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Category Archives: words

The essence of story, in a 358-word song

When I was little, my mama worked the early shift at the seafood plant. She’d drop me off at my Aunt Janice’s house before dawn and they’d lay me down on a pallet in the living room. Country music played low on the stereo. I knew Charley Pride and Loretta Lynn before I knew words. [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 30: Sally Jenkins picks Kwame Brown

The thing about being the first pick in the NBA draft – especially if you’re 19-year-old Kwame Brown, the youngest No. 1 pick ever – is that you become the subject of a lot of newspaper stories. By April 2002, the end of Brown’s rookie season with the Washington Wizards, dozens of reporters had dutifully written profiles [...]

Beth Macy on Edna Buchanan, sources in conflict, and stories too sad to tell

Our January Editors’ Roundtable looked at “After the battle, Mike Sword’s war within,” a story by Roanoke Times reporter Beth Macy about the death of an Air Force veteran in Virginia after service in Iraq. A former Nieman Fellow, Macy has also been a contributor to the American Journalism Review, Parade, and O, the Oprah Magazine. She [...]

Pamela Colloff on storytelling, justice and letting readers think for themselves

Our latest Notable Narrative, the story of a mother convicted of killing her adopted son with salt, comes from Pamela Colloff of Texas Monthly.A two-time National Magazine Award finalist, Colloff has been at Texas Monthly since 1997, and her work has also appeared in The New Yorker and three editions of “Best American Crime Reporting.” [...]

“Watching the detectives” at the New Yorker Festival

We were sad to miss the New Yorker Festival a ways back, but have finally had a chance to look at some videos from the event, and wanted to deliver a few highlights relevant to storytellers. There were a lot of tempting sessions – Atul Gawande! Janet Malcolm! David Remnick! – but given the number [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 27: Christopher Goffard tracks love in flight

One drawer of my desk – the largest – contains a mound of stories, the best I’ve found in newspapers and magazines over the last 20 years. In addition, three or four “great writing” folders float around the top of my work space; faux-wood fragments of the desktop are seldom visible. Then there are a handful of individual [...]

Ben Montgomery on a cold case: building a story and taking names

This week’s Notable Narrative recounts the murder of Claude Neal by a lynch mob in 1934 and introduces his family, which has been waiting for decades for someone to name the killers and hold them to account. Tampa Bay Times reporter Ben Montgomery talked with us by phone this week about reporting and writing “Spectacle: [...]

When journalists become authors: a few cautionary tips

There’s long-form narrative, and then there’s book-length narrative. Both are “long,” but a story that’s 300 pages long is a different proposition, for both writer and reader, from one that’s 3,000 words. Writers embarking on their first book-length project respond to the challenge in different ways. Some panic, staring blankly at their screen as fine [...]

When I write the book: Nieman Reports on journalists who wrestle with long long-form

The Winter issue of Nieman Reports, with the theme “Writing the Book,” is now online. It includes contributions from digital publishers, narrative writers, and a passel of journalists who have gone on to tackle book-length projects. Here are a few highlights: In “Writing a Life, Living a Writer’s Life,” former Nieman fellow Gaiutra Bahadur recounts [...]

Jeanne Marie Laskas on hidden lives, the search for the perfect protagonist, and the joys of long-form

Our November Editors’ Roundtable looked at “Hecho en América,” a story by GQ correspondent Jeanne Marie Laskas about migrant blueberry pickers in Maine. Laskas’ work has been featured previously on this site, and has won her a slot in the “Best American Sportswriting” anthologies four times. She has also written five books and been a contributing editor at [...]