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The appeal of local reporting- America’s best newspapers

September 13, 2012

Local news continues to fuel the print news industry. Stories concerning the local community are not typically available online nor can they be found in an alternative news outlet. As a result, such reporting attracts a specific audience and sustains the print publication. Reporters who focus on community events recognize the uniqueness of otherwise anonymous individuals and call attention to the exceptional qualities of those belonging to marginalized populations. Rick Bragg’s account of Oseola McCarty captures this aspect of local reporting.

On the surface, McCarty, an 87-year-old seamstress, lived an ordinary life. As Bragg describes in his lead, “she took in bundles of dirty clothes and made them clean and neat for parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never saw,” yet the reporter does not let the solitude define her life. He builds the story around the contrast between her few worn possessions and her donation of $150,000 to a local university. Throughout the article, Bragg personifies the donation, referring to her monetary contribution as “the Gift,” and using it to motivate the action in the story. The Gift incites the relationship between McCarty and the recipient of her donation and the seamstress’ invitation to Stephanie Bullock’s graduation. There is a strong contrast between the first graph, in which Bragg lists the celebrations McCarty never attended, and the opportunity to see a college graduation, and the Gift is clearly the agent of change. The reporter’s familiarity with the article’s concept, the Gift and the donor, enables him to cultivate an intimacy between the reader and the story’s subjects. The same can be said for the members of The Patriot-News staff, who won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting because of their extensive coverage of the Sandusky sex scandal at Pennsylvania State University. The article titled “Football is Penn State” reveals how intrinsically the institution’s identity is tied to its football legacy. The loyal fans’ enthusiasm for the sport generates the movement of the story and reveals the game’s loss of innocence following the Sandusky scandal.

Thomas Boswell, a sports columnist for The Washington Post, also describes the relationship between the aging baseball players and their cherished talent as if both are animate characters in the story. Boswell uses the analogy of the ivy and brick house to communicate the potential destruction talent can cause its owner, allowing the talent to inherit human qualities and drive the player’s game. The literary style is executed well when derived from a complete understanding of the topic and area of interest. Furthermore, the withering talent illustrates the passing of time, which Boswell writes, enhances the humanistic characteristics we attribute to the players who “only as they become vulnerable, flawed and afraid do they seem truly human to use and most worthy of our attention.” Therefore, the personal anecdotes illuminate a larger concept about spectators’ idolization of mortal athletes.

An ANSE award-winning article, “A wife’s battle: When her soldier returned from Baghdad, Michelle Turner picked up the burden of war,” uses Michelle and Troy Turners’ story to demonstrate the struggles of soldiers returning from war with PTSD and ineffectiveness of necessary facilities. Troy’s pills frequently appear in scenes throughout the article to exemplify the constant illness resulting from war. Mitch Albom employs this same technique when narrating Dewon Jones’ life through a series of his experiences with guns. Jones first experiences gun violence when he is 10 years old, and the weapon continues to occupy a prominent place in his life until he is 16-years-old and left the hospital with a bullet in his head. The teenager’s later dedication to athletics rescues him from the violence that characterizes his neighborhood in Detroit. In the article, Jones serves as a microcosm for the danger of guns and how positive attention provokes a struggle for a better life. Similarly, The Charlotte Observer’s focus on the House of Raeford Farms business practices shows the dangers associated with the poultry industry. Insight into the local company enables the reporters to delve into the issue while exposing trends concerning indecent conditions.

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