The Student Becomes the Critiquer

On Monday, our class critiqued several reviews. From book to restaurant to lifestyle to travel-we discussed it all. There is one article in particular that I did enjoy, and there was one that I did not.

My favorite article was a travel review featured in The New York Times called “”Hiking, Biking and Bubbly in South Africa.” This article was so well thought out and well put together. I could almost imagine myself drinking the wine or dining in fancy restaurants or getting a hot stone massage at a spa. There were many interesting historical facts throughout the article. For example, Dreisinger explained to reader’s that she enjoyed a glass of Steenberg’s signature Graham Beck Brut NV which was served at Nelson Mandela’s inauguration. Interesting facts mentioned in articles brings out the best of that article.

Featured article “Sea by Alexander’s Missing the Wave,” by Michael Bauer was horrible. It was so confusing and poorly written. If the writer had just taken his time and put more thought into it, the article could’ve been great. It seems as if this was his first review. The ratings key was confusing, and Bauer seemed to contradict himself. I couldn’t comprehend if he was displeased with the food or if he was not.

This class, MCJ 301, is a major eye opener and has really helped me to determine the do’s and don’ts of writing particular articles.

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Feature Subgenre

I’ve been working off and on writing a story about homelessness in Hattiesburg for a year now, yet I haven’t technically defined what type of story it is. I have started by photographing many vagrants in their daily life. I’ve caught them doing things such as walking behind gas stations at night to sleep in the woods, begging for money outside numerous stores then buying cigarettes and alcohol instead of food, wearing the same clothes for weeks straight, bundling up on a bus stop bench on a cold night while others drive by in their heated cars to their heated homes, and so on. These photos tell a lot about a homeless person’s life in the Hub City, but the photos are only a beginning and need a feature story to go along with them. What kind of story am I going to be writing? After reading Part III in Telling True Stories I have realized I can write a successful story by making it a profile of one individual. “Profiles provide specificity-the micro that illustrates the macro.” Not only will a profile on one homeless person in Hattiesburg illustrate the lives of the majority of vagrants in our city, but also the lives of vagrants elsewhere in the world. My main obstacle is communication between myself and whom I think is the most interesting vagrant in town. Due to his crack addiction and mental capacity, I only understand about five percent of what he says. When I do understand him, some of his comments make no sense but there are moments of clarity and I get very meaningful quotes out of him. Interviewing this subject in my profile story may not be a useful technique in this situation, but I don’t want to give up yet. 

The Perfect Story

Hattiesburg, MS has recently experienced one of the worst Sundays ever. On February 10, we were hit by a horrific tornado. I was at work when I met the devastating demon. I never heard anything so loud in my life. As the tornado got closer, I ran quickly to the restroom. About ten minutes later, the tornado was no longer visible; praise God.

I saw a lady on the news who said she covered herself and her children with a mattress, and all that was left were the three of them. They lost EVERYTHING!

I believe this woman’s situation would have made a wonderful feature story. It could’ve touched the hearts of more people because of a powerful message (call to action). If I were writing this as a feature story, I would focus on the family’s home life and community involvement, and how their community could help them. My only issue is that I can get pretty emotional, and a story like this would really tug at my heart. Good luck to me with my future feature stories!

Getting Close but Staying Professional

In chapter 7 of “Writing Feature Stories,” I found it very interesting that the author tells us how we can use personality to get close to the interviewee, and yet remain professional while writing the story.  The chapter addresses the different purposes of both the journalist and the source.  I’ll try to use this way of thinking when interviewing people.  These ideas are more important when dealing with controversial topics, but are important too in softer features.  An example of this could be in my interview with Ron Savell.  He will undoubtedly try to put his bar Brewsky’s in the best of light for the sake of commercialism, yet it is my duty to the readers to be objective.

I like how the reporter offered to take the busy interviewee to the airport in order to get an interview.  This show of creativeness got them an exclusive one on one.  I hope to show this kind of savvy when approaching sources in the future.

Feature Essentials

Facts, to the normal person, can be thought of as boring, yet they can make a story grab a reader’s attention. When an article starts out with a mind-blowing statistic, it has the potential to engage the reader unlike any other story component. On the other hand, a story that lacks factual information quickly looses readers due to credibility.  A story cannot be good without engaging information surrounding the facts, and quotes or personal stories from the subjects are one of the best techniques that journalists use.  When I was younger and I wrote articles in high school, I liked quotes simply because they took up needed space. Now, after much reading, I understand how much they really do add, by connecting the reader and the subject in a way no other method can.

Interviewing is necessary when gathering information, and depending on what kind of information you need you can ask open-ended or closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions such as “Tell me about your experience in the acting industry” will more than likely lead to valuable quotes, where closed-ended questions such as “How long have you been in the business?” or “What did it take to get where you are today?” are good for gathering facts.

Since there is no set way to do an interview, each journalist must figure out what works for them and the specific story they are working on. Not only do we have to be professional journalists, but we must also be an approachable human-being to get as much access to information as possible.  I especially liked Isabel Wilkerson’s advice. She explains, “I do everything I can to make my subjects feel comfortable enough to talk to me…I try to be a great audience. I nod; I look straight into their eyes; I laugh at their jokes….I am serious when they’re serious.” 

Be there and observe.

As I read pages 35-45 in “Telling True Stories,” I realized that the common trend in our readings is to be with the subject and quietly observe. As writers, we shouldn’t allow our questions to dominate in feature stories, because we can learn so much more when we silently observe and become part of the scene.

One quote stood out to me, “If the reporter can walk in another person’s shoes, why not do it?” If we can become as close to our subject possible, we will have a better understanding of our subject.

I enjoyed the tips in Anne Hull’s section “Being There.” One tip I found interesting was go to church. I have never even thought of that, but you can learn a lot about people and a community as a whole through attending church. You learn how people communicate with each other and how they dress and behave on one of the most formal places in their town. This can also give a sense of how the people feel about each other and if they are giving or not.

Week 4 A Field I Want to Enter

When I was 19yrs old I decided that i wanted to see the world. I packed a backpack and booked a flight to amsterdam. My intentions at the time were not to report what i saw but just to experience the world. I did and saw things that most people only dreams about. My intended one month journey to one place turned into a three year adventure to six of the seven continents.The place I visited that affected me more than any was India. I lived in a  leper colony in  an orphanage and it changed me as a person. Now that i have focused my desires to writing i long to be in that setting once again. To be the type of journalist that gets into the story, lives and breathes what the life they are reporting about. The difficult part comes in because i am going to have a daughter but i like the challenge and the idea of letting her see real life as well. Maybe it will spark a creative streak in her but more than that i want her to see what i have seen. I have seen life outside my box of comfort and it made me  more of a whole person. I think it makes a better writer to live and feel what the people you are writing about. It changes you to see their world through their eyes. And i believe with all my heart that a good reporter is one that is willing to be changed by the people around them.