By Christina Elias
The next chapter in “America’s Best Newspaper Writing” weighs the role of local reporting and beat assignments in journalism as a whole. It highlights writers who went beyond the bare minimum and went outside the box to creatively report their beat assignments.
The writers featured in this chapter used creative means to improve the relevance of their reporting to audiences, which depended on the type of reporting they were doing and what they wanted their message to be – “Whether the beat is weather, politics, education, health care or sports, communities need writers with a distinctive vision and a powerful voice, one that speaks directly to readers.”
New York Times reporter Rick Bragg is a shining example of good local reporting. His writing demonstrates how other types of storytelling (like oral traditions) can influence journalism writing. Bragg used incredible amounts of detail in his writing to show rather than tell readers – he painted portraits of the people he talked to and places he went. The detail was amplified through careful word choice. His editor’s blind editor, Henry Belk, used to say, “Make me see.” The authors write, “To make readers see, to allow them to witness the world from their breakfast tables, is the challenge for every writer. When you read Rick Bragg, he makes you see, and hear, and, most important, feel.”
The Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell is an interesting writer because of the unique style of his sportswriting. His work is notable because of “the flexibility of the form.” Boswell, like Bragg, is dedicated to detail and uses his descriptions as a form of storytelling in and of itself. His advice is for writers to find the central idea of their topic: “Once you find that idea or thread, all the other anecdotes, illustrations and quotes are pearls that you hang on this thread.”
He wrote “Losing It: Careers Fall Like Autumn Leaves” in this distinctive style, using imagery to set a scene for readers before getting into the nitty-gritty. He transitioned from informational to narrative throughout the piece to tell the story in a compelling way.
Jonathan Bor’s story about the first Syracuse resident to receive a heart transplant is striking because of the way he let the patient and doctor tell the story chronologically. Usually, journalists will sum everything up at the top and write from most to least important – the inverted pyramid method. Instead, the chronology allowed the reader into the process rather than watching from afar. Bor used his knowledge of his beat (health and medicine) in an interesting way rather than the routine method people usually associate with beat reporting.
Mitch Albom is a renowned sports columnist know for his in-depth pieces that tell a story. Albom said as a columnist, “you’re still obligated to report, and you’re still obligated to give people enough of the story that if they choose to disagree with you, there’s the detail and the evidence in the column.”
His article, “Mackenzie Football Star Another Gunplay Victim,” is unique in how the Dewon Jones’s story is told in ___ parts, each story within the story revolving around a gun and ending with his age as a marker of time. You can tell that the article is a column by the subtle commentary Albom offers, but it adds to the voice and storytelling rather than detracting from credibility. He waits until the end of Dewon’s story to make his argument about guns in American – by then readers are already invested in how Dewon’s story ends, and he incorporates gun use in general as part of that ending.
Russell Eshleman Jr.
Russell Eshleman, a reporter for The Philadelphia Enquirer, has won awards for his short writing, which is usually not what wins awards in journalism.He is an example of how good writers can be concise as well, which is an important skill to have in an age where readers’ attention spans hardly pass the first couple of paragraphs.
In both of his articles, he gets right to the point with no fluff but includes important information in a way that is amusing and not just boring, which is difficult to do when writing about government policies and proposals. He uses crisp language to keep readers’ attention and brighten what would otherwise be mundane policy updates.
Dan Neil works as an automotive critic for the Los Angeles Times after starting out covering obituaries and classified ads. What makes his work stand out is the incredible word choice that has you lingering on every word instead of skimming over them to get to the end. He goes into incredible detail about something as seemingly simple as a car – he take his assignment and makes it as interesting and enjoyable as possible for not the reader, but also himself.
By Eric Adler, The Kansas City Star
I think this article is a great example of local reporting because it looks at a national issue through a localized lens. Rather than tackling a large discussion happening nationally, the writers decided to focus on a local family, which added relevance and relatability that the story would not have had if it was much broader.
By Lisa Sanders, M.D., The New York Times
This piece is a column by a medical doctor who writes for the health beat at The New York Times, explaining medical case studies. This piece is very well-written because of the narrative style employed, which brings readers along the journey the family and doctors went on to discover what was ailing a little girl.