Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Time is all we got

My favorite piece of narrative journalism is probably the same as a lot of other people's favorite piece of narrative journalism.

"The girl in the Window" by Lane DeGregory, a St. Petersburg Times writer, won a Pulitzer for her incredible story of a girl who was neglected for years escaping and starting a new, better life, even with all the difficulties she still faced. It's an incredible story. The language, the reporting, everything just cuts the reader to the very core. I watched a video of DeGregory talking about how she found story ideas, and learned she got this amazing story through a public relations expert. They're good for something, huh?

That's the kind of story we all want to write! It's beautiful. Life changing. Makes you want to cry. Tells a story no one's heard. You feel like you really know this girl. It's wonderful. I'd be so proud if that story was my legacy.

So when I started to read The Washington Post's "The District's Lost Children," (and I'll admit I haven't yet finished, it's quite long), I began to think, "yeah, to be famous for a series like that wouldn't be so bad either."

But this story was written differently. There wasn't as much color or explicit detail (probably a good thing considering so much of it was about kids dying). But it's impact was just as incredible.

But I started reading about this because I was told Sarah Cohen, one of the coauthors, would come speak to my class about data-driven journalism.

Data driven journalism. When we're talking about how it would look for Washington or Whiteville, N.C., we've been talking about gas prices, about parking, movie theatre times. All things people truly want to know. Things that truly do affect our daily lives. But they're not what I see as journalism. They're not what I want my legacy to be.

But it got me thinking: if this many Washington children were dying due to failures in social services, wouldn't people want to know that too?

While I love DeGregory's story, I have to say, it doesn't have the same impact as Cohen's. That's because you grow attached to Dani, but she's only Dani. With DeGregory's story, you have hundreds of dead children.

But Cohen's story was presumably so famous because of her work with databases, records, and a year-long investigation. It's not the same as chatting with a public relations expert.

This product we're creating for Washington N.C. isn't limited to basic information. What do people really want to know? what they don't expect to see.

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