Sharp Sentences Hook More Eyeballs p.62

By: M.L. Stein Good writing is crucial to the process of attracting and holding newspaper readers.
At the IRE conference, newsroom pros shared tips about how to tune up your reporters.

GREG STRICHARCHUK, a projects editor at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, says he may have a simple method for getting good writing from reporters: aggressively policing their story leads.
When a reporter has gathered the information and is ready to start writing the story, Stricharchuk calls him or her in and asks what the lead will be.
"And don't bore the crap out of me," he adds ominously.
Stricharchuk and Robert Blau, a Chicago Tribune projects editor, discussed their ideas and approaches to producing more readable copy on a panel, "Going from the study to the story: How editors can help make the story more vibrant," at the annual Investigative Reporters & Editors conference in New Orleans earlier this month.

Dull Stories Drive Away Readers
The session was based on the premise that computer-assisted reporting and other newsroom technologies are fine tools for digging up raw material but they can't make up for a dry, dull story that turns away readers.
A veteran reporter and editor who spent nine years at the Wall Street Journal, Stricharchuk said he first talks the story through with reporters to help them really "see" it.
"I ask them to tell me the thrust of the piece, how it will be told and if there is a strong character the story will be built around ? and is he a bad guy or a good guy?" the panelist explained. "If he is a bad guy, I want to know if there is a good guy. Are there scenes that compel the reader to want to know more about these people? Will the story have a beginning, middle and end?"
Blau, who admitted, "I probably know less about computer-assisted reporting than any of you in this room," suggested that such knowledge was not paramount to turning out vibrant copy. "Without a story, all the computer-assisted research in the world won't save you," he contended.

Prose and deadlines
He acknowledged that deadline pressure doesn't normally lend itself to scintillating prose but said the writer still faces the challenge of "distilling the findings of her research and legwork into sentences the reader can understand and react to."
When the Tribune last year set out to hire a reporter who knew how to acquire and manipulate databases, Blau recalled, the paper knew what it did not want: "someone who could produce glorified gotcha stories."

Data Doesn't Overwhelm Story
The Tribune, he said, took on Mike Berens because he knew "how to quietly tell readers that he got his information from a computer run, without distracting from the story, whether it was about a modern-day debtor's prison, juvenile jails or an interstate fugitive program. . . . One live person is worth 10,000 bytes."
Blau said the Tribune, like other large newspapers, is trying to redefine the way reporters deliver enterprise projects, including those with a computer component. Generally, he continued, the paper hews to the idea that the best way to compete with tabloid television and other "instantly available media" is with intricately told stories that rely on three-dimensional characters, actual dialogue and a clear structure.

Competing with Hard Copy
"Until this strategy is debunked in the marketplace, this will be the golden era of in-depth reporting," he predicted. "Call it by whatever name you want ? enterprise reporting, investigative reporting, reporting down to the bone, pulverizing ? whatever can't be copied by Hard Copy or squeezed into a one-minute spot."
Stricharchuk said one technique he uses is to have the reporter imagine himself with a video camera shooting a documentary. "Then I ask them what they would show that the viewer would see through their eyes," he went on. "How will the movie open? Will the main character be in it? Will it set a scene?"
The panelist also advised listeners that the story length itself should not be a concern. "If you write compellingly," he maintained, "readers will read every word of a long story."

?(Editor & Publisher Web Site: [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher June 20, 1998) [Caption]


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here