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The art of deadline writing- America’s Best Newspapers

September 6, 2012

The examples of deadline writing included in America’s Best Newspaper Writing demonstrate a short time limit does not provide an excuse for stale writing. The articles all contain literary language that allows the reader to walk into the story and become acquainted with the people described. The reporters did not fail to recognize the humanistic qualities of the sources and individuals involved in the story. As a result, the sources do not only offer information to the audience and reporter, but generate empathy as well. Richard Ben Cramer exemplifies this tactic extremely well in the article “Shiva for a Child Slain in a Palestinian Raid.” Although the story focuses on the Hadani family, the family members’ behavior communicates aspects of the Jewish tradition, and the house of mourning serves as a microcosm for the dangers that envelop the nation. As a result, Cramer uses the family’s story to inform his audience about the most recent events in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, giving the violence a human face.

Furthermore, the history included in the beginning of the report from the Mideast provides context and helps the reader understand how the actions of the family relate to their personal tragedy. Even the first sentence sets the scene and familiarizes the reader with the story’s setting. A 2009 ANSE award-winner, “‘God Help Us’: Boys had spent childhoods being trained” also sets the scene in the opening the story, describing a tornado barreling through the Little Sioux Scout Ranch for Boy Scouts. The Omaha World-Herald staff depicts a moment of the incident and then begins the next section with a sentence similar to what would be considered a topical lead. The audience has a vision of the event within the first moments of reading. Leonora LaPeter’s story regarding the death sentence of Jerry Scott Heidler also introduces the readers to the setting in the first sentence. The mention of the jury immediately indicates the article concerns a court case, and the fourth sentence reveals the result of the case. The three stories show that in news reporting, specifically during deadline writing, the core of the story should be the beginning of the article.

Even though the headline of The Washington Post article about Richard Nixon’s funeral does not mention the past president nor make reference to a funeral, it still communicates the unique angle of the story, and does so poetically. The lead describes the “men of steel” while alluding to a change. The contrast between the bold men and the mourning crowd artfully indicates the passing of time without needing to explicitly state the number of years that have passed since Nixon’s presidency. Therefore, while it is easy to simply regurgitate facts when writing on a deadline, it is also an easy way to lose readers’ attention. The contrast in the weather throughout the funeral, like the juxtaposition between the men’s appearance during the time of the Nixon administration and the frail men in attendance, helps the reporter show the conflict in the story between the durable politician and the mortality of such a man. The sun, which “gave up its hours-long struggle to penetrate the clouds,” parallels the efforts of Nixon to traverse America and remain a fixture in the country. The lead in “Boys were hidden in plain sight” also uses contradictions to reveal an aspect of conflict. The theme flows throughout the story, which describes how a man’s public appearance functioned to evade questions regarding the two boys who lived in his apartment.

Although Francis X. Clines’ article is also filled with contrasting images that highlight the conflict in Ireland, repetition and parallels prove effective in the 2011 ANSE deadline writing award winning piece. Reporters on the staff at Joplin Globe reported on community members’ experiences in Joplin immediately following the deadly tornado. Drawing similarities between the sources’ experiences communicated the totality of the destruction and the inescapable consequences.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. andersj permalink
    September 9, 2012 5:01 pm

    Great work, Melissa. You are wonderful at analytical and comparative work! Please note that when “award” and “winning” are placed in front of a noun to describe that noun they become a compound modifier and should be hyphenated: ANSE deadline writing award-winning piece. Thank you for your continuing quest for the pinnacle of excellence!

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