I write, therefore, I report

We talked this morning about how important good reporting is to good writing. You really cannot write around a lack of detail, can’t fake certainty about the perfect verb (unless you saw the way the guy walked out of prison, and you wrote it down, you can’t write it).

Joel Achenbach thinks so, too. Here’s a short, powerful piece of work he did on the skills a good writer needs most.


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6 Responses to I write, therefore, I report

  1. emmavandelinder says:

    Interesting. I think paragraph four, about being open to a story when it presents itself and not having an agenda, is an issue that we come across daily. It’s hard to conceptualize a story and do research for it while also not forming a rigid theme.

    I am currently working on an article about foster care. I thought, going into it, that I would be covering the same information about how difficult it is for foster parents and the financial burden that weights on families who take in foster children. But as I interviewed more and more people I realized that the story is entirely different, and the foster community has issues they want to cover that are not at all what I planned on covering. I had to totally revamp my questioning and line of thought on this one.

    Interesting piece.

  2. This was a good read! I liked how it touched on what we’ve been talking about lately, thorough reporting leading to good writing.

    I especially liked the last large paragraph about the necessity of having a big heart in order to be a good writer. I couldn’t agree more.

    The fundamental job of a journalist is to care, and then, in turn, to make other people care. This “big heart” mentioned by Joel Achenbach forces the writer to ask insightful questions and receive insightful responses in return because they are genuinely curious about the topic or subject. Writers also have the complex job of capturing and conveying the human spirit and experience. And in doing so, successfully, they make the reader care.

  3. Austin Huguelet says:

    Interesting and helpful article. I think the description of a great reporters as those who “have read a lot, and thought a lot” made the biggest impact upon me.

    I think sometimes I get so immersed in going from one story to the next that I don’t stop and think about new ideas or search for them in another story or book. I know it’s important to stay busy, but it’s also important to realize that the best stories can take time.

  4. Pingback: Stop and Think | Austin Huguelet

  5. tmcook23 says:

    I think this also goes back to what we talked about in lecture: how good reporting stems from finding the right sources. I remember writing a story last summer about MU going “smoke-free.” When I initially picked up the pitch, I thought it would be a story with people saying how happy they were the university had made the decision. I didn’t expect much backlash (if anything, they’d be indifferent … but what non-smoker wouldn’t be happy about that, I thought.). But one of my sources, a regular smoker openly told me that the policy would in no way affect her decision to continue smoking on campus. She made good points about the lack of external consequences and incentive for smokers to abide by the “policy.” Her story gave me a narrative to work with, and it also gave me new questions to take back to my “health” sources.

    I also liked the part in Achenbach’s post about having “a big heart.” I’d say that’s part of why Missourian life stories are so popular. It takes a journalist to really care about the family’s stories and anecdotes to write a good life story. Page views and personal feedback show that the audience appreciates it, too.

  6. I think Achenbach’s note on the empathy that is required in a journalist–and photojournalists, too–is spot on. There is a misconception among people, as well as among journalists, that in order to correctly report on an issue we must be cold and aloof from our subjects. While we do have to remain a third-party, the moment we stop feeling anything for the people we’re writing about we need to quit. On the spot. Because really, feeling passionate about the people we interview is the most redeeming part about what we do. We barge into people’s lives with the altruistic intent on documenting and exposing the truth, and oftentimes we get so caught up in the fevered search for truth and information that we are in danger of forgetting our sources are people. Our empathy guides us as we hunt down the truth, and keeps us from harming the people we most want to help.

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