Seamless sourcing

Amanda Hinnant from the magazine faculty will join us in class tomorrow and talk about sourcing with depth and smarts, drawing on her experience in the magazine world.

She sent this link to me from Esquire magazine and asked me to share it with you. Please read it before class tomorrow.

I had not read this before, though I was aware of the “Falling Man” photograph. Written by Tom Junod, Esquire considers it one of the best pieces of journalism the magazine has ever published.

I found myself holding my breath while I read it, if that tells you anything.

But what I want you to notice is how seamlessly it’s sourced. It’s packed with research and interviews, but the writer is in total command of the material. The writing is great, but without the sourcing, “Falling Man” wouldn’t have half the force (believe me, I searched for another word and they’re all problematic).

This story will tempt us into another ethical discussion of graphic images, but we’re not going to have that conversation tomorrow. It’s about reporting.

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42 Responses to Seamless sourcing

  1. asgrund says:

    Wow.
    This piece included many perspectives. The emotions were very human and powerful. The author did a good job to cause me, as a reader, to feel those emotions. The author also did a good job of keeping all of those perspectives separate and clear. The spacing and the bold words helped a lot with that. I found this topic especially poignant, since we talked about The Falling Man and 9/11 in Communications Law today [Monday].

  2. Amazing. Simply amazing.

    We actually just talked about the ethics of publishing The Falling Man photograph in my photo class today and there were mixed opinions to say the least.

    This article exemplifies everything we’ve been learning this semester. Sourcing, voice (your own and the people’s), organization, raising questions, answering questions, objectivity. The way Junod allows the sources to be told through him is natural and genuine and what every reporter doing an in-depth story should strive for.

    The storytelling aspect is phenomenal. Every voice is as important as the next; nothing feels frivolous and it wouldn’t be the same without the depth that each one adds. You can follow along with him on his search to uncover the truth behind this photograph and hear him asking the questions we want the answers to.

    Just a beautiful piece written about a story that no one really wants to hear/relive, but has to be told.

  3. Sean Leahy says:

    It would be one thing if the author merely described the scene of people falling from news reports and photos, but you can tell he went to great lengths to talk to eyewitnesses and the article is that much better for it. You feel the heartbreak and shock of the crowd as people fall from the towers.

    All the voices we hear in this story make it compelling and complex — and plead us to read on.

  4. danramey says:

    Wow, this piece is simply amazing.

    The research and work that Junod put into the article is evident throughout the piece. He left virtually no stones unturned to tell this story. Thanks to a huge variety of sources and a unique voice, Junod is able to delve into a complex, emotional and controversial topic and deliver a piece that was truly powerful and moving. I was captivated from beginning to end.

    I really like how Junod shows off the complexity of the story with his variety of sources. This is the type of story where the easiest thing to do would be to just get a couple of opinions on just the main sides of the issue and go from there. However, that sort of approach would not capture the story and would in fact do a disservice to the story itself. Junod’s sourcing just helps make this a truly phenomenal piece of journalism.

  5. Dustin says:

    Wow. Amazing writing, some of the phrases just pull at you.

    “..we have somehow taken it upon ourselves to deem their deaths unworthy of witness — because we have somehow deemed the act of witness, in this one regard, unworthy of us.”

    One point: paid witnesses – an interesting take on our job.

  6. Caitlin Wherley says:

    This is probably one of the best articles I’ve ever read. Like Katherine said, it made me hold my breath.
    I had never seen the photo of ‘The Falling Man’ before reading this article, and it had never occurred to me that the images of jumpers had been pulled from the media.
    Junod didn’t try and sugar coat the events of Sept. 11 — he goes where few reporters dared to go because of the sensitivity of the subject.
    His relentless sourcing and objectivity lend to this story in ways that I can’t explain, other than to say that without the different sources and their quotes, I don’t think this would have made Esquire’s list of top stories.
    Sourcing is what makes a story more believable.

  7. I can’t really even begin to fathom the amount of time and effort and emotion went into writing and producing a piece like this one.

    He took a photograph and produced a breathtaking piece of work.

    But it’s what went on behind the scenes that blows my mind. All of the people and the searching it took to find them, the background research, the countless hours that went into talking to who knows how many people about a tragedy no one could truly comprehend. It was everything we’ve been learning in one piece.

    I feel like I’ll have more to say later especially after class tomorrow, I think I just need time to let it all sink in.

  8. baileywrites says:

    I’m going to risk being an outlier here, but I’m not sure this piece should have been written. Maybe I’m just too sensitive, but I don’t believe that everything we can write about should be written about. I have pretty strong feelings about graphic images, and this piece made me realize that I have similar feelings toward graphic writing.

    I’m not trying to offend anyone who really thinks this is valuable journalism, I’m not insulting Cheney’s sourcing efforts. But I could have lived without reading this.

    • Tony Flesor says:

      I had mixed feelings as I read the article. At times I agreed with you, I thought that this reporter has no business doing this just because it was an assignment. At other times, I thought that this was a story that should be told.

      What it really came down to for me, is that this writer tells the story in a way that deserves to be told. This writing is art and one of the main points of the story is that we are ignoring this subject. Like Junod writes, it’s part of history and how we remember that day.

      Junod’s article could have easily been used as a demonstration of accuracy, organization or writing quality as well as sourcing. It’s just well done all around. I shared your sentiment about him questioning people about whether or not they knew the falling man – I felt for those families. But by the end, I bought in to what Junod was doing.

  9. kebedefaith says:

    The uncomfortable nature of this article is something we need to approach confidently but not arrogantly. It would be a disservice to history and the victims if something like this was not pursued and published. Junod did not take a judgmental stance toward the decision to jump, nor did he endorse obsessing over the images, so I think he was justified in going after this story.

    The way he walked the reader through the reporting process and going through potential names and faces of the Falling Man was invaluable and nerve-racking. Being transparent about how families, especially the Hernandezs, reacted added a layer of complexity and depth. Though the nature of the topic spoke for itself (especially being a reader who is American), Junod drew me in closer and zoomed into the lives most affected and the many stakeholders in the private and public sphere.

    The outstanding question: was calling the families with only limited information to provide about the picture a smart reporting decision? Sure the end result was a great article forcing America to examine why we excluded “the jumpers” from our grieving process, but what about Tatiana who is haunted by not knowing whether it really was her father who jumped? The picture surfacing only added confusion, not clarity or thought-provoking inquiries for her.

  10. EmokeBebiak says:

    As I was reading the piece, I felt like I was watching a carefully directed movie. The different pieces of the story where like scenes. The author was panning, zooming in and out, and yet I didn’t notice this fictional camera movement at all, because I was so invested in the story.

    As I was reading the opening paragraph about the man falling, I imagined what it’d be like to be free falling knowing that this is the end of my life. It was a bizarre experience to think about this. I found the writing very powerful because it had such a deep and profound impact on me.

    • Brooke Shunatona says:

      Exactly. The story was so visual. I thought it read like a movie, too.

      Every section ran smoothly with the next, and each source was perfectly placed in the story. Without the sources, I think the story still could have had an impact by subject matter alone, but the families and people are what really told the story. And the way Junod pieced everything together was truly remarkable and something to be admired.

  11. Allison Seibel says:

    That picture took my breath away. I’ve been to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in NYC before and went on a tour around Ground Zero led by survivors of 9/11 who were actually in the WTC when the planes hit – they were luckily below where the planes hit. The one man only mentioned the “jumpers” very briefly. “We all know what happened and what people were doing – and I saw it as I was coming out of the building.” It was obvious that he was very scarred by what he saw and that was all he was going to say about it. I thought about him and what he said a lot while I was reading this article. It was awful enough for us to see it on television, but imagine being right there and seeing it first hand. I really wonder how he would feel about this.

    Anyways, as for the sources in this piece, I think the reporter nailed it. He didn’t have to mention the first man Norberto at all, because from what his family says it sounds like it may not be him it all. But I think the story of how his family felt just added so much to the piece. The emotions he captured in using all of these different families questioning whether or not their family member was “the Falling Man” just made this piece so deep and makes the reader understand how this photo, and really the entire event of 9/11, impacted so many families. Without these sources I don’t think the piece would be much.

  12. alecialass says:

    This article gave me goosebumps the whole time I was reading it… It made me remember when I first heard the news, where I was, etc.
    I really like all of the emotions he caught by talking to all of the different families. The one that struck me the most was Norberto’s oldest daughters reaction…
    I understand that this is a sensitive subject, but something that played such a major role in our history might need a little bit of news coverage. I think that he did a great job with this piece, and I feel like he carefully thought this out before publishing…

  13. I loved this. Although it didn’t really seem like an article to me. Maybe because it was so cleverly written, maybe because of the tone that the author took….either way I loved it.

    There were many lines that stuck out to me and especially tugged on the strings of my heart, but I want to talk specifically about this one:
    “But should those calls be made? Should those questions be asked? Would they only heap pain upon the already anguished? Would they be regarded as an insult to the memory of the dead, the way the Hernandez family regarded the imputation that Norberto Hernandez was the Falling Man? Or would they be regarded as steps to some act of redemptive witness?”

    First of all, I have one simple question: would knowing the identity of this person add anything to the story/picture? In my opinion, no. Personally, I think that the anonymity of the individual in the photograph adds something special. It has brought together (although through hardship) many people. Some of these people would like to wish that it was their loved one, so they have one last memory of them on Sept. 11th, some would like to wish that it could never be their loved one (with good reason). All in all, I think as journalists we try to include whatever we think our readers will be able to benefit from. In this case, I don’t think a name adds anything. This picture is already very real, heart wrenching, and in the moment.

    • Allison Seibel says:

      I think that’s such a good point: we don’t need a name. The anonymity does add something (I keep trying to put that ‘something’ into words and I can’t quite get there.) And I think the author really tastefully honored this man…whether or not he is the man people think he is.

  14. I loved the way that the author approached this story. It was pieced together from so many directions and it all created this great, big picture that in the end, was what we started with. It was almost a poetic way of telling this story and I think it was an extremely effective use of sources, voice and overall technique. Exploring the importance of a picture and trying to put that importance into words almost always comes out lacking in some way but I think that this piece covered all of the angles and really succeeded in pulling the reader into the story and into the photo.

  15. rosiedowney says:

    I love uber detailed writing and this is uber detailed writing at its very best. I was totally enthralled the entire time, even though I had no idea where this story was going or what the outcome would be. It’s a tough subject for sure but the writer really did the topic justice by being so thorough.

  16. maryals says:

    just wow.

    and I agree with Whitney. When I read the part about the editor assigning the job of finding the identity of the Falling Man to someone my first thought was why? Knowing the identity of the guy doesn’t really serve a purpose.

    A powerful story to go along with a powerful picture. Great writing, one of those pieces that I’m envious of because of the dedication and skill that it takes to research and write.

  17. rynashley says:

    A) This is the best link I may have ever gotten. Mostly because as soon as I saw Esquire, I knew it would be a good one. Then I read “Falling Man” and knew exactly what article it was. It was the only one of the seven “greatest stories in the history of Esquire” that I read all the way through. That was months ago.

    B) It was stunning. It still is stunning. The symmetry of the picture. The text describes it perfectly. He looks relaxed, as if he’s excepted the inevitable, and it was captured by chance. A great lesson in breaking news(, before I really knew what breaking news was).

    C) It’s also great contrast to the Tom Junod I know. He’s a great writer-at-large, and witty. This article, however, has different flair. It’s has greater depth.

  18. I see the photo, and I shudder. I cringe. I squirm.

    I read the lead, and I read it again. It stops me. It captivates me. “In the picture, he departs from this earth like an arrow.” It’s poetic. In a way, it’s beautiful.

    Junod knows the art of writing. This piece is artfully written, carefully crafted.

    (I typed those as I read the first few paragraphs. Here are my afterthoughts.)

    The feeling Junod mentions at the AP, “that feeling of history being manufactured,” really strikes me. It creates a respect for journalism, and it makes me think about the seriousness of being journalists. We are the historians of now, of the day-to-day, of the moments. We are the historians of now, living in the know.

    This story is about much more than a photo taken on September 11 and the attempts made to identify the man, and Junod knows it — his writing makes it clear. It’s a story about human emotion. Raw, human emotion.

    I can see the struggle people have with not wanting to talk about “the jumpers,” and the question about whether we should really write about such things. I think there is a strong reason to do it. It’s painful, but we live in a messy world, and there’s no denying it. And trying to hide the pain or the gruesomeness will not take it away or make it any better.

    But, like Junod’s story shows, the details aren’s always clear. And that’s okay. Sometimes, it’s more about a picture of humanity than about a picture of a person.

  19. P.S. I got so captivated by the story I forgot about the original topic it was posted with on this blog. I just re-read, and remembered, “Oh, yeah…sourcing.” The sources blended so beautifully, I almost didn’t even think about how many there were. He made them fit naturally together, so I was never jarred as another source came into the scene.

  20. Ben Frentzel says:

    I saw this picture for the first time in my basic photography class today at 3 p.m. I couldn’t stop feeling everything I could ever feel.

    A picture is worth a thousand words? No…a picture is sometimes priceless, valueless and simultaneously, the most powerful thing we can create.

  21. sakitu says:

    I agree with Esquire– this is one of their best pieces ever. And I’m definitely going to read the other six pieces they list as their best.

    The writing style and easy flow of the article makes you want to read it, no matter how or what you may feel towards 9/11. This is a powerful topic, and I wonder if and how this type of writing would work with something less emotional, something just “less.”

    I’ve never seen any pictures of the jumpers ’til now actually. My school turned the TVs off soon after it happened and, by the time I got home, the networks had stopped showing the human-side of 9/11… I find it interesting and a little sad that these photos are now relegated to shock sites only. But, I’m glad I saw this picture for the first time with such a great article accompanying it.

  22. Asif Lakhani says:

    The article (for the most part) is written well, even beautifully at some points (“But now the Falling Man is falling through more than the blank blue sky. He is falling through the vast spaces of memory and picking up speed.”).
    It’s sourced exceptionally well, too. I imagine the amount of research it took for the article must have been a tiring, arduous and trying process. I don’t even know where I’d begin to look if I was writing this article, so the fact that the writer found this many sources who all had something unique and valuable to say is fascinating. Furthermore, Junod’s ability to organize and to remain in control of his article shines and really brings it all together.
    That being said, though, I’m with Bailey on this one. I could have lived without reading the article. I did, actually. It was written in 2003 and I hadn’t read it until now. I’m not saying the article was a waste of my time (see above), but just cause a picture is worth a thousand words doesn’t necessarily mean we have to read them all. Like Bailey, I’m not trying to offend anyone who values this piece. It is good, but it’s just not for me, I guess.
    I could very well be wrong, but I feel like sometimes it doesn’t hurt to put a cap on the amount of sources. Sometimes. The fact that there were so many people he talked to made the article somewhat difficult for me to read, although I guess the converse argument is that’s just a small representation of how much of an impact the picture and event had on witnesses and America as a whole. I did appreciate Junod’s description of when and why people began jumping (more good sourcing), but there some blanket statements (in that section and others) that made me cringe as a writer.
    Another qualm I had with the article is I felt it was somewhat sensationalized (“worst terrorist attack in the history of the world”). Maybe, but probably not. That wasn’t the only statement of its kind in the article either.
    The last point I’d like to make is something I noticed on my first read (and something Dustin also pointed out): paid witnesses. I’d love to talk about that in class in about nine hours.

  23. mmarkelz says:

    I’m tempted to not comment because of the backlash I could get, both spoken and unspoken, but here goes:

    I might be the only person who feels this way, and I swear I’m not playing devil’s advocate, but I really did not like the article, and I wasn’t emotionally moved.

    I found it hard to get invested because every source seemed like a second-hand account. I didn’t feel like the sources were telling the story, but that the reporter was speaking for the sources. I’ll point to this example:

    “A phone rings in Connecticut. A woman answers. A man on the other end is looking to identify a photo that ran in The New York Times on September 12, 2001. “Tell me what the photo looks like,” she says. It’s a famous picture, the man says — the famous picture of a man falling. “Is it the one called ‘Swan Dive’ on Rotten.com? the woman asks. It may be, the man says. “Yes, that might have been my son,” the woman says.”

    That either felt like a run-on or a telegram with the word “stop” at the end of each sentence. I can’t decide. Maybe that’s part of the beauty, but I guess I just don’t see it as beautiful. I see it as masking the honest emotion that conversation probably had.

    I think a good story is one where you don’t know the journalist was there, where it feels like you’re just experiencing what happened. In this piece, I felt the reporter’s presence with every emotion, memory and sensation, and it was a heavy, over-bearing presence.

    Did no one else feel this?

    • baileywrites says:

      I didn’t like it either, and I was also afraid to comment. Don’t really have a lot of energy to argue my stance. I called my boyfriend after I read this and started crying, not because I thought it was so beautifully written and was worth all the work the reporter put into it but because I thought a lot of what he did as a reporter was unethical. Some of the things in this article I thought were sick. The “wonderful calm” of the newsroom on the morning of Sept. 11:

      ‘There was no terror or confusion at the Associated Press. There was, instead, that feeling of history being manufactured; although the office was as crowded as he’d ever seen it, there was, instead, “the wonderful calm that comes into play when people are really doing their jobs.”‘

      When I read this I felt that if this is what journalism is, then I want no part in it. Asking a woman to identify a man in a photograph at her father’s funeral? Horrific.

      I think the writer is talented, the writing is poetic. But as I understand the power of an image, as a writer I understand equally if not moreso the power of words. If I wanted to I could find plenty of sources and write an epic poem type of story, but if it adds no value to the sources or the subject himself, I think it is our responsibility to refrain.

      • zhangyiqian says:

        I’m so glad there are people that feel the same way as I do. I think the writing is good but what’s the point of depicting something like that in a beautiful way? Non-fiction, maybe, but journalistic writing?

      • Allison Seibel says:

        I liked the story, but I do have to agree with you on some points. I would never agree to, or even think about showing that picture to a family at their loved one’s funeral. Never. They are in tons of pain already, how dare he add to that pain asking if a picture of a man jumping out of a building is the man who’s funeral they are at. That’s not ok with me.

        I also thought that the “calm” in the newsroom was a little disturbing. The way he described “history being manufactured” made it sound (to me) that they thought it was a positive thing…maybe not the event itself but that it was positive for journalism. He probably didn’t mean that this way…but that’s how I took it. And that kind of made me cringe.

    • I agree with you Michelle and Bailey.

      Although this piece does include exceptional writing, the obvious presence of the author was distracting for me. It is a very different feel from stories that Michelle likes, where you don’t know the journalist was there, and I found myself questioning whether or not the journalist’s own belief about the ethics of reporting and showing the image were influencing how the piece was written.

      I also cannot deny that I agree with Bailey when she says, “When I read this I felt that if this is what journalism is, then I want no part in it. Asking a woman to identify a man in a photograph at her father’s funeral? Horrific.” I will acknowledge as everyone else has that contacting all of these sources must have been time consuming and led to a rounded out story, but the nature of the sources was another distracting point for me.

      We often discuss our responsibility as journalists to inform the public, but I think this sourcing had nothing to do with that responsibility, was possibly overstepping the ethics of journalism, and in the end distracted me from what was a beautifully written story.

  24. Lizabeth Hartnett says:

    I actually read this article before Katherine pointed out its sourcing and the first thing I thought was, “wow, he has a ton of information in this piece.”

    I love the way Tom Junod wrote this. It’s different in its style and its storytelling and it’s so engaging.
    And as for the picture? Did anyone else get chills up their spine when they opened the link and relived it?

  25. dkoray says:

    I don’t have strong opinions about the appropriateness of the article although I was very surprised that the editor of the Toronto Globe and Mail would send out a top reporter to attempt to verify the identity of a single individual, when there were far more compelling stories resulting from the tragedy.

    However, I thought that Junod was able to pull off a very difficult article. He had dozens of sources, and many of them were at least somewhat hostile to the concept of his article, yet he wrote a very cohesive piece and seemed very fair to all of his sources. On the other hand, I can see why people could point to this type of reporting as an example for why people can despise journalists. While Junod, Richard Drew, and Peter Cheney are all presumably well-meaning individuals, their work on and after 9/11 is certainly controversial because of the journalists’ proximity to death.

    When Junod writes that photographs coming out of Holocaust camps (although this could be different, if the photographs were taken by Holocaust victims), assassinations in the 1960s, and the atrocities in the Vietnam War were treated differently than the 9/11 photographs, I wonder if this is actually an accurate claim.

  26. Tom Junod always has an amazing perspective and a powerful style to go along with every story he writes.

    “And so it went. In 9/11, the documentary extracted from videotape shot by French brothers Jules and Gedeon Naudet, the filmmakers included a sonic sampling of the booming, rattling explosions the jumpers made upon impact but edited out the most disturbing thing about the sounds: the sheer frequency with which they occurred.”

    Amazing.

  27. Caitlin Miller says:

    I thought this was a very well written story. To me it lacked the harsh, “matter-of-fact” tone we sometimes see in journalism. I think this is very smooth and seamless. The writing style is very fluid and relies heavily on imagery. I am a big fan of how the author threw in facts and sources without you really even realizing it. Everything just seemed to fit. As a photo major, it is interesting to see a beautiful story come out of a moving image.

  28. pavan says:

    I liked this article. Its length would outstrip my attention if the article weren’t so compellingly written.

  29. Aimee Gutshall says:

    I am not quite sure what to say, I found myself speechless when reading this article.

    This photo and article are incredible. They truly go hand in hand. They style of writing and structure of the article helped me look at the photograph in a different way. It wasn’t the emotional effect but the reality effect. Taking people from different places, different backgrounds that were all affected by 9/11 and telling their perspectives.

    I wish more journalists would take this leap. Take a plunge when you feel like the story should be told. But tell it in a way that people will never forget.

  30. jaclyndipasquale says:

    The detail in the article is astounding. Being a magazine major I’ve read a lot of magazine articles, but nothing like this. This is what all magazine writers (and even print) should aim to be like.

  31. “It is not up to him to reject the images that fill his frame, because one never knows when history is made until one makes it.”
    Perfect example of why one should always capture what they see – and figure it out later if it is newsworthy or not, rather than letting a bystander control your coverage.

  32. Sydney Berry says:

    The amount of perspectives and sources that went into this story is phenomenal. I can’t imagine how long it took to get all of the different sources and information. It really helped to up the amount of detail, which I think is very important.
    However, I was not emotionally moved. Perhaps it is because I, myself have the reporting experience. I could only think of how intrusive it was for Junod to show the picture at the funeral. Go to the funeral, get information on the family, and seek them out later. Bringing that kind of grief to a funeral is unethical.
    I also don’t like him throwing around names of who could possibly be the falling man. This is speculation. Leave it out.

    • As Katherine said in class and as evidence by the article, it was NOT Junod who went to the funeral. It was the other reporter, Chetney, that thought he had identified the man as Norberto.
      “So he went to the funeral. He brought his print of Drew’s photograph with him and showed it to Jacqueline Hernandez, the oldest of Norberto’s three daughters. She looked briefly at the picture, then at Cheney, and ordered him to leave.”
      Just trying to clear things up so we’re not questioning the wrong person’s ethics. Either way though, yes I agree. A funeral is absolutely not the place to talk to the grieving family in such a way.
      Also I think that the whole point of the story IS the speculation around who the falling man could be. The names that came up bring depth, humanity and an intimate connection with such a massive (although horrific) event. If he had not talked to the families who reporters and analysts speculated were connected to the man, there would be no story. The names are the story that surround the photograph. But that’s just my opinion.

  33. Molly B. says:

    The problem with the ethics behind this story lies in the fact that Peter Cheney made a lot of assumptions based on only ONE photograph, when in fact there were many photos of the same man, falling, that he failed to view (or, apparently, even ask to see). It was only after Junod (the Esquire writer) discovered the entire sequence of the photos did we find out that the man who jumped was NOT Hernandez. This is an atrocious reach by an eager journalist (Cheney), one who failed to see the serious issue behind someone willing to jump, namely the belief system of the affected family. And, he suffered no consequences over his rush to what he thought were facts.

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