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Getting Involved in Your Story

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Mayfly, Aug 3, 2007.

  1. Mayfly

    Mayfly Active Member


    I finished reading this piece on SI.com, and I began to think. Do you get more out of a story by investing a lot of time and getting involved in it? I guess that answer is a no-brainer, but I believe some of the better writing I have read recently involves a writer becoming their subject. Tom Verducci was an umpire during a game to tell the story from their side and this one, where Mannix fights a featherweight champion. I always thought about doing this. Is this the new way of journalism, because it seems to be effective.
  2. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

  3. Pete Incaviglia

    Pete Incaviglia Active Member

    Personally, I hate it.

    Why does the reader care what I did?

    We've run three "personal" columns this week at our paper and they all sucked and had several reporters around the office asking "what makes these people think the general public cares about our personal experiences and our lives?"

    If you're going to do it/write it, it better be damn good (i.e. Plimpton)

    This stuff won't work in a newspaper.
  4. Starman

    Starman Well-Known Member

    We have one fucking idiot at our shop who keeps trying to sell this stuff. Playing softball, playing hockey, playing golf, playing basketball, playing tennis, playing frisbee, playing touch football, riding bikes, kayaking, cross-country skiiing, and a partridge in a pear tree. He starts every interoffice conversation with, "Not to brag, but I'm a really good athlete, you know."

    He's a copy editor on the universal desk, so he floats these stories for news, sports and features. He usually goes to the ME, EE or publisher, all of whom he shamelessly brownnoses, and tries to sell it as "great human interest." Straight over the heads of the department editors involved. His favorite ploy is to try to sneak them in when the department editor is on vacation, bulldozing/bullshitting assistants into putting them on the budget.

    He's got four or five of them in the can. He bullshits the ME or publisher into giving him the go-ahead to do the story, then he lets them fester in the can for a month or so while he's "doing touch-up work" on them.

    When he does manage to slip one of these manifestos into the paper, it's invariably a) 60-80 inches long with sidebars etc etc., b) accompanied with 15-20 photos or graphics, all featuring him (the photogs report he specifies this), and c) written in an insufferably pompous, smug and condescending manner: "Most weekend athletes cannot hope to succeed at such an advanced level, yet I find myself dominating play" and comparing himself to superstars such as Kobe, Jordan and Tiger Woods. Oh yes, and d) for each story, he requests/demands/finagles about a full week off from his normal newsroom duties for "research" and "writing" time. OHHHHHHHHH yes, and e) he hovers over the back of the people laying it out on the page, effectively giving him "final cut" of the finished product.

    After the appearance of each installment in this intermittent series, we get a peppering of reader letters, mostly saying "we don't fucking care."

    I take great pleasure on going Darth Vader on it in the news meetings. "Nobody fucking cares, dude."

  5. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    If it's good, it will work.

    The best writer I've ever worked with was a master at "participatory journalism." His columns were almost always compelling, often off the beaten path (or at least a different way of looking at a mainstream subject), and they usually kept the focus on the experts or sources who were there to help him get the handle of what he was doing. It was fun to read and fun to edit, and he seemed to have fun writing them.

    He had a (mostly) weekly column for this stuff, and it was outstanding. Won quite a few awards -- local, state, Gannett and APSE -- for the several years I worked with him, and made a huge impression on me as a cub reporter at the time.
  6. Walter Burns

    Walter Burns Member

    I think Jim Backus put it best in "Deadline USA:"
    Do you want to be a journalist or a reporter?
    What's the difference?
    A reporter tells the story. A journalist makes himself part of the story.
  7. jgmacg

    jgmacg Guest

    Having made the nod earlier to Mr. Plimpton and "Paper Lion," I wanted to be sure that our younger writers know where Plimpton got his ideas about "participatory journalism."

    Paul Gallico

  8. novelist_wannabe

    novelist_wannabe Well-Known Member

    I've done a couple of feature pieces like that ... sort of Mike Rowe before there was a Mike Rowe. I think it makes you more informed as a writer.

    On the other hand, there was the stuff I saw from the CNN crew in MSP yesterday. They interviewed this dude in a wheelchair who was stuck in his van on the bridge. Near the end of the piece, the reporter says, "We interviewed him at home, and he's having difficulty getting around, because his van was still on the bridge. So we gave him a ride to his doctor's appointment."

    Sure, decent human thing to do. But was it really necessary to include that tidbit in the piece?
  9. Eagleboy

    Eagleboy Guest

    Does anybody have a link to the Verducci stories? I've looked and can't seem to find them and didn't know if anyone would have a better idea where I could.

    For his efforts, the story is interesting. I think part of it is because I heard about him doing it early on, so catching up with it now was pretty good.

    Mayfly, if you haven't seen it, check out the impressively-titled "What Goes Ninety-Five Miles per Hour for Seventeen Days Straight Through Mud, Sand, High-Speed Smash-ups, and Marauding Bandits?" by Jonathan Miles in the 2006 Best American Sports Writing. Best story in the edition - about a guy going on the Dakar Rally.
  10. The only time this works is if you're getting access to something the public doesn't usually get to see. That's why Verducci's umpire story worked - we rarely get to see behind the scenes of the umpire world.

    Writing a first-person story about Ultimate frisbee or what have you is just masturbation.
  11. TyWebb

    TyWebb Well-Known Member

    I'm taken a crack at stories like this and I think if done right, these stories can work. What I tried to focus on was the subject and describing him/her in the middle of competition. The fact that he/she was competing against me was kind of a minor detail.

    But when a writer injects too much of himself in the story, making about how I did this and I did that, then it is absolutely masturbation.
  12. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    so does JVD buy rounds after you get the paper out?
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