Entries in walt harrington (2)


Artful Journalism

Some of what I underlined in Walt Harrington's new book:

1. ... most of us struggle through life seeking small redemptions, which is what many of my profiles are about: people struggling fitfully to be better people, struggling in their own ways to find mastery over their lives, to feel they are in control in the face of the conflicting demands and expectations of parents, family, and society. ... Always, I begin my research looking for continuities or rifts in each subject's life that might help clarify how he or she came to be the person he or she is.

2. In the introduction to her book Character, a collection of profiles about the presidential primary candidates of 1988, journalist Gail Sheehy wrote that she always tries to compare her subject's "personal myth" with her own reportorial assessment.

3. ... full-blown profiles need to be written differently from slice-of-life profiles. But as a ageneral rule, it seems best to create a narrative that moves through time from when the subject isn't revealed to the reader — and sometimes not even to himself — to a time when the subject is revealed.

4. The journalism of ordinary life is a way to repair the torn social fabric that hard-edged journalism has undeniably helped to shred.

5. It's the kiss of death for anyone aspiring to do intimate journalism to think of what he or she does as lighteners, brighteners or human interest stories.

6. Remember to collect, in the moviemaker's parlance, not only long shots but tight shots. My father was an amateur painter, and he used to tell me that there were two ways to paint a picture — one was to stand back and squint your eyes and see shapes and colors emerge in a beautiful blur, and the other was to get down on your knees and examine the flower, petal by petal. It's important to think of the details you're gathering in that way ...

7. You have to gather the material that you will need to make an anecdote a scene.

8. Think of your stories as pieces meant to be read out loud.

9. We have this idea in straight journalism that stories are supposed to tell themselves through the way we lay out the facts. We pretend this because it fits our mythology of objective newspaper journalism. Yet stories don't tell themselves. Mike Sager wasn't writing Greg Smith's story. He was writing Mike Sager's version of Greg Smith's story. Get used to it.

10. If a story isn't animated by an idea, it will fall flat.

11. Growing up is a pretty important part of doing grown-up work.


Five tips from Next Wave

Some of what I underlined re-reading the anthology Walt Harrington and Mike Sager put out a couple years back:

1. Thomas Lake: The story, the story, the story. It exists whether you find it or not. Find it. Get it.

2. Robert Sanchez: Find the right character. If there's any advice that I can give to aspiring narrative non-fiction writers, it would be that.

3. Eli Saslow: Details are always the key to narratives. They are what make the characters and the circumstances feel real.

4. Seth Wickersham: Magazine writing is like carpentry: the grind precedes the art.

5. ... me: Public records are like the bottom rungs of rope ladders. They're something to grab onto. Names lead to names. Information leads to information. Material leads to material.