches to walk up such a steep slope, covered in snow and a thin coat of ice? What was it like trying to keep warm in the freezing rain and trying to keep his balance on the icy roadway? What was he thinking as he watched another car being pulled out of the same ditch just a short walk from his own lonely vigil over his own car? What "joy and empathy and pleasure" in my nonfiction narrative of that young man staring down at his stranded car at the bottom of an Interstate 35 drainage ditch that could I give my reader a sense of value that the Northern Lights Express line would give to their own lives? These are some ideas that "interest and amuse" me as a writer and as a person.

Telling True Stories Introduction

Jacqui Banaszynski starts the introduction on the power of storytelling singing. I agree that stories are about the human narrative. You are a storyteller if you answer the question, "What happened next?"

Gay Talese talks about reporting on the daily lives of everyday people that provides new insights to the reader on the larger issues of the day. Gay Talese describes an interesting take on how Yu Ling, a Chinese woman missing a kick in a televised soccer game, became a metaphor for American Chinese relationships. From that one idea, Gay Talese spent an entire year to write about Yu Ling. I realized how much time you can spend writing from just one simple idea.

David Halberstam discusses several examples of how to turn a one sentence idea into narrative nonfiction. I like the lines, "You must be able to point to something larger" and "I've been paid to learn, to ask questions, to think."

Katherine Boo wrote that it is narrative that makes depressing information easier to read and easier to relate to. I'm reminded of the Latin proverb, "It is solved by walking." Katherine Boo might rephrase this bit of wisdom to "Your story is found by walking." Additionally, I found in my own nonfiction manuscripts that collecting facts and interviewing people is hard work. What is even harder work is cutting all that information down into one manuscript and arranging these separate ideas so that the reader can easily flow their eyes from one idea to the next one.

By the way, I was wondering if I could bring in a sample of my published nonfiction writing and have our class review and edit it to make it a more interesting read?

My "New Kings" and "Telling True Stories" Entry- Megan Hayes

| 1 Comment

I found both of these readings really intriguing and entertaining, which made me enjoy reading both of them. I really liked how in the book "New Kings," Ira Glass talks about not just reporting a story, but adding a little something extra to it, or even making it more personal and putting yourself into the writing. On page 3 of the reading, Glass talks about how he doesn't think that it is bad when a story or piece of writing turns into a fable. He explains how, "everything suddenly stands for something so much bigger, everything has more resonance, everything's more engaging" (3). I agree with that, because when I read a story that I can relate to or a story that makes me feel an emotion, I am much more interested in it. It means more and it impacts me in some way. For me, I like reading stories about people's lives and an experience that they've been through. It makes me understand the person they are better and it draws me in. I also enjoyed the part in the introduction of "New Kings," when Glass talks about how Bill Buford, "makes it clear how much of reporting is simply wandering from one place to another, talking to people and writing down what they say and trying to think of something, anything, that'll shed some light on what's happening in front of your face" (7). I thought this was an interesting statement, because I never really thought about just talking to people and getting to know them and what there doing as a way to find your story. I think that that is a good idea. I know for projects that I have done in the past I have tried to think of questions to ask and the topic that I want to do, ask the questions and that's it. I feel like actually engaging in general conversations would help for a better story and topic to come around. On page 9, Glass talks about how ideas add to the stories and that stories, "would have trouble existing at all, without the scaffolding of ideas they've erected to hold the thing up." I think that Glass proves some great points in just the introduction. He has made me think about what I can change in my writing to add to it and make it better. One question that I have is where do you draw the line with how much personal emotions and details you put in a story? Is it ever to far, or is it more of an opinion on what is too much?

One thing that I liked in the book, "Telling True Stories," is the way that Jacqui Banaszynski showed her details and didn't just tell them. She describes the details by making you feel like you are there and by making you feel the emotions. Banaszynski did a really good job making me feel like I was there. I could picture what was going on each step of the way by reading how she was describing it. I really liked the statement that she made on page 5 about how, "stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story." I liked that, because when you read a story and can picture those situations and can relate to the person telling it or the thing that it is about, it can stick with you forever. I also liked how in Part 1, Gay Talese mentions on page 9, how you don't just interview the person, but you become part of their environment and atmosphere. When I have done a phone interview with someone for a story that I was doing in class I didn't really get the full picture of that person or how he or she really felt about a situation, like I would have been able to do if I got to actually see and be in the same place as that person. I really liked Part 1 of this book, but one question I have is when is it not okay to use a narrative approach? Do you use a narrative approach, even if you are told to just state the facts of a story?

I want to be a king of nonfiction!

| 1 Comment

After reading only a single chapter from these texts, I am excited by the creativity and curiosity that makes up nonfiction writing. The first chapter of "Telling True Stories" Jacqui Banaszynski quotes from Tim O'Brian's novel "The Things They Carried," which read "Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story" (4). I read this novel freshman year and didn't realize than the impact that nonfiction writing has on journalism that is explained by the writers in these two books. She says that "humans need stories" and I agree with her 100 percent. Stories have been our entertainment ever since we were young and now in the new age of technology, there are so many different mediums used to create this. She explains that storytelling is an art and curiosity is one of the best characteristics to have as a writer. I also enjoyed Gay Talese's take on "Delving into Private Lives." I really appreciated his opinion that the big stories deal with ordinary people's private lives that wouldn't normally be seen as newsworthy. Anyone can write about a someone who is always in the news, but Talese takes this to the next level to challenge writers to be curious. He says, "...getting know know real-life characters through research, trust, and building relationships" (7). This is a form of writing that I think most young journalists aren't familiar with because of the constant battle for timely stories. Ira Glass said it perfectly, "It's the pleasure of discovery, the pleasure of trying to make sense of the world," which is what makes great journalism(5). My question is... in this face-paced world we live in, and information is constantly being shared, how can we get back to this narrative journalism and make it become more accepted in the news world where "time" is the main issue?

I really enjoyed reading the introduction of "The New Kings of Journalism." One thing that excited me the most was that Ida Glass encouraged reporters in this aspect of journalism to break one of the most important general rules of the field of not interjecting your own voice into a story. He says that many well-respected journalists feel that expressing any trace of human personality will take away the credibility of a story (3). Which is the point of this book; to disprove that theory. Glass goes on to say, "I don't see anything wrong with a piece of journalism turning into a fable...Everything suddenly stands for something so much bigger, everything has more resonance, everything's more engaging" (3). One question I was left with is HOW, as a reporter, to put your own opinion into a story without losing your credibility? Glass says that it is "breathtaking" how some reporters can do this without coming across as being unfair (8).

I found Part I of "Telling True Stories" interesting as well. Jacqui Banaszynski started out in second-person perspective, which really grabbed my attention. She talked about the importance of story-telling, saying, "Events pass, people live and die, life changes. But stories endure" (4). I also really liked Gay Talese's section about how he would rather interview a loser than a winner. He said, "I wanted to spend more time with people who were not necessarily newsworthy" (7). I found this to be very true for myself as well, something that I had never thought of before. Any news source can give the big picture of the story; a natural disaster, who won the big game, etc. But the more fascinating part is the piece that isn't told; how the natural disaster affected a particular family or how the losers of the big game felt. One question I had, though, was how to discover these hidden stories? Once a reporter is inspired, how can that inspiration be made original?

Here's our blog, let's get started

| 8 Comments

Dear Writers,
Here is our class blog. My hope is that this blog will include a great discussion of ideas about what great journalism looks like as well as examples of your own writing. Feel free to try out ideas, ask questions and create an open, inviting place to extend our discussion beyond the classroom.

Here is what I'm looking for before the start of each class:
1. Read the assigned readings for that day's class.
2. Take notes as you read and look for something or more than one thing that excites, surprises, motivates you. Find something, large or small, that you think is interesting and that you'd like to talk about.
3. Log on to the class blog.
4. Post your entry at least 5 minutes before the start of class in order to receive credit.
5. Be prepared to discuss that entry in class and to introduce your ideas and the issues you'd like to discuss.
6. I will grade these entries in this way (3 points for each entry)
- Entry includes a question for the class to discuss
- Entry includes discussion of reading, using examples, citations from certain pages and other details related to the focus of the blog entry
- Entry makes connections between other pieces of journalism either from the class or from outside of the class

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from January 2010 listed from newest to oldest.

February 2010 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.