Writing to Explain, to Understand: Reaction to Chapter 5 of ‘America’s Best Newspaper Writing’

Chapter 5: Explanatory Journalism and Business Writing

MARCH 10, 2011

Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

Explanatory journalism is when a reporter writes to explain a topic, issue or event that people don’t know much about or that people aren’t aware of. The topic can be complex, complicated or confusing. The articles show that the writer has researched and reported on the topic and now knows or understands it, and so can write about it and inform readers.

Business reporting is reporting on issues in the business world, stores and companies filing bankruptcy or doing well, new companies, companies merging, stock markets and many other issues and topics.

In this chapter, Clark and Scanlan explain and show how important it is to craft a theme for a story and then build on this theme. The theme is what a writer focuses on. The theme helps the writer and story remain focused, but also developed and detailed.

It is important to gather much more material, information and details than necessary. If a writer has more to work with, the story will be better. A writer can’t be sure which detail he’ll use once the story is actually written or what information is needed and what is extraneous.

While it is important to gather more material during the information-gathering phase, reporting and researching process of the article, it is also important to use the theme to cut out the irrelevant information before it goes into the article.

Articles, and especially explanatory journalism and business reporting stories, need to be carefully reported. This means finding experts who are knowledgeable about the topic, who can help explain it, finding numbers, data and statistics that can explain a part of the topic or help readers see more clearly. It also requires reporting from the field to gather details. Business and explanatory reporting does not mean boring, dull and dry — these stories should be richly detailed and contain revealing details. Just like when Peter Rinearson, one of the great writers included in this chapter, puts in what he calls “gold coins,” little nuggets, little details to keep the reader interested and the story alive. In a story about the creation of a new airplane, Rinearson included a detail about how the engineers tested the windows — by throwing anesthetized chickens into the windows to test against puncture. It is these details that help explain the story to readers, that keep readers interested.

One of the great writers in this chapter, William E. Blundell, believed that a viewpoint is essential to a story. Viewpoints are like main arguments, main points — the message of the article and the writer. Viewpoints can be built through repetition, alliteration or word play. Use repetition to make a point more than once, in different ways. The theme and point shouldn’t be repeated in the same way, as readers will grow bored or it will seem too pushy. The reader will understand better if a point is made repetitively in one of these ways, but it should not be overused.

Another great writer included in this chapter, Rinearson, had a goal for every article: he wanted to understand the material so his readers would understand. Aim for clarity and comprehension. For a writer to understand the material and information, he must research and talk to many experts. Then to help readers understand the information, he must translate technical language and use numbers and statistics to help illustrate information for readers. Numbers can also create confusion, so writers should be cautious and careful when using them. Choose the important numbers to include in the article. Don’t use too many, as this will be jarring and confusing for readers. There is a rule of thumb in journalism and business writing: don’t use more than two or three numbers or statistics in one paragraph. More than two will begin to overtake the words and be hard for readers to comprehend. The writer may also start to be confused by all the numbers, which would be detrimental to the article and clarity. In order to have comprehension as a goal, a writer should always think of the needs of the reader.

One way to ensure readers will understand articles and the story is to use simple, clear prose. If writing becomes too flowery or technical, it is more likely that students will not understand. Additionally, if the theme is too broad or if the writer did not cut out irrelevant information, the reader might be confused of what the article is really about.

Writers should also tirelessly and ruthlessly revise their articles. This will act as another way to cut out irrelevant information, like the theme helps to focus. Revision ensures that all of the material, information, numbers, statistics, quotes included are necessary to the story. Revision helps to keep the story clear, concise and focused.

Top 5 list of business reporting and explanatory journalism articles:

1. The Burger that Shattered Her Life, The New York Times

Michael Moss

Moss opens the article in what seems like the best place for a reader to understand. He writes about how one woman’s life, Stephanie Smith, was affected and ravaged by tainted beef, by E. coli. She has become paralyzed from eating a hamburger. He makes this point repeatedly, and it is very strong.

Moss definitely thought about how this story and issue impacts people, impacts Smith. He focuses on how the E. coli affected her at first, then years later and now, how she is paralyzed and consumed with anger at her condition and how she became paralyzed.

Moss includes several cases of E. coli in the article and how many people were affected or killed by the outbreaks, throughout several years. This data and these numbers are very helpful in reader’s understanding. Numbers and data help illustrate the severity and danger of food contamination. Moss uses these numbers to help explain the story and issue to readers.

2. Selling the farm or working the land?, The Gazette

Katherine Heerbrandt

Heerbrandt clearly did a lot of reporting and research for this article. It is clear in her writing that she understands the issue and the topic.

The condition is that participants must try for five years to sell a permanent easement on the property under the Maryland Agricultural Land Preservation Program, or another government land preservation program, to ensure the property is never developed.

When that is accomplished, the farmer repays the county with state money.

This is clear, direct writing, the kind of writing that is only accomplished if a reporter understands her material. Unnecessary information and wordiness can creep into articles if a reporter does not truly understand the topic. It seems like Heerbrandt is writing a sort of cause and effect relationship, when this happens then that will result, “when that is accomplished, the farmer repays.” This is a very clear style and structure of writing.

Heerbrandt explains both sides of this issue, of a farmer who wants to keep his family farm but is perhaps profiting off of it through taxpayers.

Blickenstaff wants to pave a portion of his 122-acre Burkittsville farm on the backs of county taxpayers

— according to former Frederick County Commissioner John L. Thompson’s complaint to the county Ethics Commission

She explains the reasons Blickenstaff has to develop and pave part of his farm. He wants to be a part of the Frederick County Critical Farms Option Program, which is a program that loans money to farmers so they can buy at least 50 acres of farmland at 75 percent of the land’s value, if it is developed, Heerbrandt explains.

Heebrandt includes many percentages, numbers and explanations of these numbers. But she also includes the human side. She helps readers understand the issue through these numbers, in various ways. She uses Blundell’s repetition.

3. Blockbuster Avoids Liquidation, The Wall Street Journal

Joseph Checkler and Mike Spector

Checkler and Spector help explain Blockbuster’s bankruptcy and subsequent liquidation in a simple, clear way. They explain the multiple sides, the angry movie studios that are owed money for DVDs they sold to Blockbuster.

Blockbuster’s lawyers and lawyers representing the movie studios worked out an arrangement that would steer payments to them from the proceeds of a sale in a way they found more palatable.

The reporters explain the business arrangement in clear terms, with as few numbers as possible, so as not to confuse readers.

The reporters described the business arrangement that was taking place in a judge’s courtroom, between Blockbuster lawyers and movie studio lawyers, as an auction. This description helps the readers understand the tension and what the situation was like.

Checkler and Spector also explain in clear terms that Blockbuster wants to sell parts of the company in order to help pay back the movie studios. They explain the process of liquidation, bidding and paying back owed money very clearly.

Some of those possible bidders are different players teaming on potential offers. Some are interested in pieces of Blockbuster — its stores, vending business or digital operations. In those cases, Blockbuster hopes it can join those disparate interests in a single bid for the company.Blockbuster will use proceeds from the sale to pay the studios for money owed, and the studios will continue shipping DVDs to Blockbuster stores.

4. Families Slice Debt to Lowest in 6 Years, The Wall Street Journal

Justin Lahart and Mark Whitehouse

From the lede, Lahart and Whitehouse set up this story to be clear, easy to understand and full of personal examples.

U.S. families — by defaulting on their loans and scrimping on expenses — shouldered a smaller debt burden in 2010 than at any point in the previous six years, putting them in position to start spending more.

They include numbers, percentages and statistics to explain U.S. household debt and how it rises or falls. The reporters break up the numbers, to ensure clarity. They don’t use more than two statistics in one sentence, and no more than three in a paragraph.

They also include reasons for the decrease in debt and a sense of before and after, cause and effect. “With the help of rising stock prices,” they said, “the decrease in debts put average household net worth at $505,000 at the end of 2010, up 5.1% from 2009.” Then they include that this figure is still below the peak of $595,000 in 2007, before housing prices plunged. This information is important to include and offers context. Irrelevant information is not included in the article.

The numbers and statistics they use in the article are important and help give context to the story. When the reporters give personal examples of people decreasing their debt, they included statistics about personal savings rates rising in 2010 from 2005, giving context.

The personal savings rate averaged 5.8% in 2010, up from a low of 1.4% in 2005, and back to a level last seen in the early 1990s.

While Lahart and Whitehouse give some reason for readers to be content with the lowering debt rates, they also don’t sugarcoat or make the issue seem nonexistent. They make sure to give all sides of the issue. They explain that solace cannot and has not been found in improving debt numbers because there are “worries over rising commodity prices, Chinese trade and the threat to Middle East oil supplies.”

This is not a simple story where one group of people are affected, and Lahart and Whitehouse don’t try to simplify it, though they do explain it to readers clearly and effectively. They make sure to address all the groups involved and impacted. The reporters explain that the “shrinking debt burden” can cause U.S. consumers to buy more, which can contribute to world-wide recovery.

At the end of the article, the reporters give a personal detail about one woman struggling to pay her monthly expenses. She lost a high-paying job and spent her retirement on living while she was looking for a job, she said. Lahart and Whitehouse include this personal anecdote at the end of the article to leave the reader with the way the economy and debt is affecting some people, more than we know. They first explain the issue, describe some signs of improvement and then repeat the point that this can’t be a call for celebration, as not everyone is out of the debt hole and not everyone can spend.

5. Part One: A Difficult Journey; From Rural Hardship to Urban Adversity, The Washington Post

Leon Dash

Dash wrote a series of articles for The Washington Post about poverty. He focused on the interrelationships between poverty, racism, illiteracy, lack of education, drug abuse, crime and why these persist through generations.

This is a great example of explanatory journalism because it is an extensive, in-depth look at how people fall into and remain in poverty, and how their children and grandchildren remain in the cycle. He reports on and researches several aspects of the story, searching to understand so he can explain it to readers.

He writes these articles about the choices one poor woman in D.C., Rosa Lee, had and made. These choices show how poverty and all of the other interconnected aspects cause and contribute to poverty and lack of options. Dash tries to understand and research the connections between these aspects of poverty and how the cause it.

He focuses on Lee and her several children and grandchildren that live in her small apartment in D.C. Dash includes many details, and many revealing details, about Lee and her family.

He describes Lee as a safety net for her children, a great image and concept that helps the reader understand.

One revealing detail Dash includes in the article is:

Bobby, Ducky, Patty, Ronnie and Richard live a kind of nomadic existence, bouncing from friends’ apartments, to jail, to the street, to Rosa Lee’s. All five are addicted to heroin or cocaine. On this particular day, Ronnie, 38, is staying with one of Rosa Lee’s brothers; Richard, 36, is in jail on a parole violation.

Dash explains that Lee also has other sons who have somehow escaped the cycle of poverty and don’t rely on her.

Dash breaks up the articles into several parts, calling them chapters. Chapter One: A Survival Network, Chapter Three: Sharecropping Days, Chapter Four: Segregated City, Chapter Five: Emergency and so on. The other articles in the series are also broken up into chapters, or sections.

Breaking up the articles in this way helps readers understand the important, heavy, complex information. The sections almost serve as different scenes in a movie, much like offering a wide shot then close-up shots of Lee and her family and how poverty manifests itself.

In this first article of the series, Dash goes directly into the reasons for Lee’s poverty and continued struggles. He explains her past.

Stomach pains awaken her every morning by 6:30, an enduring reminder of her years as a heroin addict. The cramps linger until she can get to the city methadone clinic for the 55-milligram dose that curbs her craving for the drug.

Through these articles and this article, Dash is trying to understand and explain to the reader why “poverty is a phenomenon that has devastated Americans of all races, in rural and urban communities.” But he also takes his research and reporting a step further by trying to understand why and how poverty “has disproportionately affected black Americans living in the nation’s inner cities.”

He aims at understanding, and thus helping the reader understand:

  • The differing outcomes of African Americans who migrated in the first half of the century from rural poverty in the South to cities.
  • How and why some migrant families “prospered against considerable odds,” he said.
  • How and why other families, like Lee’s, “became mired in lives marked by persistent poverty, drug abuse, petty and violent crime and periodic imprisonment,” he said.

He uses first person at times to aid in the narrative construction of the article. There is also a musical quality in his words and writing. These stories and articles are crafted.

Dash writes in a way that is unusual to most journalism. He includes himself in the article, drawing attention to him being a reporter, Lee becoming more comfortable with the tape recorder he uses. He also draws connections between Lee and himself, which help the reader understand.

When she was selling heroin on the streets of Northwest Washington in the mid- 1970s, I was writing about the devastating effects of heroin trafficking on some of those same streets.

Dash definitely thought about who was impacted and affected by poverty while writing this article. He looks at several reasons and contributors for poverty and why lawmakers have not been able to make headway on lessening poverty rates.

NASA space exploration budget cut, Elon University students, faculty react with diverse opinions

Discovery will return to Earth, be displayed in Smithsonian

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 7, 2011

NASA space exploration 2011 budget is being cut. Photo courtesy of space.com.

President Barack Obama’s 2011 budget has restricted NASA’s plans to return astronauts to the moon.

The 30-year NASA space shuttle program will end in 2011 and NASA funding has been re-tasked.

NASA shuttle Discovery is on its last mission. Discovery is expected to return to Earth on Wednesday, March 9. After the return it will be retired and displayed in the Smithsonian museums.

The remaining three shuttles will also be retired this year.

The U.S. has already spent $9 billion investigating manned missions to the moon and canceling the moon program will cost an additional $2 billion.

The $19 billion in the 2011 budget will include $6 billion to fund the shift toward supporting commercially built vehicles to launch astronauts into space.

Disapproval of NASA budget cut

Space is worth pursuing, according to Ty Swaringen, a print services clerk.

“There’s too much out there we don’t know,” Swaringen said. “It’s better to know.”

Swaringen also believes in continuing what’s been started.

“We’ve spent so much money, too many lives on it in the past,” he said. “We need to keep going.”

Space exploration grants national pride, sophomore Tyler Sickel said.

“It makes a country look better if we can spend money on space,” he said.

Space exploration should continue to be encouraged and NASA’s budget shouldn’t be cut, according to Executive Assistant to the Provost Dixie Fox.

“There’s got to be life out there,” Fox said. “It would be so interesting to communicate with others out there.”

But there does need to be a balance, she said.

The money could be used to “bring down the national debt and help the elderly and students,” she said.

Junior Eliza Mathew, an education major, sees the importance of discovery.

“There’s lots of things to discover in space.” “There’s always more to explore in space, we haven’t gotten very far.”

Cutting the space budget and limiting space exploration doesn’t instill a good lesson, according to Mathew.

“I don’t think that’s teaching our society or our kids that there’s a lot of importance in discovery,” she said.

Scientists and astronauts have changed their conclusions or beliefs with more time spent in space, Mathew said. They discover and experiment more and thus learn more.

Support of NASA budget cut

There is some support of the budget cut.

“I don’t know that space exploration is (worthwhile),” said student accountant specialist Marilyn Collins in the Bursar’s Office.

Space exploration is very expensive and Earth is in trouble with budget woes already, according to Collins.

“Let us recover,” she said. “It might be good to put it off for a while.”

Sickel is disappointed in the budget cut, but he understands why it’s necessary, he said.

“There’s a few too many issues going on at home that we could spend money on instead,” he said. “The economy, in general, the stock markets, we’re spending a lot of money overseas.”

***

Junior Eliza Mathew, education major, on importance of space discovery

Mathew said space exploration leads to new facts

Informing the public of crime, the courts and abuses of power: Reaction to Chapter 4 of ‘America’s Best Newspaper Writing’

Chapter 4: Crime and Courts

MARCH 4, 2011

The fourth chapter of “America’s Best Newspaper Writing” offers an understanding of how to report on crime and court proceedings. Crime, the cop beat and court cases are very important to inform the public about.

The great writers in this chapter told powerful stories with moral messages. The reporters had a civic purpose for writing. This raises the level of the writing and the impact. Reporting becomes more important when there is a civic purpose for writing.

Stories about crime and the courts need to report on breaches in the social contract. Reporters are watching and reporting on behalf of citizens, according to Clark and Scanlan. Reporters must alert the public to any misuse of the public’s resources, abuse and corruption. These stories should “reveal effects of crimes on victims, families and keepers of peace,” the editors said.

Clark and Scanlan encourage reporters to practice immersion journalism. This is when reporters immerse themselves in the lives of their sources, interview them in-person, try to follow them and see how they live instead of merely interviewing them once or over e-mail or the phone. This type of journalism allows the reporter to delve deeper into the story and into the complex social issues that the story may be about. It is not just covering the events and putting out the stories, to keep up with deadline — immersion journalism is about writing the big picture and informing the public about misuses of power or corruption.

The writers in this chapter use details to help illustrate characters, instead of sources. They describe “flesh-and-blood characters,” as Clark and Scanlan said. Details help to show what a person looks like, does, speaks like and they show the sum of a person, as the editors said. The editors said good writers should have a novelist’s eye for detail, looking for and reporting the specific details. Good writing gives a sense of people, place, drama and tone, according to Clark and Scanlan. Good writers pay close attention to detail and work to include authentic dialogue. These details and techniques help to show the reader what a person is like and the events of a story. These techniques help the reader understand.

When reporters write against their fears, with courage and persistence, they write more effectively and powerfully. These stories often require reporters to write with courage, to not be afraid to write what they mean. Reporters must be persistent when they are interviewing and contacting sources. But there is also a level of understanding and patience that is needed. Reporters have to know when to push and ask tough questions and when to tread more carefully, but still determinedly. When reporters show empathy and are understanding with their sources, the sources are more likely to share more and feel more comfortable with the reporter — which all leads to more storytelling quotes, more details and more descriptive, better writing.

The structure a reporter chooses to write his or her story is also extremely important. The way a story is structured can vary greatly and can help the reader understand. Writers have to take the reader through a journey and arrange events in a way that can be understood, according to Clark and Scanlan. Where the reader is placed at first, the lede, the beginning of the story, is also very important. It starts the reader off in a particular place.

Clark and Scanlan describe the structure of a story almost like how a video is filmed and put together. In making a video, there must be wide shots and tighter or closer ones. The wide shots set up the scene, show where the video is going to take place and who it will be about. Then the close ups follow and offer the details, the facial expressions, the actions of people, a specific cup sitting on a table. Stories include these wide and close up shots, as well, and produce the same effect of setting a story up and then giving more details that help inform readers. The way a writer moves the readers through the story, from wide shots to close ups, bigger picture to details, helps the flow and way a reader understands.

Good writers should also go beyond the official sources of information and vary their documentation. This offers more credibility and brings more voices into the story. Reporters should get down to the street level, according to Clark and Scanlan. The sources of information should be varied, such as interviews, observation and public and private records. Cathy Frye, one of the great writers in this chapter, included transcripts of the instant messages her sources and subjects sent back and forth. This offers another way to understand the story.

The take-home message of this chapter is that covering the courts and crime is a very important and valuable beat. These beats also require experience to cover them completely and effectively. They also require that reporters be strong, persistent and patient. There will be gruesome crimes that a reporter will have to write about and possibly examine for the story. There will be people in the court system who have murdered children and mothers and there will be some who the justice system punishes wrongly — if they have actually not committed the crime but are charged for it. These stories must be covered and require a patient and determined writer.

Top 5 list of crime and court reporting articles:

1. Guilty verdict for man accused of painting swastikas on Olney synagogue, The Gazette

Nesa Nourmohammadi

This is a follow-up story on a crime that took place in a Md. suburb. A resident, Ian Baron, painted a synagogue and two houses with graffiti and swastikas.

Nourmohammadi uses specific details throughout the story. She describes the specific details of the crime and actions that Baron took. She includes the specific amount of time the jury deliberated and came to a decision.

It took the jury less than 30 minutes Feb. 23 to find him guilty of four counts of malicious destruction of property and one count of destruction of religious property.”

It is details like these that truly help the readers understand and make a story more interesting and important.

She also includes details about the vandalism and graffiti. She describes the anti-Semitic phrases that were used: “‘Sieg Heil’ and ‘Death 2 Zionists’ painted on the synagogue.”

Nourmohammadi doesn’t shy away from the complex social issues and nature of the crime. She explains that Baron was Jewish and vandalized the synagogue.

Baron was adopted from Honduras as a baby by white, Jewish parents and attended synagogue. Baron studied the Holocaust, visited Israel and had a Bar Mitzvah.

Nourmohammadi wasn’t afraid to talk to everyone involved and in the court room. She tried to speak to Baron’s father, though he declined to comment. But she still attempted and this speaks to the courage, persistence and determination that Clark and Scanlan were talking about.

She also structures the story in a way that helps readers understand. It is a form of reverse chronological order, with the most recent court proceeding first in the article and then further down the vandalism, crime itself is described in greater detail. This is almost a form of the close up and wide shots that Clark and Scanlan described in the chapter.

2. Crime Scene Beyond the Statistics, A Druggist Confronts the Reality of Robbery, The Wall Street Journal

Angelo B. Henderson

This Pulitzer Prize winning article is written very story-like, with flow and details and expert pacing.

Henderson positions the reader directly in the climax of the story, the gunman’s directions.

“Get on the ground,” a man holding a gun screamed. “I’ll blow your heads off if you move.”

This lede is extremely effective and powerful. It creates a sense of doom, dread and suspense.

Henderson also uses key details. He describes exactly how the store employee, Dennis Grehl, was lying on the floor and how he felt “a chump on the floor.” His description is clear and helps the reader understand the situation. Henderson describes the crime and moment where Grehl had the pistol on the back of his head as “the paralyzing weight of helplessness.”

Henderson seems to use the wide shots to close-up shots method of storytelling. He sets up the scene, the pharmacy where the crime took place, then gives the details of how Grehl felt. He then moves to a wide shot, explaining how after the crime Grehl brought a loaded gun to work and vowed to use it if he had to.

Henderson exhibits expert timing and pacing in his storytelling. “Then he crossed paths with Anthony Williams,” he writes, effectively foreshadowing and showing the reader that Grehl’s loaded gun would be used.

He moves from character to character, offering a bigger picture then more and more details about the person. This helps the reader get a better image of the source and understand him or her before he is put into the actual crime. It is like reading a short biography on the people involved before learning about the crime.

Henderson mentions a complex social issue when he writes about the store installing security measures. These measures “allowed Grehl to arm himself — a step that some consider extreme and others think is just common sense.” He is referring to gun laws, safety, security and the right to bare arms.

Henderson seems to go through a sort of chronology of the neighborhood of Old Redford and the crime that became more prevalent. “Soon, iron grates appeared across storefronts. Strangers, once welcomed, were treated with a new wariness,” he writes, effectively showing the details of how the crime affected the neighborhood and stores.

Henderson writes the story from several angles, several perspectives. The store employee, the gunman, the gunman’s mother and brother and shoppers who agreed with Grehl’s self-defense. This is a form of varying documentation, varying sources and the voices of the story. It offers more insight into the story and allows the reader to understand the story from varying perspectives.

The ending also leaves the readers with a different perspective sinking into them.

A teenager Mr. Grehl didn’t know entered the pharmacy alone. She asked: “Is this the place where the shooting was?”

Mr. Grehl replied: “Yes.”

The girl said: “I just wanted to see who killed my baby’s daddy.”

She was out of the store before her words could sink in.

Henderson also enters a bit of psychological territory in this story, by describing Grehl’s thoughts after the first armed robbery, the second when he and the gunman held their guns to each other and after he shot and killed the gunman. This is an example of immersion journalism, where Henderson didn’t stay at one level but instead kept digging for more and reported it.

3. District teen sentenced to 25 years in slaying of off-duty officer, The Washington Post

Keith L. Alexander

It’s not a happy story or ending and Alexander doesn’t shy away from addressing the complexity of the issue. He includes storytelling and powerful quotes, making sure to keep the authentic voice of the sources.

The shot police officer’s brother asks at the end of the article how his brother could be killed over taking a picture and the teenager could only get 25 years. This emotion comes out in Alexander’s writing, quote selection and attention to the complex social issues — for one, the relationship between cops and residents or delinquents.

One important quote is from Lavander Javon Williams, the teenager who shot the police officer. “I am not this terrible teen the prosecutors tried to make me out to be,” Williams said.

4. Man shot in ’92 dies, becomes latest city homicide, The Baltimore Sun

Peter Hermann

Hermann uses a bit of chronology to help readers understand the story and the time involved. James Fields was shot in 1992 and died this year due to complications related to the shooting.

Hermann describes the crime rate of the city more in this story than he goes into specific details about Fields and his shooting and death. This offers a different story, one more related about the patterns of crime in Baltimore and how homicide victims are updated on a count.

There are typically several so-called time-delayed deaths in Baltimore each year in which people die of complications from bullets fired long ago. Their deaths are added to the city’s homicide count in the year when they’re ruled homicides, partly to avoid updating statistics from previous years.

Hermann did digging, reporting — he worked to find the statistics and number of people who died and the year they were shot. He worked to find and report specific cases of people who were shot and the diverse medical effects years later. These numbers and descriptions add understanding and a broader level to the story, it shows how more people are affected and a pattern of crime n Baltimore.

He also describes the law in Md.

The law has only recently caught up to medical advances that can keep injured people alive for years. Maryland used to have the “year and a day” law, which stated that a death must occur within 366 days of the original injury for murder charges to be filed. It was designed to ensure that suspects were charged only in crimes that directly resulted from an assault, rather than from prolonged medical problems.

This description of the law helps readers understand the justice system, how crimes are dealt and the numbers more clearly.

This interactive graphic by The Baltimore Sun is not from Hermann’s story specifically, but it shows patterns of different crimes, such as rape, theft or suspicious vehicles. The reader can choose different dates and crimes to look into.

5. Study Finds Criminal Pasts of Nursing Home Workers, The New York Times

Robert Pear

This story uses statistics as its backbone, as its main detail. More than 90 percent of nursing homes employ one or more people who have been convicted of a crime, Pear writes. Five percent of all nursing home employees have at least one criminal conviction.

This is the lede Pear chooses to write, the place he chooses to situation and start off his readers. They come into the story being informed of the big picture, of the potential wrong and number of people who are convicted of crimes who work in nursing homes. Readers are alerted to the conflict and social issue right away — criminals taking care of the elderly.

Pear seems to use the wide shot to close-up shot in his writing, as well. For a while he remains higher up with the statistics and numbers and laws. But further down in the story, he addresses people and, more specifically, the elderly who are affected by employees slipping through the cracks and finding ways to be employed even if they have committed a crime.

He suddenly calls the criminals “predators,” casting them in a negative, shady light and alerting readers to their danger.

Predators can easily evade detection during the hiring process, securing jobs that allow them to assault, abuse and steal from defenseless elders. The most common types of conviction were for crimes against property, like burglary, and drug-related offenses. But some nursing home employees had been convicted of crimes against persons, like assault.

Pear writes that no federal law or regulation requires nursing homes to check federal or state criminal history records for prospective employees. He goes on to describe the law in other states, showing that he conducted deep reporting.

Ten states require a check of F.B.I. and state records, while 33 require a check of state records and the remainder do not have explicit requirements.

The use of these numbers show the reader there is a bigger story, that this could be opening up to a bigger investigation.

Pear alludes to this when he writes, due to “the patchwork of requirements, people convicted of crimes in one state have been able to obtain jobs at nursing homes in other states.” He is alerting the public to miscommunication, to abuses of power or laws, abuse of people and the elderly, faulty laws and regulations and the lack of the same laws across the board, across the nation, which allows people to slip through the laws.

This story is informing people of the faulty hiring process of nursing home employees, the oversight of the F.B.I. to include criminal records to all employers for background checks and the problem nursing homes are experiencing in retaining employees.

English professor encourages ‘affectionate interpretation,’ awareness of Asian American rhetoric at Elon University

LuMing Mao discusses Asian American rhetoric

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 3, 2011

LuMing Mao, professor of English at Miami University of Ohio, discusses Asian American rhetoric and why it is important to retain differences in togetherness. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Rhetoric, the study of writing or speaking effectively, can be ethnic and can change among different groups of people, according to LuMing Mao, Miami University of Ohio professor of English.

Mao spoke about Asian American rhetoric in Yeager Recital Hall March 3 at 7 p.m. as the first speaker for the Togetherness in Difference Lecture Series.

Mao defines rhetoric in two ways: the effective systematic use of language in social, political and cultural context and making knowledge. It’s a way of reading and a way of engaging.

“I would like to think my work is a way of generating knowledge,” he said. “I would like to be regarded as part of the body of Asian American rhetoric.”

African American English has a longer history and body of work, Mao said. Asian American history has started 10 or 15 years ago, he said.

In a very structured speech, Mao presented and discussed three quotes, three questions and two examples of Asian American rhetoric. He quoted Geneva Smitherman, a University Distinguished Professor of English at Michigan State University, author Maxine Hong Kingston and author Richard Nisbitt.

He discussed if Asian American rhetoric has distinctive and identifiable features.

“I consider myself part of the American experience,” Mao said. “On other hand, I very much want to be connected to the ancestral culture of China, East Asia. Sometimes I feel I belong to no place.”

Asian American rhetoric is a hybrid in the making, Mao said.

It forms out of a counter discourse, out of a response of the dominant discourses in American culture, according to Mao. It is an ethnic rhetoric marked by “otherness.” The rhetoric allows Asian Americans to construct new genres and codes that speak to their own needs and wants.

The rhetoric can employ a collective identity that can break out of the constructed and stereotyped Asian American, Mao said.

Asian American rhetoric forms from a desire for Asian Americans to break out of their silence and write their own experiences into the larger American narrative, Mao said.

“The most productive question for me to ask is not what is Asian American rhetoric, but where, when and how do other Asian Americans use rhetoric to bring about social, cultural and political changes,” he said.

Mao presented two different examples that dealt with Asian American rhetoric.

He played “hyphenation,” a five-minute track from i was born with two tongues, spoken poetry from a Chicago-based Pan-Asian Spoken Word Troupe. An Asian American woman combines music, words and metaphors to explain how the society she lives in makes her fragmented.

“I am Asian slash American, Asian slash American slash woman,” the poet said.

Mao called i was born with two tongues a hybrid of spoken poetry, music and political empowerment. It draws upon the oral tradition of black and Caribbean communities to create Asian rap, he said.

Mao also read sections of “The Women Warrior” by Kingston, which describes a woman growing up as a Chinese American.

People should become more aware of rhetoric and how they’re using it, Mao said.

“Only by being more conscious and aware of what we’re doing can we be more aware of the consequences of what we’re doing,” he said.

The world is now a diverse, smaller place that brings people together, Mao said. But he doesn’t want togetherness to be celebrated and romanticized as eradicating differences. This is naïve and unrealistic, he said.

“Togetherness does not absolutely erase our differences,” Mao said. “I don’t want the fact of being together to erase differences.”

Words have consequences and meanings that impact others. Words have histories and histories have significance, according to Mao.

People should deal with words and differences by practicing what Mao calls affectionate interpretation. It’s a form of putting oneself into the other’s shoes — empathy.

“Be charitable when you communicate with others,” he said. “Be mindful and aware of the consequences of your own behavior.”

When togetherness happens, people should become aware of differences, Mao said.

“We (should) use our differences not as a barrier but as a resource to cultivate better understanding, better communication and better lives for everyone,” he said.

This lecture series is funded through a College of Arts and Science Fund for Excellence Grant. The second and final speech will be given by Dr. Victoria Bergvall. The speech is “But words will never hurt me: Critiquing media messages about sex, gender and brain differences.”

***

LuMing Mao discusses differences in togetherness

Majority of students, faculty approve of new construction in downtown Elon

89 students and faculty polled informally about opinions of construction

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 2, 2011

The new building, which will be called Elon Town Center, will house the Elon bookstore and Pendulum office. Photos courtesy of John McDonald.

A majority of students and faculty polled informally March 2 are in favor of the new construction going on in downtown Elon.

In an informal poll of 89 students and faculty Wednesday, March 2, 65 were in favor of the construction, 16 were not in favor and 8 had no opinion.

There was a groundbreaking ceremony for the Elon Town Center on the lawn across from the McEwen Dining Hall at 9:30 a.m. President Leo Lambert addressed faculty, construction workers and a few students.

Construction in downtown Elon has been going on since last week. The new 24,000 square foot building will house the campus bookstore and The Pendulum student newspaper.

The construction has caused a continual banging and noise that can be heard throughout West Area. The echoes of construction can be heard bouncing off the walls of the Alamance classroom building.

The stores, restaurants and services that students, faculty and campus workers would like to see most are healthy food stores or restaurants, groceries and pharmacies, according to the poll. More clothing stores is another desired retail option that students and faculty said they wanted.

The new construction will not only benefit campus but also the community, senior Anna Hunsucker said.

“When I come back in the next couple of years, it’d be great to see some new restaurants, maybe a few little shopping outlets to make this more of a bigger town feeling,” Hunsucker said. “I think that would be great for the community as well. So it’s not just secluded Elon students here, we’re bringing in much more of Burlington that way.”

Faculty and construction workers gathered in the space where the Elon Town Center will be built for the groundbreaking ceremony March 2, 2011. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

Sophomore Gabe Latigue wants to see more clothing stores and small restaurants, he said.

“I think seeing new stores with places for students to shop and spend their time hanging out is a great idea,” Latigue said.

Pat McCaskill who works in downstairs McEwen Dining Hall agreed with Latigue.

“The clothing stores around here are too expensive for me,” she said.

She wants to see clothing stores that are not quite as expensive, she said.

Other students said they wanted clothing boutiques in downtown Elon.

Ross Wade, assistant director of career services for the School of Communications, would like to see more industries in the area, like graphic design companies or a music shop, he said.

“And more restaurants other than the two we have,” he said. “Those get old quickly.”

Senior Clinton Edmondson said he wants to see restaurants that stay open longer than a year and more clothing options.

“Elon doesn’t have much for shopping,” Edmondson said. “The closest stuff is an hour away in Raleigh.”

Senior Kaitlin Buck said a Mongolian Grille and frozen yogurt shop would be a huge hit at Elon.

“It’s fun and good food,” Buck said. “If they put a frozen yogurt place that would be really successful because I know everyone goes to YoZone, but that’s not close to campus.”

Sophomore Taylor Broderick said she wanted to see a bigger campus shop and better restaurants that have more variety.

“I feel that Elon is expanding and there really should be more here for the amount of students we have and are getting,” she said. “I think it would make the campus much more desirable.”

***

Elon University President Leo Lambert talks about why the Elon Town Center is being built

Sophomore Taylor Broderick talks about why Elon should be constructing new stores and restaurants

Senior Anna Hunsucker talks about the new downtown Elon construction

New Middle Eastern studies minor will offer opportunities for students, the community

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 1, 2011

Brian Digre stands with Mohammad, his SUV driver, in the sand dunes of Qatar in 2008. Photo courtesy of Digre.

Sophomore Laura Tucker has lived in Saudi Arabia since her family moved there in 2002 for her father’s job at a petroleum company.  As an international studies major at Elon University, Tucker plans on pursuing her interest in the region of the Middle East. But Tucker and other students don’t yet have the option to minor in Middle Eastern Studies at Elon.

“Other than the main religion courses or broad global and history courses, there’s not many really focused and specific courses dedicated to Middle Eastern studies,” Tucker said.

The Middle Eastern studies minor has been in the works since 2007. The curriculum review board is in the process of evaluating the program, said professor Brian Digre, international studies program coordinator.

“I feel confident that both programs will be available in the fall,” Digre said.

Creating a minor

Graphics by Marlena Chertock.

There were several steps to get to this point. Digre traveled to Jordan, Israel and Egypt in the summer of 2008 on a six-week Fulbright-Hays seminar. The seminar allowed 10 U.S. professors to explore study abroad opportunities in the Middle East and enhance curriculum development at their universities, Digre said.

Digre also applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program to help fund the establishment of the minor.

Elon provided matching funds for much of the grant, which allowed Elon to support faculty who wanted to develop new courses in the Middle East, to enhance library resources on the Middle East and study abroad programs and to hire a full-time Arabic professor.

For two years, the grant paid more than half of Arabic professor Shereen Elgamal’s salary. But now, Elon has made the position full-time and pays her salary, Digre said.

The department of foreign languages is exploring the introduction of elementary Hebrew courses for the minor.

Introductory modern standard Hebrew will be offered in the fall and introductory II in the spring, according to Scott Windham, department chair of Foreign Languges. The courses will be taught by a part-time professor.

“If enrollments are good, we will continue to offer more courses,” Windham said. “At some point, we might perceive a need for a permanent position in Hebrew, although that process could take many years.”

Students already showing interest

Many students in the international studies major havealreadyexpressedinterest in the region. Several students have asked for Digre’s approval of each course individually to count for the unofficial Middle Eastern concentration. Tucker has taken this route.

The Arabic Language Organization was created by students as a result of increasing interest in the language and region, according to Elgamal and many students have expressed interest in studying abroad in the region, Digre said.

There are several study abroad programs in place that will be related to the minor or concentration. There is a program at the American University of Cairo, Egypt, Council on International Education Exchange in Jordan and the University of Haifa, Israel that was just offered this year.

Broadening experiences and views

The classes will offer students opportunities to learn more about cultures and regions they are not familiar with and that are not well- known, Tucker said.

Arab culture and the Middle East have been stereotyped, intentionally or not, by people, governments and the media, Tucker said.

It will be beneficial for students to form their own opinions from truths rather than statements they hear, she said.

“You see students living in Israel, Jordan and Egypt for a semester and coming back,” Elgamal said. “These experiences are very important to campus. Instead of watching on television, they come back with experiences they encountered, actual people they interacted with. It’s a different outlook on things when you hear things from someone who was there.”

Tucker would agree. Living in Saudi Arabia helped shape her opinions and the way she views life and people, she said.

The minor will offer valuable career opportunities, according to Digre, as learning Arabic is important for careers today.

The outside community will also learn more about the region, Digre said.

The minor will bring in extracurricular activities, speakers and visiting professors, according to Elgamal. The awareness and knowledge would automatically spread, she said.

The minor is more important in light of the recent protests in several Arab countries,
according to Tucker. The prevalent and powerful stereotype of Islam and that every practicing Muslim is a terrorist needs to be combated, she said.

“Knowledge is power,” Tucker said. “And without it we’ll go on believing and continuing whatever we hear.”

***

Arabic professor Shereen Elgamal on importance of a Middle Eastern Studies minor

New Middle Eastern studies minor will offer opportunities for students, the community

Marlena Chertock

MARCH 1, 2011

Sophomore Laura Tucker has lived in Saudi Arabia since her family moved there in 2002 for her father’s job at a petroleum company.  As an international studies major at Elon University, Tucker plans on pursuing her interest in the region of the Middle East. But Tucker and other students don’t yet have the option to minor in Middle Eastern Studies at Elon.

“Other than the main religion courses or broad global and history courses, there’s not many really focused and specific courses dedicated to Middle Eastern studies,” Tucker said.

The Middle Eastern studies minor has been in the works since 2007. The curriculum review board is in the process of evaluating the program, said professor Brian Digre, international studies program coordinator.

“I feel confident that both programs will be available in the fall,” Digre said.

Creating a minor

There were several steps to get to this point. Digre traveled to Jordan, Israel and Egypt in the summer of 2008 on a six-week Fulbright-Hays seminar. The seminar allowed 10 U.S. professors to explore study abroad opportunities in the Middle East and enhance curriculum development at their universities, Digre said.

Digre also applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Education Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Language Program to help fund the establishment of the minor.

Elon provided matching funds for much of the grant, which allowed Elon to support faculty who wanted to develop new courses in the Middle East, to enhance library resources on the Middle East and study abroad programs and to hire a full-time Arabic professor.

For two years, the grant paid more than half of Arabic professor Shereen Elgamal’s salary. But now, Elon has made the position full-time and pays her salary, Digre said.

The department of foreign languages is exploring the introduction of elementary Hebrew courses for the minor.

Introductory modern standard Hebrew will be offered in the fall and introductory II in the spring, according to Scott Windham, department chair of Foreign Languges. The courses will be taught by a part-time professor.

“If enrollments are good, we will continue to offer more courses,” Windham said. “At some point, we might perceive a need for a permanent position in Hebrew, although that process could take many years.”

Students already showing interest

Many students in the international studies major havealreadyexpressedinterest in the region. Several students have asked for Digre’s approval of each course individually to count for the unofficial Middle Eastern concentration. Tucker has taken this route.

The Arabic Language Organization was created by students as a result of increasing interest in the language and region, according to Elgamal and many students have expressed interest in studying abroad in the region, Digre said.

There are several study abroad programs in place that will be related to the minor or concentration. There is a program at the American University of Cairo, Egypt, Council on International Education Exchange in Jordan and the University of Haifa, Israel that was just offered this year.

Broadening experiences and views

The classes will offer students opportunities to learn more about cultures and regions they are not familiar with and that are not well- known, Tucker said.

Arab culture and the Middle East have been stereotyped, intentionally or not, by people, governments and the media, Tucker said.

It will be beneficial for students to form their own opinions from truths rather than statements they hear, she said.

“You see students living in Israel, Jordan and Egypt for a semester and coming back,” Elgamal said. “These experiences are very important to campus. Instead of watching on television, they come back with experiences they encountered, actual people they interacted with. It’s a different outlook on things when you hear things from someone who was there.”

Tucker would agree. Living in Saudi Arabia helped shape her opinions and the way she views life and people, she said.

The minor will offer valuable career opportunities, according to Digre, as learning Arabic is important for careers today.

The outside community will also learn more about the region, Digre said.

The minor will bring in extracurricular activities, speakers and visiting professors, according to Elgamal. The awareness and knowledge would automatically spread, she said.

The minor is more important in light of the recent protests in several Arab countries,
according to Tucker. The prevalent and powerful stereotype of Islam and that every practicing Muslim is a terrorist needs to be combated, she said.

“Knowledge is power,” Tucker said. “And without it we’ll go on believing and continuing whatever we hear.”


Arabic professor Shereen Elgamal on importance of a Middle Eastern Studies minor

Greensboro show presents multiple sides, reactions to 1960 sit-in movements

Marlena Chertock

The stage for “Periphery” is set with background pictures of the Greensboro Four, a few tables and chairs. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

What surprises Bobby Pittman the most about the sit-in movement is not many people know it started right in Greensboro, in their city. The peaceful protesting of four A&T Universityfreshmen ignited a nation-wide movement of sit-ins and protests.

“I went to A&T University and didn’t know (the sit-ins took place in Greensboro),” Pittman said.

Pittman played Eugene in “Periphery,” a play hoping to inform the public about the sit-in movement and the diverse reactions.

Thursday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. 12 cast members took the small stage in the Broach Theatre at 520 S Elm Street in Greensboro, N.C. in pride and brought the audience back to 1960 and the civil rights movement.

The Community Theatre of Greensboro(CTG) put on its second-week production of “Periphery,” a play in honor of the Greensboro Four sit-ins. The play, written by N.C. playwright Ed Simpson, has been revived this year. It also ran two years ago to honor the anniversary of the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, a museum in Greensboro in the original Woolworth store where the sit-ins took place.

The play is also a way to help increase visitor numbers to the museum, as it is suffering from lack of visibility, according to executive director of CTG Mitchell Sommers.

The play will be showing Feb. 18-27.

The sit-in movement encouraged other movements, such as read-ins at segregated libraries, kneel-ins at segregated churches, sleep-ins at segregated hotels and play-ins at segregated parks, the cast said in one scene.

The play was filled with messages of standing up and acting, messages that talking is not always enough to bring about change.

“It’s not about words, it’s about action. It’s not about logic, it’s about heart.”

—Eugene, played by Pittman

A subtitle on the playbill describes the show as “Conversations about the ‘Greensboro Four’.” The play isn’t only about the four freshmen who started the sit-ins, it’s more about the reactions that people in the community had to the sit-ins, Sommers said.

“Periphery” showed how difficult it was for some people to accept change, how difficult it was for some people to understand why their college students, sons and daughters, black and white, were becoming involved in such a movement and being arrested for peaceful protests.

Several members of the cast became white, rich folk, holding wine glasses and wearing vests and hats with lace.

“I don’t understand why things have to change,” one rich, white woman said in the scene. “They have their own places, we have ours.”

A black shop owner discouraged his son from getting involved in the protests.

“Their (the students involved in the protests) mama’s didn’t send their kids to college to skip class and sit around a dime store all day,” the shop owner said.

The play also offered perspectives of people who were drawn to the movement, who believed in it.

Mike, a white student, played by Lee Wilson, a freshman from UNC-G, went through a change in the play. In the beginning, he was confused about what his professors were pushing and asking of him. But by the end of the play, he shouted at his father in a standoff.

“If something is wrong now, then waiting a week, a month, a year is making it wronger,” Mike said.

The cast ended the show by standing together and singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” reminiscent of the protest and revolution songs that were sung throughout the sit-ins and other protests, to keep spirit and resolve alive and show the will of the protesters.

Much like these songs demonstrate will, a statue on the A&T campus memorializes the Greensboro Four, the freshmen from A&T who started the sit-ins. Pittman said he knows about the statue, but never realized the sit-ins happened in his city, down the street.

“People tend to forget their bad history,” he said of the challenges of the sit-ins. “So if you have a black mark on your record you kind of sweep it under the rug hoping everybody forgets about it. But history is history, everybody needs to know about it. Good, bad, whatever.”

That’s one of the reasons he wanted to be in the play, he said. He was able to pass the knowledge along.

Williams had the choice between Tuscon, Ariz. and Greensboro, N.C. when looking for a job. She chose to come to Greensboro.

“This is a really important part of the country for me and I’m really proud of it,” Williams said.


Alison Williams of the cast talks about moving to Greensboro in part because of the sit-in movement

 

Williams talks about the importance of sharing the message of the Greensboro sit-ins

Executive director Mitchel Sommers talks about people not knowing the sit-ins happened in Greensboro

Sommers talks about informing the public about  the Greensboro sit-ins through the play

Working the beat: Reaction to Chapter 2 of ‘America’s Best Newspaper Writing’

Chapter 2: Local Reporting and Beats

The second chapter of “America’s Best Newspaper Writing” offers a nice introduction to local reporting and beats.

Local reporting is covering events in a local region, in a closer in proximity region.

Local reporting can also have beats. For example, if a reporter was covering education in a town, Burlington, N.C., he may have beats such as: Town beats, county beats, school boards, town council.

The New York Times Media Decoder blog had a post on March 25, 2010 about the Corporation for Public Broadcasting working against the decline in local journalism. CPB set up funds for seven regional reporting projects.

Beats are a topic or similar topics that a reporter focuses on in several articles. The reporter has to go to the location of the beat.

The New York Times describes beat reporting here.

Chip Scanlan of the Poynter Institute describes beat reporting here.

Some beats include:

  • Crime, cops
  • Health, medicine
  • Education (Ex. higher education, elementary education)
  • State government coverage
  • Religion
  • Business
  • Technology
  • Science
  • Cars, automobile reviews
  • Literature
  • Theatre
  • International affairs

Editors Roy Peter Clark and Christopher Scanlan explain and show the importance of focusing on a topic and gaining experience on the beat.

The great writers included in this chapter seemed to have followed a pattern of tightly constructed articles. This focus makes a topic more understandable for readers.

Clark and Scanlan make a point of how important the lead is to a story. The lead offers a point of entry into a story. How a reporter starts the story, when and how a reporter chooses to bring the reader in is extremely important, Clark and Scanlan said. The article’s lead sets up the tone and theme from the outset.

When writing a lead, ask yourself, ‘How do you bring the reader into a story?’

The length of a story should also be given much thought. Brevity can be a powerful and effective technique, but it doesn’t work with all topics or stories. Some articles can be short and be just as effective as if they were 400 words longer. The writing and story must remain accessible and comprehensible. Writing doesn’t have to be dry, formal, dull and lengthy all the time, according to Russell Eshleman Jr. Eshleman Jr.’s articles about the state government were very concise and brief, but the story was still strong.

Articles should have an authentic, distinctive and powerful voice. This gives the story flavor, flair and personality — it makes it different from any other story. Sometimes, directly addressing the reader can work to give the article voice. “You have no idea what that means to a kid like Dewon,” Mitch Albom said about compliments given to a black teenager who grew up in the city. “The bullet life goes on every day in Detroit, right under our suburban noses. But you can’t get it behind you.” This direct address serves to bring the reader into the story, helps push Albom’s point of the column. He ends the column by saying youth have learned the lesson that guns are not toys and shouldn’t be so accessible, from experience, by what’s the excuse for the rest of us, for adults? The direct address makes the reader feel a bit guilty. Boswell also uses this technique when he tells the reader to pick up “a back page of The Sporting News and squint down at the onetime headline names now just fine print at the very bottom of a column of averages.”

Articles that include metaphors and allusions help to broaden cultural knowledge and make stronger connections with readers. Thomas Boswell alludes to a poem by Dylan Thomas and Emily Dickinson in his sports writing. These references and comparisons help readers’ understanding.

The great writers in this chapter also made use of very descriptive, showy details and anecdotes. This figurative language, detail and description helps readers see events, see people, hear dialect and voices, hear the atmosphere, smell the atmosphere and feel. Readers live vicariously through articles, stories and writing, so writers must include many details to help readers along. Writers work hard to set scenes and show places, instead of merely telling readers what happened. Telling is bland, showing is where the details and good writing are found. Writers work hard to allow their readers to see, hear, taste, smell and feel like they were at the event or witnessing the source speaking. Writers work to describe.

The editors mentioned the resonant detail that is evident in good stories, good articles. The resonant detail is a part of the showing of events and people, it sticks out in the article, it remains with the reader after they have finished the article and walked away. It sticks.

There were many resonant details in Jonathan Bor’s article about the first resident in Syracuse to receive a heart transplant. One that was extremely vivid was, “Doctors had used a power saw to cut through his sternum, and a clamp-like retractor to spread his chest apart.” The description is very detailed and offers readers an image to help them be there, in the moment, and not just read about it.

These tightly constructed articles of the great writers is planned and implemented carefully and with rigorous discipline, like Neil’s articles. The construction of the sentences within the article is a key element to good writing. Varying up how sentences are constructed offers relief to readers and keeps the story interesting. Some of the great writers in this chapter varied their sentences by writing one or a few long sentences and then one short one. This creates a sort of rhythm that is so beneficial to writing, to conveying information. Pacing and rhythm is created when a writer provides sentence length variation. Rhythm can give sentences and articles a sense of music, but it also helps the readers to not read the same sentence construction again and again — that can become boring and lifeless. Putting a musical quality in stories, crafting stories with rhythm is more interesting and effective.

The flow or pacing of a story is also important. When crafting an article or story think of telling a story, learn from the great storytellers who told “long, beautiful stories with drama and danger and great detail,” like Rick Bragg did. The flow is an essential part of the story as it helps weave together the complex issues. Journalists must translate complex issues for readers, according to Clark and Scanlan, and their stories must move readers toward a feeling or action. Writing can’t just be telling a good story, it must be reaching for something more, trying to get under the surface level, trying to push for something better or reform or a change. When a journalist writes an article, he must think about the common good, he must think about ethics, he must think about how influential his writing can be.

The take-home message of this chapter is not that writing is easy and one can use these techniques to always create a great, informative story. The message is that a writer isn’t ever done and set in his ways. Writers must always continually learn new ways, better or other ways, how to select quotes and details better, how to describe better, how to tell a story more effectively, how to get more detail and storytelling quotes from a source. Writing and being a communicator, a journalist is being involved in a perpetual learning process.

Top 5 list of local reporting and beat writing articles:

1.Family of Fairfax teen suicide victim wants changes in school disciplinary policies, The Washington Post

By Donna St. George

This story is an example of local reporting, and possibly beat writing on education or local high schools. The article opens up and reveals a debate going on in the education community, about high school rules and enforcement policies and what violations should be given a certain level of disciplinary action. It also brings up suicide caused in part from the pressure and stress of the disciplinary actions and hearings and expulsion of a sophomore from his high school, friends, teachers and football team.

The lead brings the reader directly into the story, into the most recent event: the suicide of a local high school student. This sets up a somber and serious tone immediately. The tone helps push George’s, the student’s and his family’s and a school board member’s point that the disciplinary actions need to be reviewed.

The family of a Fairfax teenager who took his life as he struggled with the fallout of a high school suspension called for changes in the county’s disciplinary policies, in a letter sent Monday to school and county officials.

—George

George has storytelling quotes in this article. George quotes a school board member who completely critically questions the effectiveness of disciplinary actions against students, of requiring disciplinary school transfers

One particularly strong and emotional quote is from the father of the student who committed suicide. The father said he and his wife “are not looking for a pound of flesh,” he said. “It doesn’t get us anything. Nick is still not going to be with us.”

Their goal, he said, is policy change so other families do not “have to endure an abusive system” or face similar tragedy.

The article is shorter compared to others in The Washington Post. George’s article fits on one Web page, while other articles often go on for three or five pages. George’s article is example of brevity, but it still manages to give a lot of information.

The pacing of this article is deliberate and thought out. George gives the reader a background on the Fairfax student’s “stupid decision” as he called it in a letter, the disciplinary actions, his letter that the expulsion was too extreme of a punishment and then his eventual suicide. The pacing and timeline of the article allows the suicide to be more understood by readers.

2. New hope for halting a killer illness, The Baltimore Sun

By Diana K. Sugg

This Pulitzer Prize winning article for beat reporting is about sepsis, a serious medical condition. Sugg provides a short description of the article up front, “Sepsis: In their efforts to fight a degenerative, often-lethal infection, doctors explore a new drug treatment.”

The article uses a character, not just a source, to tell the story through. JoAnn Barr’s experience with sepsis provides the detail, information and tone for the story.

Sugg’s lead sets the serious and grave tone of the article, of how the illness begins and affects people.

She thought it was just a cold. Her throat was sore, and she felt tired all over. But as JoAnn Barr got her son ready for school that morning in March, she started gasping for breath. Within a few hours, Barr was on a ventilator in intensive care, her blood pressure bottoming out, her kidneys failing.

—Sugg

The lead uses details and one woman’s experience to help tell the story and get the reader into the article. It’s very effective.

Sugg describes “the fast-moving, often-lethal condition known as sepsis” through Barr’s experiences. Using such details allows the reader to live vicariously through the writing, to see and feel what Barr did, to understand sepsis better.

Sugg uses strong descriptions throughout the article. One description is, “It’s an illness that rages through the victim’s bloodstream, unleashing a fury of reactions that kill tissues and shut down organs.” Descriptions should work to make the reader understand and have clear images. Sugg’s descriptions do this.

Another strong description is, “the illness explodes with symptoms including violent chills, delirium, a spiking fever or faintness. When Barr felt short of breath, she called a neighbor, but when they arrived at Carroll County General Hospital’s emergency room 10 minutes later, Barr’s blood pressure was so low she was almost unconscious.” Sugg first explains the symptoms of sepsis, but she goes on to show how it manifested itself in one woman, in Barr. This truly helps readers to understand better and connect with the illness, connect with Barr.

Sugg also alludes to an author’s description of sepsis, furthering the reader’s understanding of the medical condition.

One author described sepsis in 1881 as “the rude unhinging of the machinery of life,” said Dr. Gordon R. Bernard, a Vanderbilt University professor of medicine and founding chairman of the International Sepsis Forum.

—Sugg

Sugg’s use of storytelling quotes is extremely powerful in this article. She quotes Barr, many doctors and Barr’s husband.

One doctor’s quote is very emotional: “It’s the most awful, scary thing to actually take care of,” said Dr. Trish Perl, Johns Hopkins Hospital’s epidemiologist. “You just watch people die, and it doesn’t matter what you do.” It took a lot of deep reporting and time on the medical beat and hospital to get such quotes.

3. Government blind to child-care fraud, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

By Raquel Rutledge

Rutledge’s article is one of a series of Journal Sentinel articles about people who con the child care system of Wisconsin. This is an example of local reporting and possibly beat reporting about child care and fraud.

The lead brings the reader into the story at a crucial point, months ago when Sue Meyers, a child care caseworker awarded more than $700 a week of state child-care subsidies to a woman known to be scamming the system. The woman was a convicted cocaine dealer. Meyers retired soon after that. The reporter lets the reader know that Meyers denied to comment for the article, further showing her in a negative light.

Rutledge focuses part of the article on Katria Wright, the cocaine dealer and woman who conned the publicly funded Wisconsin Shares program, a child care system, out of thousands of dollars. This offers many details and personal experiences for the article. The other sections of the article are broken up by subheads and offer different points and perspectives on the story. For instance, one section details the lax oversight of Washington, D.C. of child care fraud.

Rutledge writes with much authority in her voice, with a strong, powerful voice. She isn’t afraid to accuse government officials, especially child care caseworkers, of sharing the blame of fraud.

While unscrupulous parents and providers steal from the system, government officials – from caseworkers and data-entry clerks to lawmakers and Gov. Jim Doyle – share the blame.

They haven’t stopped it.

—Rutledge

The construction of these two paragraphs is deliberate. Rutledge chooses to make the second graf one sentence, a brief sentence with a punch. She varied the construction and length of the sentences, like the great writers did in the chapter.

She interviews many people from different perspectives and parts of the story, including caseworkers, government officials and state representatives. She is holding people accountable. “Accountability dissipates,” Rutledge writes. “Many counties haven’t reported any cases of child-care recipient fraud for years. Investigators who consistently find fraud in their counties say investigators elsewhere simply haven’t been looking.”

Rutledge also effectively chunks the information. She uses subheads, bullets to break out the information, many infoboxes or infographics, pictures, a graphic of documents and legislation, an infographic of a timeline of important dates in the story when the child care system was conned and there was neglect from caseworkers.

4. Serious crime on Metro hits 5-year high, The Washington Post

By Ann Scott Tyson

Tyson uses statistics, interactive graphs and storytelling, descriptive quotes to tell the story of crime rates rising on the Metro transit system in D.C. and Md.

The lead gives sufficient background to the readers. Tyson explains that serious crime has increased in the Metro by 12 percent last year. She also includes what the crimes have mostly been: robberies of electronic devices and aggravated assaults.

This is Tyson’s beat — Metro and crime.

In the article, Tyson breaks down the statistics to show how individual types of crime have risen in number.

Tyson also includes descriptive quotes and resonant details. One in particular is of a woman who recalls being robbed on the Metro, how a thief took Jennifer Schell’s iPod so fast the iPod buds were “still in her ears and a dangling wire left where the device should have been.” It is these details that stick with the reader and help him understand the story better.

Tyson also reaches to connect the story to nationwide statistics and trends. “The electronics thefts, following a nationwide trend among big-city transit systems, became so prevalent,” she writes.

5. Montgomery College sued over illegal immigrant policy, The Gazette

By Erin Cunningham

Cunningham starts the story out in a great place. The lead includes a personal anecdote about illegal immigration, education and how one student at the local community college couldn’t afford to go to school without paying the lowest tuition rate available. The ability for illegal immigrants to pay the lowest rate is being threatened in a lawsuit. The lead is one sentence and offers an emotional pull: “Yves Gomes has been supporting himself since his parents, who were in the country illegally, were deported in 2008.”

Gomez is attending community college and getting an education — but several government officials and Md. residents believe he is cheating the system and taking away tax dollars. Three Md. residents filed a lawsuit against the college “seeking to overturn its practice of granting the lowest tuition rates to some illegal immigrants, like Gomes,” Cunningham wrote.

This article is an example of beat reporting and local reporting. The beat is education and falls under an issue of much debate — illegal immigrants’ rights and education.

Cunningham includes storytelling quotes from Gomez, other students, lawmakers and officials from Judicial Watch, the watchdog group that is representing the residents in the lawsuit.

  • “It’s taxpayer waste, fraud and abuse,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch.
  • “Basically, they are trying to make it hard for us,” Gomez said.

The voice in Cunningham’s piece is clear and sure. Toward the end of the article, Cunningham writes, “Montgomery County Council President Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said helping make college affordable for all students will benefit the local economy.” Allowing people with differing opinions to have a voice in the article is important. But Cunningham makes the choice to have Ervin end the piece. Ervin’s opinion sticks with the reader.

Ervin’s quote is especially powerful, and Cunningham again made the deliberate choice to construct the article to leave the reader with her voice and opinion. “I see no problem with allowing children of immigrants to attend college and not make it cost-prohibitive for them to participate in our economy,” Ervin said. This construction may show that the reporter believes more strongly with Ervin’s side, so the construction was chosen this way. But the reporter does not show bias in any way or through voice, it is through selection and construction that the message and story is told.

Greensboro show presents multiple sides, reactions to 1960 sit-in movements

Marlena Chertock

FEB. 24, 2011

The stage for "Periphery" is set with background pictures of the Greensboro Four, a few tables and chairs. Photo by Marlena Chertock.

What surprises Bobby Pittman the most about the sit-in movement is not many people know it started right in Greensboro, in their city. The peaceful protesting of four A&T University freshmen ignited a nation-wide movement of sit-ins and protests.

“I went to A&T University and didn’t know (the sit-ins took place in Greensboro),” Pittman said.

Pittman played Eugene in “Periphery,” a play hoping to inform the public about the sit-in movement and the diverse reactions.

Thursday, Feb. 24 at 8 p.m. 12 cast members took the small stage in the Broach Theatre at 520 S Elm Street in Greensboro, N.C. in pride and brought the audience back to 1960 and the civil rights movement.

Information from the Community Theatre of Greensboro website. Graphic by Marlena Chertock.

The Community Theatre of Greensboro (CTG) put on its second-week production of “Periphery,” a play in honor of the Greensboro Four sit-ins. The play, written by N.C. playwright Ed Simpson, has been revived this year. It also ran two years ago to honor the anniversary of the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, a museum in Greensboro in the original Woolworth store where the sit-ins took place.

The play is also a way to help increase visitor numbers to the museum, as it is suffering from lack of visibility, according to executive director of CTG Mitchell Sommers.

The play will be showing Feb. 18-27.

The sit-in movement encouraged other movements, such as read-ins at segregated libraries, kneel-ins at segregated churches, sleep-ins at segregated hotels and play-ins at segregated parks, the cast said in one scene.

The play was filled with messages of standing up and acting, messages that talking is not always enough to bring about change.

A subtitle on the playbill describes the show as “Conversations about the ‘Greensboro Four’.” The play isn’t only about the four freshmen who started the sit-ins, it’s more about the reactions that people in the community had to the sit-ins, Sommers said.

“Periphery” showed how difficult it was for some people to accept change, how difficult it was for some people to understand why their college students, sons and daughters, black and white, were becoming involved in such a movement and being arrested for peaceful protests.

Several members of the cast became white, rich folk, holding wine glasses and wearing vests and hats with lace.

“I don’t understand why things have to change,” one rich, white woman said in the scene. “They have their own places, we have ours.”

A black shop owner discouraged his son from getting involved in the protests.

“Their (the students involved in the protests) mama’s didn’t send their kids to college to skip class and sit around a dime store all day,” the shop owner said.

The play also offered perspectives of people who were drawn to the movement, who believed in it.

Mike, a white student, played by Lee Wilson, a freshman from UNC-G, went through a change in the play. In the beginning, he was confused about what his professors were pushing and asking of him. But by the end of the play, he shouted at his father in a standoff.

“If something is wrong now, then waiting a week, a month, a year is making it wronger,” Mike said.

The cast ended the show by standing together and singing Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come,” reminiscent of the protest and revolution songs that were sung throughout the sit-ins and other protests, to keep spirit and resolve alive and show the will of the protesters.

Much like these songs demonstrate will, a statue on the A&T campus memorializes the Greensboro Four, the freshmen from A&T who started the sit-ins. Pittman said he knows about the statue, but never realized the sit-ins happened in his city, down the street.

“People tend to forget their bad history,” he said of the challenges of the sit-ins. “So if you have a black mark on your record you kind of sweep it under the rug hoping everybody forgets about it. But history is history, everybody needs to know about it. Good, bad, whatever.”

That’s one of the reasons he wanted to be in the play, he said. He was able to pass the knowledge along.

Alison Williams of the cast talks about moving to Greensboro in part because of the sit-in movement

Williams had the choice between Tuscon, Ariz. and Greensboro, N.C. when looking for a job. She chose to come to Greensboro.

“This is a really important part of the country for me and I’m really proud of it,” Williams said.

Williams talks about the importance of sharing the message of the Greensboro sit-ins

Executive director Mitchel Sommers talks about people not knowing the sit-ins happened in Greensboro

Sommers talks about informing the public about  the Greensboro sit-ins through the play