The details of good writing.

We constantly stress the need to capture as much telling detail as possible in your reporting.  The more specific the details, the better your writing will be, transporting your reader inside the scene or action.  Mathew Warren did that splendidly in his recent piece in the New York Times:

A slender young woman hung 30 feet in the air, coiling her body around two pieces of black silk that were attached to the rafters. A crowd watching below screamed as she unraveled herself and started falling toward them and then gasped with relief as she came to a stop just above their heads.
The woman, Anya Sapozhnikova, was performing her aerial circus act, but this was not Cirque du Soleil, and there was no big top. Instead, it was a warehouse party in Bushwick, Brooklyn.
While the notion of circus performers is largely associated with major productions like Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus and the Coney Island sideshows, a new generation of performers is taking the circus arts to unexpected places. Fire eaters, stilt walkers, aerialists and sword swallowers are among those showing off their skills at parties, concerts, clubs and in the streets and in parks.

Mathew explains his strategy:  “I wanted to start with the performers and the moment of tension, with the crowd looking up as the woman unraveled herself toward them.  I knew that would draw in the readers.”  He succeeded.  His third paragraph also is an excellent example of a nut graf that captures the essence of the story. And check out the active verbs – hung, screamed, unraveled, gasped – that empower the lead.

Shout Outs

There’s very little that matches the thrill of breaking news before anyone else. With the media herd stampeding on the financial meltdown saga, Dan Macht dug up a story no one else had uncovered: The effect of the crisis on non-profits and philanthropy in New York City.  Dan’s story in Crain’s New York Business was days ahead of the competition:

When Pamela Maraldo heard that Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. had filed for bankruptcy on Monday, she immediately thought about the $10,000 grant she had been counting on receiving from the investment bank.
Ms. Maraldo is the executive director of Girls Inc., a nonprofit in New York City. Lehman gave it $10,000 last year to fund a tutoring and martial arts program for 6- to 18-year-old girls, and Ms. Maraldo was counting on the same amount this year.
“The bottom line is that we will have to work twice as hard this year,” said Ms. Maraldo.

Eliot Caroom broke news, too, when he looked beneath the debris of the government seizure of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to see if there were still opportunities for investors.  Turns out there were.  Investors would’ve almost doubled their money by today if they’d invested at the time Eliot’s story was published in  (Don’t worry, the story contained appropriate warnings about such gambles on ‘penny’ stocks.)

Megan McGibney and Vinita Singla checked out a professor’s tip and produced a much-picked-up story for the News Service on a little-enforced election law:

Don’t wear your favorite Barack Obama T-shirt or your shiny John McCain campaign button Nov. 4: You might get hassled at the polls.
An obscure, seldom-enforced state law bars anyone from wearing political buttons and other campaign paraphernalia within “a 100-foot radial measured from the entrances of the voting booth.”
With the election just over a month away, the law is suddenly gaining notice: an email begging potential Obama voters to “PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE” leave T-shirts and buttons home on Election Day is circulating on the Internet – spurring worried calls and emails to state election officials. The New York Civil Liberties Union plans – for the first time – to include a similar warning in its voter information materials.

Collin Orcutt got an early jump on a different local angle on the last days of Yankee Stadium with his story in the Highbridge Horizon.

If the Yankees don’t extend their streak of 13 straight postseason appearances this year, it won’t just be the players missing out on the playoff glory.
Many area residents are upset that the team appears to be going out with a whimper in its final season in historic Yankee Stadium. For local businesses, the Bombers’ swoon has a lot more than an emotional wallop.
“When the Yankees win, everybody is happy and makes more money,” said Alvin Williams, 55, an employee at Ball Park Lanes Bar and Restaurant, across the street from Yankee Stadium. “When they lose, it affects the entire Bronx.”

These stories reflect the journalistic equivalent of the sage baseball advice of legendary hitter Wee Willie Keeler:  “Hit ‘em where they ain’t.”  Reporters who follow their instincts to the stories no one else is telling will always end up with a good batting average.

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  1. Pingback: In writing, the magic is in the details. | The Write Stuff

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