“The principles Do not add and Do not deceive should apply to all nonfiction all the time, not just to the text of newspaper stories. Adding color to a black-and-white photo, unless the technique is obvious or labeled, is a deception,” says Roy Peter Clark at the beginning of the reading. This analogy between words and photographs summarized the entire reading without question.
As a journalist, our duty is to be a gatekeepers for the truth. People rely on us to provide credible information that they can take with them throughout their day. In feature writing, it can be difficult to stick to being accurate when writing a compelling story. The use of adjectives or painting a vivid setting may tempt those into falling along the lines of JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer…but this isn’t Hogwarts and vampires don’t attend this University.
As a broadcast journalist, I’ve always been told that if there aren’t any valid sources to support any claims in my story, the story simply DOESN’T EXIST. Journalism involves a heavy grasp on reality no matter how creative the story may be. I have to constantly remind myself that there is a huge difference between feature writing and CREATIVE writing.
As much as you want to attract the reader to your story with massive suspense and attention to detail, you want to make sure it’s accurate or else you’ll be looked at as an unreliable journalist who should probably look into becoming a novelist. The reading also mentions a very important element of journalism we should all be aware of – FACT CHECKING. Nothing’s worse than reporting/writing a story and being caught red-handed with an article full of lies. Make sure you always double check… or else the reader will.
I remember taking speech class a couple years ago at Jones County Junior College, and we had an assignment that required us to make an entire outline of a five-minute speech. Easier said than done. What I took from that experience is that when delivering a story, whether it’s written or verbally, there has to be some element of organization to keep a steady flow in whatever is being delivered to the audience.
As writers, it can be easy for us to become frustrated with so many thoughts circling our mind when we are composing a feature story. The reading shares several tips on how to avoid that along with making the writing process easier. Whether it’s a simple outline with main topics and subtopics or an inverted pyramid, your story deserves some type of organization to help make it more compelling. The last thing you want is for your story to read off as a cluster of words with no meaning.
I’ve learned from past experiences with composing stories that it really helps to map out the sequence of ideas even before working on my rough draft. It’s like playing a game of spades. You set your cards up, see what you’re working with and play to your advantage in order to win. The same concept (sort of) applies to writing a feature story, set your main topics up, see what additional commentary and notes you’re working with and write to your advantage.
It never helps to immediately start writing a story with no sense of direction.
How many lectures have you sat through and had to constantly listen to your professor stress the importance of a good lead? Let’s not all raise our hands at once. The readings represented everything I’ve basically had shoved down my throat over the past 3 years as a student journalist. From giving examples of every type of lead to showing the do’s and don’ts of an effective lead, the readings gave me this sort of epiphany (a bit dramatic) but that’s how I felt. Especially after reading Leading the Way where it offered me several tips on how to avoid the common mistakes most journalist encounter when constructing a lead. The reading discusses how writers should deliver what they promise or else the reader will feel betrayed. I naturally click to descriptive leads, but the readings showed me that sometimes too much detail could cause the reader to lose their mind or become lost in a clutter of adjectives – some of which may be unnecessary. Leads are like the first impression on a date. You want to present your story with confidence, and each word acts as the ensemble. One of the best examples from the readings was the surprise lead, which started off describing this all-star athlete, but it quickly shifted to him being behind bars. Those kinds of leads are the ones we should aim for – the memorable ones. If a reader has to constantly go back to the beginning of the story to see what it was initially about, you may be in trouble.
What separates a typical news story covering crime rate in the local area versus a story of a resident whose child may have been apart of a gang who was responsible for some of those crimes? It’s the meaning. This chapter dealt with breaking down all the important components of creating an effective story. From tips on using narrative voice to the importance of a simple quote, part IV of Telling True Stories; offers a plethora of advice aspiring writers may be seeking to improve their storytelling skills.
Jon Franklin mentions in the chapter “We’re trained not to insert meaning in our news stories. But we mistake meaning for opinion.” This is something we, as communication majors, face in the world of journalism. It’s the art of balancing our views with the truth without blurring the lines. The meaning we insert in a story shouldn’t be from us. Only our observations should support any implied assumptions. Anything said should always come from the subjects’ mouth to show the readers that if there are ANY opinions…they’re not ours. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why QUOTES can be your best friend.
In the chapter, Kelley Benham speaks on the importance of hearing the subjects’ voice and she delivers quite a few tips and examples on doing so. Benham says, “The best quotes, of course, aren’t stand-alone quotes at all, but dialogue.” What she means is that one-sentence quotes have lesser value than those with more detail especially if it’s coming from the source. Benham also believes that dialogue quotes are easier to read/understand because that’s how we communicate.
We as writers should always remember that our voice doesn’t matter in telling the story (in some cases). We simply construct it and add quotes and our observations only to make it more effective and vibrant to the reader. If at the end of the story, your reader is still left unsure or didn’t feel connected…rethink…revamp…rewrite.
Have you ever encountered that random pop-up on your iPhone that asks you to rate an app or conduct a review on an app you recently downloaded? If you’re like me, you probably ignored it, but for others who actually rate and review these apps or other purchases, they feel a need to voice their opinion to offer future customers a glimpse at what they may run across if they download a specific app or that song they have been contemplating about after a couple of listens to its preview. Though it’s not as major, established critics who make it their mission to conduct proper reviews share a similar purpose.
The difference between your average iPhone user and a professional critic is what chapter 6 is all about. It offers a standard review format with five elements to impact your review and tips to creating effective reviews that don’t seem biased and cause customers to stray away rapidly. In the chapter, Winthrop Sargeant The New Yorker’s music critic for 20+ years says “The critic’s function is not to lay down incontrovertible laws or pronounce absolute truths. It is to reflect his [or her] personal taste…and try to stimulate his [or her] readers into accepting or rejecting it according to their own lights…” I found this extremely helpful because journalists must always remember that it’s not our duty to say what’s good or bad for someone else. We can state our own opinions (supported by reliable references) but there has to be some room for the reader to have their own voice whether it agrees with us or not.
“Profiles provide specificity – the micro that illustrates the macro.” says Jacqui Banaszynski in Telling True Stories. If anyone remembers Harry from our last class meeting, then this quote definitely defines what Banaszynski is trying to say when it comes to profile stories. Profile pieces are meant to give a reader a sense of connection to a person in a matter of minutes with the help of vivid details and tons of in-depth information even the general public may not be familiar with.
Banaszynski delivers several tips in the reading on how to approach a profile story and what writers should keep in mind during their process of collecting information. Banaszynski says, “The key to reporting for a profile is figuring out the questions. Interviews are crucial.” This cannot be stressed enough! The interview is probably the most valued part of a profile piece because that’s where the audience is able to hear from the source directly or even from the source’s close friends and family members. We’ve discussed in class several times that it’s never good to ask the typical “yes and no” questions because they get us nowhere. Think further. If your source is a cake designer, it’s not best to simply ask why do they like making cakes. Really engage in a conversation with the source and ask a more detailed question such as “What inspirations drew you to becoming the cake designer you are today and how?” That sort of question automatically guarantees you a longer answer instead of something short and dry.
Aside from that, the reading helped by describing a few types of profiles including cradle-to-current (sweep of a person’s life), niche (biographical information), and paragraph (story format). Each type of profile presented a subject/issue and applied each of the different profiles to it for clarity.
To really understand your subject even more, Tomas Alex Tzion offers a few tips to help the writer see that their subject is just like anyone else with a story. He states “Every story has a protagonist who wants something, and must work through a series of obstacles to obtain it Every good story, and every great profile is a quest.” This stood out to me because it’s pretty much the ultimate goal a writer should aim for when trying to explore another person’s life for their readers’ sake. Always remember that.
As mentioned before in my previous post, Anne Hull really wants aspiring writers to understand and master the art of being in the room without interrupting the what is occurring. As a reporter, it’s sometimes hard to cover a story without everyone gawking at you in a public place or composing an interview without making the source feel a bit awkward as you take notes, but this reading excerpt definitely delivers some excellent tips to covering a story and capturing those amazing moments effectively without disturbing the peace. Hull makes a very valid point under her first tip Observe carefully stating:
“Think like a photographer. Watch. Change location. At a family dinner, change your place around the dining table. Keep moving, keep shifting your point of view, and keep quiet. Try not to interrupt the flow of events.”
This is a brilliant approach to any story. By doing so, you are able to pick up different angles of a story. You are able to make the story more diverse and filled with vibrant detail to engage the reader into the dinner taking place opposed to simply stating what is going on. Invite your readers into your story. I’ve always thought of a story like a tea session. You set the table with little snacks and cups of freshly brewed tea to sway your guest into taking part in your tea party and once they’re settled, you begin to share your story and take them through your daily life with the assistance of details. Let’s be real. Without capturing those indescribable moments, what am I offering the reader…nothing.
Hull also speaks about how the story should have a geographical heart, which is extremely true. The setting is and will always be stressed in every story. Who knows who will be reading your story? That person may know someone in that area or even better…they may be from that area and that could be a plus in drawing them into your story. Hull asks that we pay close attention to everything in the location from the food the locals order to chatting with owners of small businesses to get a sense of the town.
All these things make a difference between a good story and great story.