Every day people are bombarded with more hours of media than there are actually hours in a day. The amount of information people consume in a day is even worrisome, or interesting, enough to make headlines! Most recently a study by ZenithOptimedia gained a fair amount of coverage once it found
that people spend more than 490 minutes every day looking at media. The growing accessibility of information and humans increasing curiosity for knowledge have helped foster this news-frenzy. Yet from all the positive outcomes of gaining knowledge, there is still one prevalent concern: How can someone identify great reporting from bad reporting?
Great reporting goes beyond ‘good enough’ when it is not only informative, but also accurate, relevant, engaging and interesting. Different types of articles do not always focus on or put the most importance on the same aspects. For instance, in a feature-like obituary story, like the one discussed below by Jack Nicholson, having anecdotes that help characterize the subject and introducing another voice, an added perspective of someone who knew the subject, are imperative to the story. While in a “hard story” about a recent event, inserting the 5 W’s (where, when, what, why and how) in the nut graph and being thorough yet clear when explaining what occurred is what makes the story stand out.
Yet, across the spectrum of storytelling there are certain aspects that must be included and executed properly in a story in order for it to be great. One aspect is the inclusion of sources that build credibility, and quotes that advance a story and also help to reveal a character. These sources and quotes should be diverse, since it is important that a thorough article has different perspectives, insights and points of view within the story. Another is a lead that attracts the reader’s attention by using strong verbs, details, imagery, rhythm or originality.
The best stories are also those that use direct, active voice, avoid jargon and explain difficult concepts simply yet clearly enough for anyone, a 50 year old scholar to an 18 high-schooler, to understand.
Below are examples of great reporting, and the reasons as to why they have attained this title.
Jim Nicholson: Edward E. “Ace” Clark, Ice and Coal Dealer
Jim Nicholson’s feature obituary, proves the phrase ‘Everybody’s got a story” true. It also emphasizes the democratic nature of journalism, how the most hard-hitting stories are those which seek to chronicle the life, the successes and failures, the many or lack of advancements, of the common man and woman. This story also evidences the beauty of simple, concise and informative language.
The obituary begins and ends with all the important information about the deceased, to name a few: his name, age, profession, family members, time of funeral and of burial. The story, however informative, still manages to pull the reader in with the great details and fond anecdotes that fully re-create the subject and retell his story. For instance, his nickname “Ace Clark,” which the reporter emphasized in the lead, and which also helps make the subject him sound all-American, personable and humble. Other intimate details and habits, like the fact that the subject only missed work day after VJ-Day the U.S.’s victory over japan, when he was too hungover to wake up, expose him as a passionate person who loved his country.
While poignant physical descriptions like: “Powerful arms and shoulders atop spindly legs,” link Ace to his profession, giving the readers a more concrete image of Ace Clark. Another example of a great description that is also quirky, is when Nicholson compares Ace Clark to a “rogue elephant” when the sports team he used to coach were on the court or field. This description in particular, expresses the extent to which he loved sports, and also creates a small shift in tone, which keeps audience engaged and entertained as they increase their feelings of endearment towards Ace Clark.
Linnet Myers: Humanity on Trial
1994 Southside Chicago
Humanity on Trial is the paragon of how a compelling story can still be very creative, even when its main purpose is to inform readers of what occurs in a specific setting. Myers’ article earns the title of great not just because of the amazing writing and reporting of the piece, but because she managed to capture the big, overarching issues of class, race and of the criminal system in the U.S. by simply informing us on all the small, specific details of the Victims Court in Chicago. These details range from the quotes of people that work in the court, of the lawyers, the accused, the judge, and those that are witnessed or family of victims, to the facts of actual day-to-day cases and of the personal lives of criminals that are accused. For instance, Myers informs the reader of a case where the criminal, Austin, goes by the name “Loveless,” because “his father insisted on him being named that.” This details not only adds a surprise and further engages the reader, but it gives an idea of the life many of these criminals live.
Myers also includes a wide diversity of sources, and quotes, which enrich the story and give it credibility. Quotes range from criminals saying they haven’t done the crime, to an assistant’s state attorney’s opinion of one specific criminal or case, to a judge’s opinions on the validity of his work. She includes the doubts of a Judge Bolan, who works in “26th & Cal.” Who said of his work: “Is the world better for what I’m doing here?” I ask myself, ‘What are you doing, Michael?’” And who described the Victim’s court as: “It’s human nature with all its pretenses slipped away…Headquarters for tales from the dark side.” By adding a quote of how a judge questions the validity of his work, Myers displays the magnitude of the issue, and how it affects everyone in Chicago—no just the accused and the victims.
Andrew H. Malcolm: A Thesaurist Leaves, Exits
Andrew H. Malcom’s article A Thesaursit Leaves, Exits displays how he successfully transformed the conventional style of editorial pieces from just being arguments or opinions to also being stories. It is evident that Macolm spent a lot of his time researching what story he thought was most interesting. Or what subject he thought could, in discussing its life, bring with it general social, economic or political issues or examples of the advancements or faults of a certain topic, into the story. The lead of this story is original and engages the reader with its quirky tone almost immediately. It also answers the who and what, and thus introduces the reader to the story’s the nut-graph. The reporter’s diction and sentence structure throughout the entire story mirror the story’s subject and structure perfectly, as they both highlight use of synonyms and an active, informative tone. The story’s headline is a perfect example of how a headline can both describe a story and capture the attention of readers by being unconventional and creative. It says, “A Thesaurist Leaves, Exits,” infroming the reader who the story is about, that that person can no longer be found and that adjectives are going to be an important aspect to this article.
Tommy Tomlinson: A Beautiful Find
One of the elements that makes Tomlinson’s story, A Beautiful Find, stand out as great and as beautiful, is the structure of the story. The examination-like questions that remind the reader of having of breakdown and explain the evidence behind your solution to an equation in high school, help the story successfully introduce its main themes. This form also allows the story to begins with the most important information about the problem that Swallow is trying to solve and of Swallow himself and then flawlessly delve deep into the chronology of the four years that Swallow spent trying to solve the problem. Another element is the style of the story itself, the intricate sentences, beautiful imagery, soft tone and attention to specific details that breath life into an affair that is technical and not very adventurous. For instance, Tomlinson reiterates that Swallow life his left eyebrow over the rim of his glasses and uses this detail as the detail that best exemplifies the curiosity and quirkiness of his subject. The reporter also uses details to express Swallow’s relentless attempts at trying to solve the problem, saying that his subject would “file sheets of paper with equations next to phone numbers for the DMV.” The inclusion of Swallow’s role as the Kitchen Spouse, exemplifies the reporters ability to make his subject complex.
Ultimately, Tomlinson’s biggest achievement is transforming the traditional profile article story from the traditional ‘interesting person’ story into a narrative that follows the failures and successes of one person in pursuit of his goal.
Dorothy Thompson: Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion
Cartoon of Orson Wells radio broadcast
Labeled under “Classics” in an anthology of ‘America’s Best’ Newspaper writing, Dorothy Thompson’s column piece Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion, seeks to understand the rise of fanaticism and increasing mass political hysteria with one significant event.
The event, Orson Welle’s reading of War of the Worlds on air, which she labels as the “the story of the century,” provides the most understanding of the expansion of fascist movements in Europe. Written in 1938, Thompson perfectly captures the frustrations and confusion of a period that witnesses the destruction of Europe and half the world.
The reporter makes a persuasive argument by putting most important information and claims first. This can be seen in her story structure, as her lead begins with her argument and her many claims and then follows it with information about the incident and precise facts on why Welles famous “hour on the air” lacked any possible scenerios and factual evidence. She also begins each of her paragraphs with a claim and then follows it with evidence to prove her claim. The tone of the piece is dry and sardonic and reinforces the role of journalists as social, media and political analysts. Her story is thorough, and explores not just the answers related to the incident, but the answers to the questions brought on by the event’s repercussions. For instance, Thompson explains her disillusionment with the fact that this mass hysteria encouraged people to ask their government for more protection, since it implied giving the government more control and influence over individuals lives.