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When sources die ...

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Write-brained, Dec 22, 2007.

  1. A former source who I grew to respect over the years is about to die. I'm both flattered and sad that his family asked me to write his story when he does. I'm honored to do it, and I will do it, but part of me just wants to be sad.

    One of the toughest stories I've ever written was a very public funeral for another source I had covered for years. I really struggled with it. I think it was the emotion and pressure of doing it exactly right. It was far from my best work.

    I'm a bit worried it'll happen again. I mean, I write sad stories all the time that depress even me but it's harder for me, for some reason, to write about someone I know. You would think it would be easier.

    I really would like to hear stories from veterans who have had to encapsulate the lives and careers of coaches and other public figures they covered for years. How do you treat the excess emotion and how do you use it to your benefit?
  2. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    The best thing to do is forget the quotes from people saying what a great person he is/was and try and think of one or two personal memories you have of that person that really encapsulate who he was.
    After a championship game did he stick around and help clean up some trash on the field before going home to celebrate? Did he get really upset when he had to cut a player? Stuff like that is always good.
    When I hear "he was a great father etc." that tells me nothing. But I will read a story about a guy that blew off a job interview or a dream fishing trip with his friends in order to take his kid's soccer team out for pizza after a heartbreaking loss.
  3. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    i'd start writing the story now. how often can you tell the story of a dead man (sorry, don't mean to be harsh) through a dead man's eyes?
  4. Elliotte Friedman

    Elliotte Friedman Moderator Staff Member


    When I do these things for TV, my biggest rule is not to over-write. I interview as many people as possible and just let them tell the stories. If I had a story to tell, I just told it in the simplest English, without exaggeration.

    It works very well. Just tell the stories. It works extremely well.
  5. That's good advice I follow for all those type of stories. I must hear, "He'd give you the shirt off his back" a dozen times a year. That doesn't make it into my stories.
  6. I've already started.
  7. I agree.
  8. hankschu

    hankschu Member

    I had to deal with this earlier this year, a guy I covered for most of his career and a good person, and this was the finished proeuct:


    I just allowed myself a few moments to grieve on a human level, then just became a reporter. At least for me, the adrenaline of working on such a story helps me mask my personal feelings while I'm at the phone or on the keyboard.
  9. Screwball

    Screwball Member

    You should check out the "A Life Story" feature obits in the Orange County Register. They're used for everyday folks, not the typical subjects of a news obit. The writer interviews friends and family and elicits wonderful anecdotes to essentially let them tell the story. The feature is not structured as a traditional obit, and that helps tremendously.
  10. Clerk Typist

    Clerk Typist Guest

    If you've got some quotes from him over the years that help sum up his philosophy, and that match the reality of his life, use those too.
  11. markvid

    markvid Guest

    There is nothing wrong with grieving for the person unless it gets in the way of the story.
    We are human, you are around a person long enough, you will feel sadness on their passing.
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