This chapter in America’s Best Newspaper Writing touched on something I knew little about prior, Local Reporting and Beats. This chapter detailed how touching a story can be that isn’t flashy or widely-known, but rather one that is buried within the winding streets of a small town or the slums of a poor neighborhood. I learned about something called “shoe leather”, in which reporters get away from their telephones and computers and hit the streets with a good old paper-and-pen and really dig for the good reporting. These reporters create special opportunities to discover powerful stories. This chapter taught me that sometimes the most impressive pieces of journalism are ones that you have to unearth beneath layers of dust and forgotten areas of the world, and that good pieces are located wherever you turn.
This brings me to the works of the first journalist noted, one
Rick Bragg. Bragg, an AL native, learned how to tell stories by watching the men in his family sit on the porch and listening to their long, beautiful stories. Bragg’s stories “bring the storyteller’s art and craft to the news–this requires an unerring eye for the resonant detail.” In other words, Bragg needs to dig deep and really allow a story to absorb him, too, before he tells it to the world. With this being said, Bragg details a story of a frail old woman, Miss McCarty, who worked her entire life, made a good deal of money and is donating it to a university so that black students can attend college. She had lived alone for a good few decades, and is very self-sufficient, and knew her life was coming to a close, so she decided to donate the money and make a positive change in this world. A story like that brings tears to the eyes of the beholder, just in passing, and Bragg does an exemplary job of telling her story. Bragg’s contribution to the list of Top 10 Tips for Reporting Locally include: make the writer feel, convey information like the story it’s meant to be and absorb the story as much as it absorbs you. First, you don’t have a soul if “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University” doesn’t warm your heart and break it at the same time. Bragg details the life of a woman who the reader just wants to climb into the book and hug, because her story is so indicative of a kind of incredible human who exists out there. Bragg makes you feel. Next, Bragg quite clearly tells a story and takes journalism for a ride; he truly takes after the men he listened to growing up. Lastly, in order to tell such a delicate and illustrious story like his, Bragg needs to have absorbed just as much information as the information absorbed him. He surely came out of this experience different.
Next, Thomas Boswell slides in with his ability to utilize a writing style that “climbs up and down the ladder of abstraction”, dancing over and back over the line of truth and eerie fiction. A sports writer who details the story of a run-down sports venue that holds the ghost of athletes from the past, Boswell is a master at his craft and nothing less. His contribution to the list of Top 10 Tips for Reporting Locally are: become a “library rat”, and use a story to gain altitude. Boswell, as many of his colleagues and fellow writers have been known to calling him, is a “library rat”, similar in essence to a “gym rat”, as he spends countless hours at the library, reading the works of others. He is so familiar with the way that powerful writers write that he has taken many of their skills under his belt. Next, he allows his stories to gain altitude, meaning that he takes them from simple information to something more haunting, something that touches a reader more.
Third, Johnathan Bor comes on the scene with a piece that tears down boundaries and walls. His featured article is about a heart transplant in which a 17-year-old donor heart was exchanged with the non-functioning heart of a 35-year-old patient. “It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray’s Heart” is especially astounding because it employs the following skills that Bor adds to the list of Top 10 Tips for Reporting Locally: Be Comfortable with Time Constraints and Employ Artful Structure. Bor wrote the story in 90 minutes after reporting for 48 hours without sleep. Talk about a time constraint. He is a true professional, because he knew that he didn’t need any more time to get the story on the page, and he didn’t have much time for it anyway. He is a champion in the journalism world, because doing this after 48 sleepless hours is a true feat to be admired by all. Next, the structure in which he lays out his story, an “hourglass” pattern – meaning that he puts the basic elements of news at the top of the story, transitions and then falls into a chronological retelling of the events, is really helpful in understanding what happened.
Last, Mitch Albom is an absolute artist in his retelling of the events of Dewon Jones, an inner city youth from Detroit, who was shot multiple times before his 16th birthday. The chilling and in-depth reporting that Albom did is what gives him his incredible reputation. What Albom brings to the list of Top 10 Tips for Reporting Locally: Employing a Musical Structure, Shining Light on the Less Glamourous and Crossing over from Narrative to Opinion. The first one pays ode to Albom’s past as a musician – he testifies that sometimes, when a piece he’s writing is going particularly well, his fingers dance as if playing a keyboard. He uses his education as a musician to utilize a rhythmic structure, so that the words on the page have a ring to them in the ear of the listener, so that the words sort of flow in a way that makes the reading more appealing. Next, Albom shines light on stories of athletes and heroes that many people haven’t heard of prior – the flaw of many journalists who think it’s only kosher to report on people that the public are inkling to hear about or just hoping will be the subject of a story. Albom highlights unsung heroes and athletes, detailing the stories of people whose stories are rarely told. This is what makes him stand out, and this is also why his telling of Dewon Jones’ narrative is particularly chilling; that no one seems to have known his remarkable story before Albom came along to tell it. Lastly, Albom crosses over from Narrative to Opinion at the end of his telling; he weaves a very informational story and leaves the reader with a final, haunting thought that must directly resonate with them. This is the mark of an incredible writer and storyteller.