Frank Coffman – Literary journalism : CMA 2010

I knew I was going to love this presentation as soon as I heard presenter Frank Coffman speak. He has a slow, drawling (but not quite Southern) accent that just makes you (or me) want to sleep… similar to what I imagine Mark Twain sounding like.

Coffman likes Twain, by the way, and Hemingway and Lincoln and Nellie Bly – all good journalists who added the flair of literature to their writing. Coffman has no qualms about a narrative journalistic style, something I hope that we can implement at some point in to the Pendulum.

He is clear, though, that breaking news isn’t necessarily the place for literary style. No one really can think of a great analogy at a crash scene, nor should one be used. The literary journalism is better used for “softer” pieces – features, soft news and sports – anything that you might want to read about in a book.

LJ (as Coffman called it, and we are calling it for the purposes of this post) is not fiction, nor is it a new concept. It breaks away from the inverted pyramid and, instead of spoiling the story in the first graf, leads readers in gently and enfolds them in story so that they crave the next turn of the page.

The keynote speaker yesterday, Tom French, touched on this idea when he told excerpts from his book. Coffman went further, saying, “Readers want and deserve more.”

As a reader and a writer, I believe that the average consumer does deserve more than what is sometimes given in the paper. As a featurey kind of writer, I like to think that I give more than just a straight news story, but the literary style is just one step above.

-Lauren Ramsdell


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