Posted by: lcowie | September 22, 2008

America’s Best Newspaper Writing, Part 3

Local and Beat Reporting

by Lesley Cowie

Behind every great local or beat report, there is passion. A story will not reach its audience unless there is passion to drive it forward and to appeal to the reader. Readers want to discover and learn, appreciate the old and the new, and relate to the subject matter.

Beat reporters use background knowledge and interest while writing their articles. When reporters utilize these conventional skills, they are most likely to relate to the readers. Successful local reporters must have a passion for people. If they are able to approach people on the streets, they are most likely to develop an interesting, captivating, and real perspective.

Mike Berger’s Camden Crime Scene

The appeal of Mike Berger’s Pulitzer Price winning article in 1949 was his dedication. Unbeknownst to the readers of The New York Times, Berger wrote the 4,000-word article in one day. All of the traveling, researching, interviewing, and writing took place in one day.

This article clearly conveys dedication because Berger includes many facts. He writes about the histories, backgrounds, and motives of a variety of characters. This shows that Berger was able to interview a multitude of people on the day he was assigned to write the piece. This kind of local reporting is inspiring and paves the way for how local reporting should be.

“Youth no longer a refuge” by Milton J. Valencia

Milton J. Valencia’s article, “Youth no longer a refuge,” illustrates outstanding local reporting because it sounds like fiction. Valencia’s lead sounds like something that would occur in a movie. As readers continue through the story, they realize that the issue is real, horrifying, and nearby.

Valencia makes this sudden transition from emotion to statistical data in order to wake up the reader. Emotion and statistics merge together when Valencia says that even infants have been affected by local shootings. His harsh tone keeps the reader’s attention and makes him or her realize that the situation is pertinent to local residents. The tone also causes fear, which usually keeps readers from changing to a different article in the newspaper.

“Before finding stars, astronomers find dark” by Clay Barbour

Short sentences, past examples, new terms, and future predictions fill Clay Barbour’s article, “Before finding stars, astronomers find dark.” Barbour uses short sentences to appeal to his audience in a conversational way. Talking about astronomy, Barbour does not want to bore or confuse his readers.

Barbour recalls what Charlotte used to be like before all of its growth. He compares the city to how it is now and how it is more difficult to see stars. This comparison introduces readers to the idea that too much light, and too much growth, can have detrimental effects on residents.

In further effort to compare to air pollution and the environment, Barbour introduces “light pollution” in his article. He wants his readers to understand how serious street lights, house lights, car lights, and flood lights can be. These lights are not a matter of annoyance or distraction. Barbour goes on to explain the potentially detrimental effects, such as a possible link to cancer.

He also discusses the “graying out” of astronomy. Children of Generation Y have become so focused on computers that they do not want to sit outside and look for stars. Scientists worry that astronomy will no longer be interesting to anyone, especially if light pollution interferes with the hobby.

While Barbour focuses primarily on the Charlotte area, this subject is one that may be applied to many areas in the United States. It is refreshing to have a reporter focus on a large issue at the local level. There is more of a chance that people can fix the problem. Barbour is slowing providing information and gaining support on this subject.

“Turnpike to lay off 100 toll collectors” by Andrew Ryan and Noah Bierman

Layoffs and traffic are always issues that attract readers. These topics directly affect the residents of the area. Andrew Ryan and Noah Bierman’s article, “Turnpike to lay off 100 toll collectors,” discusses these two issues and tries to explain what is happening and why.

Boston is a large and popular city. The turnpike receives a great deal of traffic. In order to increase the efficiency of the turnpike, authorities want to use automated Fast Lane passes, rather than toll workers. While this will be devastating to 25 percent of the toll workers, the decision will be best for the area; the Fast Lane can process 1,000 more cars an hour than a toll collector.

This is an attractive article because it explains an upsetting issue and informs the public on upcoming changes to the turnpike. It is important to mention that more signs for Fast Lanes will be added on the turnpike so that drivers do not get confused. Although it is an upsetting topic for some, Ryan and Bierman try to remain positive with warnings and upcoming changes.

“Developer rejoices as Dana Point Headlands project takes shape; conservationists call it ‘catastrophic'” by Susannah Rosenblatt

A multi-million dollar development, which has endured 30 years of legal battles, is the subject of Susannah Rosenblatt’s article, “Developer rejoices as Dana Point Headlands project takes shape; conservationists call it ‘catastrophic.’” This article is interesting because of its mixture of legislature and rich citizens.

In order to describe the new development, Rosenblatt describes the snooty, nearby residents. This kind of description lends way to why the new development has taken 30 years to gain approval – it will be a very costly investment. It is interesting how Rosenblatt uses the rich neighbors to describe the potential homeowners of the new development.

As Rosenblatt goes on to describe the kinds of homes that will be in the development, the area almost seems surreal. This will be one of the richest developments in California, with buyers coming as far away as Australia. It will be interesting to see how local residents will interact with the wealthy tenants in this posh neighborhood.

Beat reporting generally comes as a series of articles. When a reporter takes interest in a particular subject, he or she will often write articles about that subject. The passion, experience, and interest in that subject generally lend creative appeal to the article.

After gaining information and experience, the last component for a great beat series is creativity. With the first two parts mastered, it should be easy for an accomplished reporter to add slang and wordplay to the article’s subject.

As the beat series goes on, presumably each article will become better and more creative. Each article will dive deeper into the subject, allowing the reporter to discuss unknown topics and to become a professional on the subject. This also allows the reporter to gain credibility in his or her writing.

Local reporting can be fairly difficult under deadline. In order to meet deadlines, it is crucial for a reporter to master the shoe leather technique. If a reporter cannot casually speak to strangers on the street for interviews, it is unlikely that he or she will meet deadline.

The best local articles explain pertinent information in an appealing way. This can be done through anecdotes and stories, direct quotations, or predictions for the future. It is especially appealing when the reporter seeks to explain information to the local community in hopes of gaining support for future endeavors. The best approach is to “think globally, act locally.”


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