Writing Stories, Not Articles

When I saw the title of this session, I was immediately intrigued by the topic. After all, I’ve always considered myself, as a journalist, primarily a storyteller. After churning out articles week and week, it’s easy to forget this simple cornerstone of journalism.

Rick Newkirk, from the Louisville Courier-Journal, presented a unique spin on the traditional understanding of the 5 W’s by presenting a fifth: Why should the reader even care? Again, I was reminded to focus on the human interest angles and the emotions of a story. But a simple statement that Newkirk made toward the end of his presentation stuck with me…

Patterns, they stick with people.

For example, we were split up into groups of around 10 students and assigned stories, some fictional, others based on actual events. My group was assigned the recent allegations that Brett Favre, of the Minnesota Vikings, sent lewd text messages to a prominent member of sports media. As we discussed what type of audience would likely be attracted to the story and what questions we would, without a doubt, answer in any stories we wrote covering this event, a member of another group asked a question I hadn’t thought of. What about Tiger Woods? In other words, how does this story tie into the publically displayed mistakes of another prominent, well-respected professional athlete? Essentially, it’s all about patterns. When the Tiger Woods story broke a year or so ago, Newkirk said people subconsciously made a mental note about what the basic content of the story and filed it away – when the Favre story broke this year, the tale of a fallen-hero was immediately repeated in their minds and a connection formed. I had never thought about news stories in this way and whether this will actually affect my writing in the future, I have yet to decide. But I thought it was an interesting spin on how news is presented and what journalists can do to make their individual stories more prominent amidst a sea of other stories with the same information.

My favorite part of this session was the discussion of the rescue of the Chilean miners, which the world watched, in awe, a few weeks ago. As a group, we discussed the 6 W’s of the story and why the story made news all around the world. I can remember frantically flipping to CNN the night of the first rescue with the Phoenix cage (which fondly reminded me of Elon and has stuck with me ever since) and I have no words to describe what that moment felt like. Its stories like those that make me love being a journalist, truly. It’s the news moments, even the most horrible ones in our history, but that pull us together as a nation and world that make me desperately want to be a member of the press force telling these stories. If it wasn’t for journalists, we wouldn’t have known the story of each miner as they were pulled from the hole that had been there home for two long months that I can’t even begin to imagine. We wouldn’t know that one was nicknamed Super Mario, another was greeted by both his wife and mistress upon surfacing aboveground or that the group created a system of democracy and each claims to have had a religious experience. If it wasn’t for the presence of the press, we wouldn’t know and I would argue we might not even care. The press makes it real for us, makes us feel the emotion of hugging a wife you haven’t seen for months. It made me, as a terrified, confused fifth grader, burst into tears as I watched an airplane crash into a building I didn’t know in a place I didn’t recognize. Watching the reports made me want to be a part of the group that made this information available, a part of something bigger than myself. And this session reminded me of just that – don’t just write articles, tell stories.

-Caitlin O’Donnell

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