I’m a big fan of Longform.org, a site that collects top-notch longform journalism so good that you might never want to type another word or conduct another interview again. Each magazine piece is so good — and often so long — that it can cause one to question what we do as community journalists. It shows me that, as a writer, I have a long way to go. Most stuff printed in our newspapers — both community and daily — wouldn’t measure up to the type of journalism we see in magazines.
There is, of course, the matter of time; we don’t have months to throw at a story. And there’s also the issue of space.
But what we can match, although we often fail to do so, is magazine journalists’ use of voice. That is, writing that, by way of its sheer verve, energy and technique, delivers the reader to a story that may otherwise be unremarkable or, maybe, remarkable but somewhat predictable.
That’s what has me so excited about Chilliwack Progress sports reporter Eric Welsh‘s four-part tale of a local basketball player battling cancer. The story itself follows a semi-predictable pattern: star athlete faces obstacle, struggles to overcome. But Eric’s writing makes the story more than that. And for that you should read it, if only to be challenged to do him one better. And that would be a challenge.
As an example: The series begins thusly:
The house is quiet. Everyone is asleep and the only sounds she hears are the hum of the refrigerator and the occasional car driving past on Alexander Avenue.
She is not asleep.
Lot of trouble with that lately.
Slightly built, she moves cat-like around the darkened apartment until she reaches his bedroom door.
She opens it just enough to slip through, and sidles over to his bed.
And she watches.
She breathes a silent sigh of relief as she sees his chest rising and falling, the rhythmic in-and-out of healthy lungs at work.
She follows this same routine every night, momentarily comforted yet forever haunted by the thought that one night her baby will be gone.
Such a strange thing to worry about with an 18-year-old boy.
Remember how I was going to try and post daily links to award-nominated stories from last year?
Yeah, I forgot all about it too.
Thankfully, someone at Black Press did a bunch of the work for me and linked to editions of a bunch of that chain’s award-winning pieces. You can find the whole list here… Actually, because it’s just a list, I think I can just copy and paste it below with few qualms. (A couple stories are missing links; not my fault)
Either way, the stories are quite impressive. In fact, they make you think that many of those stories could be collated into a half-decent bi-annual magazine, or something similar. Great idea? Lousy idea? Leave a comment.
BC Arts Council Arts & Culture Writing Award
Nelson Star ‐ Bob Hall, Pantomime Series
B.C. Automobile Association Business Writing Award
Kelowna Capital News – Judie Steeves, Crushed Gold; Okanagan Wine Industry has Come a Long Way
Thompson River University School of Journalism Environmental Writing Award
Provence Restaurants Feature Article Award
Feature Series Award
Chilliwack Progress – Eric Welsh, Painstaking Path to Potential Cure
Glacier Media Investigative Journalism Award
Neville Shanks Memorial Award for Historical Writing
Outdoor Recreation Writing Award
Canadian Sport Centre Pacific Sports Writing Award
A good reporter knows to follow his or her own curiosity to dig up good stories. Whenever you find yourself puzzling over something unexplained phenomenon in your town, there’s a pretty good chance a half-decent story isn’t too far away.
When one person has a question, it’s a good chance many others are wondering the same thing. The Kamloops Daily News has taken that idea to a new (or, at least, newish) level by asking reader’s to write in with their curious questions about life in the city.
The best of those questions are handed off to KDN reporter/associate editor Catherine Litt for a regular “Reader’s Reporter” column.
The questions often result in interesting stories, even about dry topics (See Jan. 4′s “Why use such big gravel on the highway?“)
Of course, any newspaper anywhere can copy the idea. The feature is not only interesting and (seems) relatively easy to produce, but it’s also a great way to create a sense of community ownership in a newspaper.
P.S. Catherine comments below:
Our Q&A feature under the Reader’s Reporter banner has proven to be a real success with our readership. Not a week goes by without someone mentioning to me that they look forward to reading the Q&As.
By the way, this idea isn’t new. There is at least one newspaper in the U.S. that’s been doing a similar thing for a few years now, again with success. About a year ago, I brought the concept to our editor, Mel Rothenburger; he loved it and gave me the go-ahead to put it under our already established Reader’s Reporter department.
In all honesty, he deserves a lot of credit for buying into such a ‘seemingly’ non-journalism concept. Colleagues of mine rolled their eyes at the idea. I think the perception was that so-called serious journalists shouldn’t be wasting time hunting down answers to questions about highway gravel. They’ve warmed to the idea since.
Anyway, I would certainly encourage other papers in B.C. to copy the idea. If they’re lucky like I was, they’ll have an editor who is open-minded and eager to try new ways of reaching out to readers.
p.s. Thanks for taking notice of our little Q&A feature.
As far as community journalism in B.C. goes, the whole “building your brand” thing that is so in vogue among certain journalistic elements in the United States is just a horrible, horrible, horrible catch phrase. (Tip off: the word “brand”).
Here, you’re never going to be able to hold your employer hostage for more money by threatening to leave because, by and large, the people holding the purse strings aren’t the ones who give a shit if your paper is good or not.
That said, there are competitive, personal and ego-maniacal reasons to try and get famous in your community. And, at any community paper in B.C., there’s an easy way to court that fame.
First the benefits.
The more people know your name, the more people are likely to think of you — and not some other hack in town — when something interesting, controversial or otherwise newsworthy comes up. That makes your life as a reporter easier, and more interesting. And let’s face it, it’s also flattering to have people know your name.
We all like to think we’re important, even if, in the grand scheme of things — when the planet we live on is but a speck in the universe — even the Peter Mansbridges of us are just as disposable than ants. But Christ, that’s such a depressing note that it feels good to have an old grannie in the store talk to you about the paper.
So how do you get famous?
Write a column.
Write as many as you can. There’s nothing like a standing head to put a face to words.
It wasn’t too long ago that I was a newspaper reader, rather than writer. And the only journalists in town that I knew of was the guy on TV and the newspaper folk who wrote columns.
It’s not just the mug shot beside a name that does it (although, sadly, it’s probably the most important part). What you write also is very important. If you’re funny, then people are much, much more likely to read your column regularly and know your name. Ditto if you write about things vaguely controversial.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you’re just writing sappy schlock — no matter how good your writing, or how sappy your schlock — readers are less likely to want to read your column when they see your face. Ditto if you just write the same antagonistic column from the same ideological point of view over and over again.
But even that’s better than the infamous column that doesn’t say anything. A close cousin of the editorial that doesn’t editorialize, this piece of writing often implores others to come up with solutions, without actually taking a stance on the subject in question.
So that’s columns. I don’t know how to wrap up my post, but I don’t want to spend anymore time on it, so I’ll open it up for comments, if anyone wants to bother…