Posted in Uncategorized on February 3, 2009 by jessicapruitt

Though John Umenhofer, criminal capturer extraordinaire and good ol’ boy, interrogates rather than interviews (and, indeed, many of his interviewing suggests are downright inappropriate for journalists), many of his techniques adapt well to the journalistic interview.

  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in an interview. Though he’s talking about different types of mistakes, this applies to journalism. If you interview lightheartedly and aren’t afraid to ask the wrong question, both you and the interviewee will be more comfortable. In later writing, it is important to admit that you didn’t get the information you needed and follow up rather than faking it or making it up.
  • Seek the truth and tell the truth. ‘Nuff said.
  • Develop relationships. In both cases, it’s easier to get desired information from people if they’re comfortable with you. Plus, any journalist needs a network of informants and sources.
  • Pay close attention to detail. If you’re given “the truth” (as Umenhofer puts it), don’t get it wrong. If you wrote something down sloppily, follow up to make sure it’s correct.
  • Redirect. Ask the interviewee a different question if they’re rambling or ask the question in a different way. You’re more likely to get the information you need.
  • Recognize the relevant information. Though this isn’t Umenhofer’s own strategy, it happened to him. He made some off-color comments regarding “assisted” suicide, but the journalists interviewing recognized that the important aspect of his tirade was his anger about women and his desire to help them.
  • “Don’t get blinders on.” It’s important to find a balance between controlling the interview and being flexible enough to allow it to go in a better direction.
  • Listen to your instincts. Journalists might not have as many hair-raising interviews as police, but if you follow your instincts–your own curiosity, you’re likely to find information that is interesting to others as well.
  • Copy what works. Listen to various interviews about beaver incidents. It will probably make you a better interviewer overall.

Umenhofer was less ethical than a journalist should be, willing to bluff and cheat his way into information–to a degree, at least. But, in the end, I guess interviewing is a universal art, and I’ll certainly take some of his suggestions to heart.


Lions Prefer Their Martinis Dry

Posted in Story Structure on February 3, 2009 by jessicapruitt


Beaven’s Sunday article, “Prosperity? Lion Dance Might Help” is difficult to classify, but most closely fits into a martini/hourglass structure. The story starts off with a somewhat blind lead before going on to give key facts of the Lee’s Association Lion Dance Team’s Sunday performance. The middle is not precisely chronological, but does detail the event further in somewhat logical/chronological progression. Finally, it ends with a kicker that’s snappy but empty of content.

Though the nature of the event may make it difficult to choose an appropriate story structure, I feel that kabob would have been more appropriate. The story is hardly a crime, disaster, or a dramatic news story, as Inside Reporting suggests a martini glass story is for. Instead, it has a human interest feel since it focuses on a dance group of eight, possibly making kabob a better option. The author uses fluffy transitions, such as “Not to mention…” and “Which means that…”  They lend the article good flow, but detract from hard content. Though they are not necessarily inappropriate for an article of this nature, I might have pared them down slightly for a tighter story overall.

Wall Street Journal Formula Not Formulaic

Posted in Story Structure on February 3, 2009 by jessicapruitt


Contrary to the formula named after it, this article from the Wall Street Journal follows more of an inverted pyramid structure. The lead is concise and summarizes important information and the story ends with a less-relevant anecdote. This particular article is unusual, however, in the fact that it uses subheadings to break the article up into important segments. Because of this, the article has less need for transitions. The article flows well, but instead of relying on specific transition words (however, etc.), each paragraph transitions by building off of the content of the previous paragraph. Given my expectations of reading a Wall Street Journal article, I was mildly disappointed, but the article nonetheless provides a comprehensive article with good flow.

Breaking News: Pyramids Turn Upside Down in Islamabad

Posted in Story Structure on February 3, 2009 by jessicapruitt


The Feb 2nd NY Times article, “American U.N. Official Is Abducted in Pakistan” uses the typical inverted pyramid structure that suits hard news stories everywhere. The lead concisely summarizes all the key facts–that and U.N. official was abducted and his driver killed in Quetta Monday morning–and the story then goes on to gradually add information in descending order or importance. The final paragraph, which is broad and relatively unimportant, makes this clear.

Given the critical and timely nature of the story, inverted pyramid is the only appropriate structure. Were the article to focus more on the broader issue at hand, it could expand into feature length and use a different structure, but I hardly question the author’s decision. In a story like this, far fewer transitions are used–they are instead inherent in the logical progression of information. His only apparent transition, in fact, is present in the final paragraph where he turns the issue around by saying, “At the same time…”

Testament in Turkey: The Kabob Story Structure

Posted in Story Structure on February 3, 2009 by jessicapruitt


Ben Sisario rocks the figurative kasbah in a New York Times article slotted for tomorrow’s paper. In an interesting and juicy article regarding the survival of the metal band Acrassicauda in Baghdad, Sisario utilizes the so-called kabob story structure to great effect.

Inside Reporting notes that a kabob story should start with an anecdote about a specific person and broaden into a general discussion before returning to the specific person again. Sisario’s article does precisely that. The article follows a fun and intriguing lead with the Acrassicauda’s hard luck story as a Western-style heavy metal band in Iraq and their expatriation to America. It then launches into a discussion of the meat of the story, still describing Acrassicauda’s story, but broadening the issue to general immigration and refuge issues. To conclude, the article ends with a Metallica-induced, burger king-eating episode in the life of the band. In fact, the story doesn’t follow the kabob structure to a tee, and has a bit of the chronological aspect of “the martini glass,” but Sisario combines them to nice effect. After all, “there’s no simple, droolproof, one-size-fits-all solution for organizing stories.”

The structure works well because it’s a story about real people with real problems. An inverted pyramid structure might have trivialized the metal band’s struggle, but this certainly doesn’t. It makes me love Acrassicauda, regardless of any particular taste for heavy metal. Sisario’s furthermore makes the structure work through casual transitions. He prefers to use phrases like “For these musicians” to transition to a more specific paragraph and “But” to work in contradiction with and add to a previous paragraph.

Overall, no complaints. As Acrassicauda might say: rock on.

Disco Fever

Posted in A Day In The Life on February 2, 2009 by jessicapruitt
The measure of a good reporter? The size of his fedora.

The measure of a good reporter? The size of his fedora.

I’ll be the first to admit that the whole newsie interview thing isn’t really my deal. Having planned to cover the Intergenerational Spelling Bee this weekend, I determined Friday that I was too t-i-m-o-r-o-u-s to attend. So instead, I arrived Saturday at the dance marathon, still nervous, but at least determined. After wandering around for a while making observations, I finally worked up the courage to snag a few “characters” I had observed on the dance floor for interviews. Both were enthusiastic and eager to answer my questions.

In retrospect, I would have been better prepared had I conducted more research prior to the event and interviewed the program directors. As a result, my article suffered in terms of background and statistics. The people I interviewed, however, produced some juicy quotes that give the story a nice human interest slant, which will hopefully compensate for any areas in which it was lacking. In the future, I plan on being as bold as humanly possible. After all, I already feel much better about accosting passersby for interviews.

Hey. I’m Talking To You.

Posted in Leads That Succeed (Or Don't) on January 30, 2009 by jessicapruitt


The Bangkok Post wants YOU…to know that Pattaya City has a whole new image. “Connecting up Pattaya City” starts off with a direct address lead, trying, if i dare say, to connect with its reader. “If you think that Pattaya is just about night life, you may have to re-think,” warns the article. “Pattaya City today is working hard in a bid to attract visitors with a new image, as a place for families, an international convention centre and a place for world-class events.”

In theory, I like the use of a lead like this for such an article. Because the piece is about people and perceptions, the attempt to form a human connection with its reader is appropriate. In practice, however, the opening sentence is a little bulky. I could chalk my objections up to the fact that I don’t know precisely what (or where) Pattaya City is, but I would be lying to myself. The writer simply does a poor job of really grabbing the reader’s attention. The construction is less than snappy and any delightfully surprising content is not-so-delightfully absent. Since the article really is about your perception of Pattaya City (whatever that might be), I would consider sticking with a direct address lead, but this time with pizzazz. A scene-setter or startling statement, however, would probably work even better.