Learning the craft

Learning the craft


Learning the craft of journalism

If you’re a journalism student, the best way to learn the craft is by doing it. But the next best way is to voraciously read the best of the best.

Look at how the pros handle complex, difficult stories. How did they get the information? What approach did they take in presenting the story to readers? How did they structure the story? There’s nothing wrong in studying the methods of a master to try to become one yourself.

Some great web sites offer links to powerful stories. The most obvious one is Pulitzer.org, which offers links to the full text of Pulitzer prize-winning stories dating back to the 1990s.

Check out this lede from a prize-winning story in the Seattle Times in 1997:

At the end of a long, bending driveway, it appears: a sprawling new house in the middle of an acre and a half of trees.

At nearly 5,300 square feet, it’s three times the size of the average American home. The front features a two-story decorative column bordered on one side by cedar decking and on the other by tall, arched windows and a two-car garage. In the back, a raised deck wraps around the gabled structure from end to end, with rows of view windows lining the first and second floors.

The house can’t be seen from the road. And there are some who wish it wouldn’t be seen at all – namely, those responsible for building it and the couple living there, who earn more than $90,000 a year.

Why? Because this secluded manor was built with tax dollars intended to help needy Native Americans.

The reporters spent months on this investigative story and could have very easily written a lede that was complicated and mind-numbing. But they took an approach that draws readers into the article.

Another web site is Extra! Extra!, a site maintained by Investigative Reporters and Editors. It showcases watchdog stories from around the country.

Another site I like to check is News Gems, a blog by journalism professor Jon Marshall. He highlights good investigative and narrative journalism.

Whenever you start reading a story and can’t put it down, save it and study it. Figure out how that reporter got you to keep reading. Learn those reporting and writing techniques and use them for your next big story.