By Christina Elias
A reporter’s ability to produce content on a deadline is essential in a digital age when news is happening around the clock. The first chapter of America’s Best Newspaper Writing emphasizes the importance of good reporting when in a crunch, and offers multiple examples of good writing under pressure.
Deadline writing doesn’t have to be bland and dry – journalists can still tell stories creatively and compellingly without the benefit of extra time. Part of being able to do that is figuring out how to best utilize one’s time during the reporting process in order to be able to put the story together effectively.
Richard Ben Cramer
Richard Ben Cramer is a highly-decorated veteran journalist who has done some of his best reporting under deadline. While reporting from the Middle East, Cramer made a conscious effort to highlight the people affected by institutions like national governments. According to the book, “The piece is so tightly constructed and moves with such elegant symbolism that it seems the product of long careful planning.”
Cramer’s example shows stories with tight deadlines don’t have to be boring or basic – he produced a compelling, creative piece in a short amount of time without sacrificing journalistics values. His article, titled “Shiva for a Child Slain in a Palestinian Raid,” informs readers through personal experiences, rather than government reports or press releases. He lets them tell their own story. The use of their direct quotes is effective in terms of emotional response, and also seems like an easier way of retelling events than through his own understanding, which could have saved him time on deadline.
Leonora LaPeter’s writing is an excellent example of deadline writing because of her deliberate choices based on her reporting. The headline is sharp, to the point and so are her blunt first paragraphs. What stands out is the simultaneous storytelling in the beginning: explaining the sentence handed down while describing the crimes that set off the court case. LaPeter wove facts into dramatic storytelling without compromising the integrity of the article. LaPeter focuses on telling the story of the convicted and the victims rather than going into the legal jargon of the case.
David Von Drehle
David Von Drehle used chronological storytelling and vivid quotations in his article titled “Men of Steel Are Melting With Age.” When he was on a deadline, rather than trying to organize information using an inverted pyramid style (most important/compelling information first), he decided to let the story tell itself. The book describes his style in terms of a fiction novel.
The amount of detail in Von Drehle’s writing is extremely impressive simply because writing on a deadline can make people less likely to take notice of the little, seemingly unimportant thing. Von Drehle obviously knew that with this type of story, intricate details would only add more value to his storytelling.
Francis X. Clines
Francis X. Clines’ article demonstrates the importance of getting out of the newsroom and going to the scene. While going to the scene, talking to people and making observations are important, Clines’ philosophy was to not let too much sneak into a story to keep it simple: “It is, after all, a story first, and not a catalog of comments.” Working under a deadline forced him to decide what was important and would add real value to the story as a whole, rather than distracting from it.
Other examples of deadline writing:
By Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times
Like Cramer’s article, Thomas Erdbrink uses personal experiences to explain what certain policies look like in action. He uses a narrative style that adds context to facts that might have already been reported.
By Noah Remnick, The New York Times
Noah Remnick sets the scene for readers through great observational details and multiple quotations that allow people to tell personal stories, rather than generalizations.
By Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein and Marc Fisher, The Washington Post
This article condenses what probably would have been a lot of political jargon and complicated processes into understandable bites for readers, with supporting quotes from sources when their voices fit best. Deadline writing about political processes is probably better done when condensed and clarified for a public who might not be well educated about how the federal government works.