Starting somewhere

So I’m speaking in a participation in government class in a high school in Newburgh, N.Y., and a kid at the back of the class raises his hand.
“Yep,” I point.
“How do you know all this stuff you write?” he asked.
I didn’t understand.
“You be writing it like you be there,” he said.
His question has baffled me since. The stories his teacher had given him to read before my visit were mostly narratives, mostly about crime in an ugly, dangerous section of the Hudson River city of Newburgh. The narrative elements I used were based on my in-person observations as events there unfolded.
“I was there,” was my response to the high schooler.
He expected less. I don’t wonder why. I expect less. Why shouldn’t he?
Thus, this blog, gangrey.com. If we intend to have jobs 20 years from now, if we intend to own any validity in our fight for progress and reform, we have to reverse the trends that infect our business.
We have to tell stories like David Finkel and W.C. Heinz and Anne Hull and Ernie Pyle. We have to inspire like Michael Brick and C.J. Chivers and Kelley Benham. We have to captivate like Rick Bragg and Barry Siegel and Kate Boo and Earl Swift.
We have to make the people who pick us up in the morning say, “Damn, that was a good story.”
We have to get better.

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9 thoughts on “Starting somewhere

  1. Depends on how all of it’s presented. Just like anything else. Readers, I’m sure, are plenty skeptical about a lot of stuff they read. MAKE THEM BELIEVE YOU.

  2. I think we’re overestimating the number of skeptics out there. People believe what they read so long as we’re consistently transparent.

    By and by, I don’t think any use of “a reporter” or “this reporter” is honesty. If anything hurts us, it’s that we try to play up this idea that we’re all part of some giant unbiased, always-balanced, same-sounding, news-producing machine.

    Let’s quit pretending readers are jackasses.

  3. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with it. I’m just wondering if a reader sees a note like the LA Times one and says, “Well, why are they taking that much time to explain it?”

  4. I’m not sure what “pretty words” are. But I know dull words and dead words and wiggle words (“alleged,” for example) when I read them. Where does this notion come from, all too common in our craft, that vivid writing and truth are mortal enemies? It’s time to put this old warhorse down — mercifully, but speedily. It galloped its last mile decades ago.

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