America’s Best: Local Reporting and Beats

By Ginna Royalty

Chapter Two of “America’s Best Newspaper Writing” discusses different strategies and tactics for exploring deeper into local writing. The different examples show the importance of detail, not being afraid to take a different approach, and keeping it brief.

Rick Bragg: “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University”

Rick BraggRick Bragg takes on the storyteller’s method of reporting, utilizing the people around him to mold his articles into stories. Not only does he make readers see and hear what he does, but he also helps them feel the emotions mixed into the story. In “All She Has, $150,000, Is Going to a University” Bragg pulls the reader into the interview as if you were actually there. He uses detail in interesting and different ways: “The Oseola McCarty Scholarship Fund bears the name of a woman who bought her first air-conditioner just three years ago and even now turns it on only when company comes,” “Her voice is so soft that it disappears in the squeak of the screen door and the hum of the air-conditioner.”

Thomas Boswell: “Losing It: Careers Fall like Autumn Leaves”

Thomas Boswell catches readers’ attention by finding the central idea within a topic and downloaddiving in. In “Losing It: Careers Fall like Autumn Leaves,” Boswell always keeps readers on their toes, climbing the ladder of abstraction; “The cleanup crew comes at midnight, creeping into the ghostly quarter-light of empty ballparks with their slow-sweeping brooms and languorous, sluicing hoses.” He is able to relate the game of baseball to the pains of growing up and growing older, “In baseball, you see, no one ever believes he’s really lost it.” He is able to make non-sports fans relate to the struggles of knowing when to move on with some things.

Jonathan Bor: “It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray’s Heart”

jonathan-borJonathon Bor exemplifies deadline writing to the extreme when he wrote: “It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray’s Heart.” After reporting for 48 hours non-stop, he was able to write the piece in a two hour time crunch will still taking his time with the lead to ease the readers into the story and not rush anything. Bor takes you step by step through the process, making it easy to read, detailed and action packed. He gives organs feelings, allowing the reader into not only the operating room but into the life of Bruce Murray; “On a platform at the foot of the operating table, the spent heart rested for the duration.”

Mitch Albom: “Mackenzie Football Star Another Gunplay Victim”

Mmitchalbomapcredit_jennyrisheritch Albom is a sports columnist known for not only for covering celebrity athletes but taking a look at the small town athletes hit with tragedy. In “Mackenzie Football Star Another Gunplay Victim,” Albom combines a current political commentary with the tragedy of a not so uncommon in some parts of the US. Albom also varies his sentence length, creating a choppy narrative while still reminding readers of the incidents throughout, “One has a bullet on his conscience, the other wears that bullet in his head,” “I don’t want a gun. I’m sick of guns. You got a gun, stay away from me.”

Russell Eshleman Jr.: “Even for Trees, Age Could Have Its Privileges” and “Domino’s Bites Back at Tax”

Russell Eshleman Jr. is known for being brief. He likes to get his point russell-eshleman-jracross clearly and quickly. Eshleman said, “I think you can do short stories and make your point and be just as effective and informative.” He also is able to write about things such as politics and serious matters in an informative, short and humorous way.

Dan Neil: “Caught Up in the Crossfire”

Dan Neil takes average topics such as advertising and auto motives and dan_neil_wsjads his own unique touch to it. He uses unusual words and slang, teases the reader, utilizes wordplay and analogies, packs in a history lesson, and still is able to bring his articles full circle. In “Caught Up in the Crossfire,” he makes an automotive criticism fun for everyone, not just car lovers, “The car has anti-lock brakes and traction and stability control, but on dry pavement these systems allow enough slip and slide to have fun.”

Other Local Reporting Examples

Failure Factories

Reporters at The Tampa Bay T10imes held their state and Pinellas County accountable for failing and doing nothing for the black students in schools there. The team did extensive research and showed off their work in a variety of ways to make this issue heard. They gave readers shocking fact after shocking fact: “Ninety-five percent of black students tested at the schools are failing reading or math,” “They score worse than almost any school in the state.” They covered all bases, speaking with board members, the community, former principals, and family members.

Prognosis: Profits

Members of the Charlotte Observer uncovered that local “nonprofit” hospitals raising their costs and paying their top executives millions of dollars, all while leaving people struggling to pay bills. The reporting did not just stop at one or two articles, the Charlotte Observer left no stones unturned and covered more than 20 articles revealing their findings. Their instalments will inspire other local reporters to hold powerful locals accountable for their actions.

Unfit for Duty

Members of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported on law enforcement officers in Florida who despite being cited for multiple offences including excessive use of violence, drug and alcohol addiction and stealing, remained on the job. Reporters found each instance where an officer was cited as well as the “consequences.” The outrage is apparent in the writing, how did this happen? These officers are supposed to be protecting citizens from harm, yet they are the ones causing the harm. Not only did these officers commit offences and keep their badges, but others were still collecting pension despite losing their law enforcement certificate. The Sarasota Herald-Tribune uncovered scandal after scandal and did not let up.

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