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Lede in Esquire: Pushing the bounds of "nonfiction"?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Pulitzer Wannabe, Jul 14, 2008.

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  1. For the most part, David Vann's story on Northern Illinois University shooter Steven Kazmierczak is a brilliant combination of investigative and narrative journalism. But I'm troubled by portions of the lede, which seem to describe, in detail, what went in in Kazmierczak's room as he prepared to gun down his fellow students.

    Some excerpts:

    "He sits on the end of his bed in a broken-down Travelodge. Smokes a Newport. ... Across his lap, a Remington 12-gauge shotgun, the barrel sawed off. His hands on it, one on the stock, one on the barrel. He can't sit still, though. Always fidgeting."

    "He picks up the Glock, checks the clip. Makes sure it's full. Checks it again. Checks it again. Threes have always spoken to him, shown him what to do. Three pistols. Three shells in the shotgun."

    "Sets the pistol down. Picks up the next, and the next, checks each clip three times. Checks the extra clips. A bullet is so small, so heavy for its size. Turns his right forearm up a bit, pushes up the sleeve, looks at his tattoo again. A $700 reminder in black and red."

    "Checks himself in the mirror, walks to the door, then has to go back to check again, just to make sure. Always checking."

    I don't understand how he can know any of this, considering Kazmierczak was alone and didn't talk to another human being before turning the gun on himself.
  2. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Extension of literary journalism, but even though I'm not sure about anything in this word business these days, I think it's OK.
  3. Beaker

    Beaker Active Member

    I'd echo buck's statements. I'm guessing he got a good deal of information that allowed him to set up the scene, but yeah, I completely understand the skepticism.
  4. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    i don't know, mitch albom got ripped pretty good for not being at that final four game. do we know that the killer did all these things? journalistic deduction based on interviews? not sure i can buy that.
  5. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Completely different stories. One was a "live" news column that set a scene that obviously didn't happen.

    Nobody's going to think the recreation is from his actually being there. And let's face it -- unlike the Michigan State deal, there's never going to be anything that happens to dramatically disprove that the scene that leads the magazine article took place.
  6. Yeah ... I don't like it. I don't think you can just make up action for your lede, without marking it as such ("... he likely lit a cigarette, may have kept one hand on the barrel one on the trigger, as he was wont to do. Probably checked his tattoo in the mirror, another of his mannerisms.")
  7. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    the shooting happened. we don't know if one thing in the motel room happened as was written for fact. could've taken a better approach.
  8. I'd be curious about the editing process. If I read this lede and I'm an editor, I red flag it. Especially since David Vann, to start with, is largely a fiction writer from what I can tell.

    And this isn't me being a newspaper fuddy duddy who wants everything to be who, what, where, when, why presented in the inverted pyramid. Jones, for one, said that he didn't put anything in his Iraq story unless he had it cold. I've read others say the same - Susan Orlean, Tom French, etc., etc.
  9. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    kind of spoiled on jones. too bad he didn't get to write it.
  10. Understand that the rest of the piece seems to be down cold - lots of interviewing, apparently a review of 1,500 pages of leaked documents, etc., etc. But the lede seems to be made up out of whole cloth, or at least a "dramatization" of a scene that NOBODY witnessed. Which works for the Steven Kazmierczak movie, but not the Steven Kazmierczak magazine piece.
  11. Songbird

    Songbird Well-Known Member

    i guess. but if you can't buy into the lede, how much of the rest do you believe?

    i'll read it tomorrow and check back here.
  12. Agree with PW,
    I think the lede is a total trip into fiction-land.
    There is no way the writer knew what was going on in the room before the shooting. No amount of interviews is going to deliver that nugget.
    Maybe this is legit in magazine writing - maybe Jones can answer that - but it is a newspaper no-no.

    This is worse than Albom. He fudged being at a sporting event (and was ripped). The writer here, described the actions of a deranged killer prior to his spree. For all we know the killer could have gotten pissed off a episode of Matlock and went off the deep. This is a bigger sin in my book.
    I don't like the literary leap one bit.

    I would love to know the reasoning behind it.
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