Scott gave you two stories to read about the fracking boom. One, ” Y’all Smell That? That’s the Smell of Money,” was published in Texas Monthly in October 2014. The other, “Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents,” was published by Inside Climate News in February 2014.
Here’s what he asked you to do: Look at both these stories and respond in the comments below this post with your observations about the different frames these two stories adopt. Scott says: “The difference between the primary frames — fracking is good vs. fracking is bad — is pretty obvious. But there also nuances within those primary frames that can be analyzed and discussed. What sources do each of the authors use, and how are they treated? Who does the author believe are the stakeholders that have a place in the story, and how prominent are each of those stakeholders? How are the pros and the cons of fracking discussed, if at all? How do the photographs contribute to the frames? In the Texas Monthly example, you might even notice that advertising contributes to the frame.”
You’re about to take the plunge into a completely different kind of class. Come to think of it, “class” might not be the best way to describe the experience you’re about to have. You’re about to become a reporter, with lots of help from lots of people. If you’ve done a little reporting before, that’s great. If you haven’t, do not despair: You’re not alone. And we won’t let you fail.
Unless you don’t meet us halfway.
What do I mean by that? As Woody Allen once said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
Showing up, in the context of the reporting class, means doing more than just occupying a seat in the newsroom or in class or on assignment. It means really being present, paying attention, and thinking, thinking, thinking. It means: asking for help when you need it, after you’ve done as much as you can on your own:
- (very carefully) reading (not “skimming”) the previous reporting on the topic you’re covering and taking notes on it
- making a list of the people you need to talk to and research you need to read
- making another list of all the questions you need to ask and checking them off, one by one.
Showing up — being present and prepared — will allow us to help you do really well in reporting and walk away with the kind of experience (and clips) you came here to get.
This is the Missouri Method. It’s not just marketing. It really works. If you don’t believe me, I can give you the phone numbers of about 20 people you can talk to — former students — and some of them have already won Pulitzer Prizes. Ask them if this whole thing works.
You might want to know what not showing up looks like:
- Not showing up. I mean, like, physically, because you’re afraid of this whole reporting thing. Understandable, but self-destructive
- Not paying attention in class or in our morning meeting
- Not volunteering for stories
- Not taking advice from editors
- Not making to-do lists
- Not writing down what people tell you
- Not using social media to share your work, others’ work, thoughts and ideas
- Not coming into the newsroom with ideas
- Not thinking like a reporter (“Hey, that might be a story!”).
Good luck. It’s going to be waaaay more fun than you think.
You’ve been a reporter, now, for at least one semester. You’ve called total strangers on the telephone or walked up to them on the street and asked them questions, sometimes sensitive ones. You’ve asked them to share personal stories with you, sometimes painful ones.
You’re still somewhat new to this journalism thing, so you’re (hopefully) not cynical, yet, or not too cynical to have some pretty worthwhile ideas about this battle we’re in right now for the public’s trust, which is closely linked in many people’s minds to the survival and health of our democracy.
So we want to know what you think:
What is the greatest threat to journalism right now?
What we can do about it, and what makes you think that might work?
Oh, and before you write, maybe you want to engage in some useful procrastination. Have a look at this amazing thing The Oatmeal did.
Sorry about the bad words, but this is brilliant. It’s part of the puzzle.
We’ve been reading and talking about C.J. Chivers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning feature, “The Fighter,” and one of the insights you heard was related to his use of first person in the story and the justification of that later, when he plays an active role in the story.
Chivers plays a direct part in getting Sam Siatta out of prison where, arguably, he should never have been in the first place and where he was sure to become more ill.
This is a role that journalism and journalists sometimes play indirectly through the impact of their journalism and/or through their actions as journalists in the service of a conviction that a great wrong has been done.
What if, on a daily basis, we could — through our journalism — engage communities more deeply by framing our stories to include solutions, rather than simply laying out the problem? Journalism often seems to be based on the implied assumption that all we need do is inform people about the existence of a problem. The rest is up to other people to figure out.
What if we’ve been more than half wrong most of the time?
By Tuesday morning class time, I would like you to read this Solutions Journalism Toolkit and get grounded in what solutions journalism is and how some newsrooms have begun to practice it — to eyebrow-raising effect.
I would also like you to save this PDF to your desktop because you will have to use it for a short assignment later this week.
We missed one. Nieman Storyboard didn’t.
What makes it so good?
Don’t forget that you’re expected to arrive in class tomorrow with your red pencil sharpened and your thinking cap all lit up to talk about C.J. Chivers’ Pulitzer Prize-winning story, The Fighter.
Here are those elements again from Jack Hart’s “A Writer’s Coach” that I asked you to look at:
- Force (from verb choice, in particular)
- Brevity (from verb tense, by avoiding depleted words, too)
- Clarity (by using shorter sentences, defining terms, re-identifying characters)
- Rhythm (through the music in the words, the alliteration, the cycles of sound, the “rule of three” and by pacing)
- Humanity (through scenes, anecdotes, vignettes, that perfect quote)
- Color (through the well-chosen, telling details and broader description)
- Voice (oh, that indefinable imprint, that combination of all the others, that makes each of us unique as a writer, if only we could clear away the pomposity, the clutter, the bureaucratese).
And the last criterion for evaluation:
- How well does the story justify its existence? This should get you thinking about the context the story provides, not just in the form of the good-ol’ nut graf but in other forms. How well does the writer re-connect the specific facts to the broader issue?
Finally, don’t forget to look at the structure. What do you notice about how it’s put together?
See you tomorrow.
Every time John Schneller starts talking about words and meaning, I get this old song in my head by the Tom Tom Club.
But never mind about that. This is a serious subject because we in the news media have a terrible tendency to pick up other people’s use of words and use it in our work, without thinking about the impact. I remember keenly how much I hated the word “downsizing” when I first heard it, and I ranted and raved about calling a layoff by its proper name.
And then there was “improvised explosive device” for bomb.
Recently, the word “reform” has taken a beating from readers in the New York Times.
John’s going to be talking about words and meaning tomorrow morning in class. Please read this interesting piece in CJR in preparation for that discussion.