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America’s Best Newspaper Writing – Chapter 5

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Business and Explanatory journalism can be tricky to get people interested in. Most people don’t want to read stories full of facts, figures and explanations. The trick is to put these things into common language that the public can understand. Technical language needs to be translated in order to gain the interest of those outside of the field of interest. Journalists must also use numbers carefully. You don’t want to fill a story with too many figures or you’ll lose the interest of the readers. This ties into the pacing of information. You can’t throw your readers all the facts and figures at once, you need to carefully distribute them throughout the story. Pay close attention to the needs of your readers, if they don’t need all the facts and figures, don’t give them to them.

William Blundell uses a specific equation when he writes his stories. He categorizes the information so it is easier for him to form it into a story. He first deals with the history of the subject he is reporting on. He looks at the scope of the story, what exactly he’s going to talk about. He then looks at the central political, social and economic reasons behind what is going on. Then he deals with the impact of the subject, then contrary forces and finally looks ahead to the future to let readers know how this will affect them later. These different categories can help reporters to come up with a focus and also structure their story well. Blundell also emphasizes the importance of repetition. If journalists want to make a point, they need to bring it up over and over again, but just in different ways. This can be done through figures, anecdotes and quotes. You also want to tease the readers in the lead with your important point.

Peter Rinearson uses the idea of “gold coins” to keep readers interested in his stories. After the lead and initial information, readers can tend to get bored with the explanation of facts and figures. However, Rinearson uses gold coins of interesting information throughout the story to keep his readers reading. He says that to make your readers understand the story, you must understand it. It is better to look stupid to your sources by asking lots of questions then to look stupid to your readers. Rinearson finds a way to keep it interesting and understandable, even when he’s writing about something like the Boeing 757. He adds humor with the chicken guns and keeps the technical terms to a minimum.

Michael Gartner creates lyrical editorials by using word play. The best wordplay for journalism is repetition, alliteration and one and two word sentences. These can all combine to give the story a rhythmic feel.

Other great articles:

The Burger That Shattered Her Life by Michael Moss

What I thought was interesting about this article was how Moss combines a feature/profile story with an explanatory story about E. Coli in meat. He puts technical terms into understandable language and makes the story easier to ingest (no pun intended) by adding a human element with the profile.

Plague of Plastic Chokes the Sea by Kenneth Weiss

Weiss uses a good technique to focus his story. He starts small by telling the story of the specific bird and then expands on that to draw in his main issue of pollution in the ocean. Also the pictures with the story are awesome.

The French Fry Connection by Richard Read

Read writes this explanatory piece as a story, which makes it easy to read. It flows together nicely to keep readers interested.

Battling the Bulge by Thomas Burton

I chose this story because Burton makes something that could be hard to understand very simple. Medical pieces can turn into a mess of medical jargon that won’t apply to the general public, but Burton uses simple terms to interest everyone. For example, he says “aneurysms arise when a thinning, weakening section of an artery wall balloons out.” He uses the term balloons instead of some medical term.

Big Burn: Just for Show? By Julie Cart and Bettina Boxall

This article is also told like a story, with a chronological explanation of the event. I also liked the use of the graphic with the story because it helps to make it more understandable.


Written by juliasayers

March 18, 2011 at 9:12 am

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