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Learning from the classics- America’s Best Newspaper Writing

October 19, 2012

The ten stories included in America’s Best Newspaper Writing‘s chapter featuring classic examples share at least one commonality: The articles reveal the societal impact of a single event or individual.

Gene Patterson‘s article titled “A Flower for the Graves” describes the nation’s responsibility for the death of the black four children murdered during the bombing of the Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. Patterson uses first person-plural to emphasize the collective guilt and encourage each reader to feel accountable for the discrimination persistently plaguing the country. The reporter uses the single act and the death of four individuals to call southerners into action and motivate the fight of civil rights.

Marvel Cooke‘s report “From ‘The Bronx Slave Market'” also uses a single person to illuminate the prejudice encapsulating American society and the unfair treatment of black women. Although Cooke publishes her own experiences, her testimony represents the plight of all the women who participate in “the paper bag brigade” and are perceived as subservient to their white peers. The journalist describes her employer’s hire as purchasing “her pound of flesh” (275). The gruesome image indicates the dehumanization of the black women, but also shows how the relationship transcends Cooke’s own experience.

Additionally, Dorothy Thompson, author of “Mr. Welles and Mass Delusion,” shows how Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater demonstrates the construction of a tyrannical regime. Furthermore, the use of “they” in the beginning of her report connects Welles to a larger population of individuals who abuse the public’s fear and naivety. Thompson compares Welles’ theatrical performance to the unethical practices of politicians who use fear to dispel logic and cultivate a society willing to sacrifice freedoms for greater protection. She proves the radio show demonstrates the public’s stunted judgment and the danger “from the theatrical demagogue” employed in modern mass politics (267).

In Richard Wright‘s report of Joe Louis’ defeat of Max Baer, the athletic competition illuminates racial conflict in Chicago. Louis becomes a symbol of the black population’s determination to defeat their oppressors and the embodiment of hope.

Similarly, Lorena A. Hickok‘s “Iowa Village Waits All Night for Glimpse at Fleeting Train,” melds together history, present action and future implication. As the villagers wait to watch the President Warren G. Harding’s casket fly by, “the chief concern of the adults was in seeing to it that the children go a good view of the train” (256). Although the action is centered on the approaching train, the heart of the story lies with the relationship between the parents and children. The parent’s behavior demonstrates the transmission of historical narratives from generation to generation and the accumulation of history throughout time. Therefore, although the view of the train is ephemeral, the significance of documenting history holds the story together.

William Allen White‘s obituary for his daughter also shows the universal value embedded in the story of a single individual. His daughter’s attempt to get a restroom of “colored girls” in her High School and her friendship with “all the girls, black and white” (251) allows Mary White to represent the Civil Rights Movement.

First-place winner for opinion writing in the Hearst Journalism Awards Program, Caitlin Johnston, weaves together memories of her and her brother to criticize American’s apathy toward American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. She, like the examples in the book, uses one individual to highlight a societal concern. Danielle Paquette, another Heart Journalism Award winner, captures the exceptional story of Martha Smock, but also presents the unique girl as a relatable teenager.

Anastasia Orso‘s piece regarding the Sandusky trial also concerns a specific conflict, but the revelation of the football defensive coordinator’s unethical behavior also raises questions regarding who else is responsible for the continued abuse. The report indicates the charges filed against Sandusky and presents a community in which all are responsible for each other.

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