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Chapter 13








After you gather information, ask yourself the meaning of that information, its context, and who cares about your story.  The American Press Institute offers this and other good tips for thoughtfully organizing your news stories.


Nonfiction writer Michael Pollan says that writers get so caught up in telling stories about characters that they don't realize that systems can be characters:  "You can tell the story of how water gets from one place to another.  You can build narratives out of other species."


Planet Money's Chana Joffe-Walt has an excellent piece about how to tell strong radio stories—with advice that's helpful in any medium.


"It is next to impossible to report on cosmic themes without a hook, an angle, a way to focus the story so you and your readers don't drown in it," says journalist Stephen Magagnini about his series on the Hmong in the U.S.


How do you tell stories about race without repeating narratives that audiences are tired of hearing?  The Authentic Voice has ideas for creating interesting, meaningful narrative structures (based on a Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism workshop).





Media Matters critiques The New York Times' coverage of North Carolina's bathroom law, saying it legitimizes the "bathroom predators" myth.


Media Matters also reports that the news media helped to create doubt about climate change by giving equal time to sources who represented only a small percentage of general scientific views. John Oliver uses comedy to illustrate the point in this short segment of his show.


For the sake of accuracy, not all sides of an issue need equal weight in news coverage, as this concise article from Understanding Science points out.


The science news site has a good discussion about how to avoid false balance in your reporting.


Some stories are so all-encompassing that they require journalists to explain the hows and whys, describe the problem and identify possible solutions—all while helping the reader understand a complicated history. Here are a couple of fine examples: 


The lead of this story sets the tone and scope of the story to come, and we'd say the first 25 words alone would rivet the reader:  "The fire was already growing at a rate of one football field per second when Tamra Fisher woke up on the edge of Paradise, Calif...."


In this beautifully written and structured story, journalist Jon Mooallem weaves multiple time lines, first-person accounts, official voices, fire behavior, history and causes within the larger narrative frame of Fisher's experience.

Notice how different the structure and therefore pacing of this award-winning piece is from the fire story above. The Cincinnati Enquirer staff uses multiple media to tell the story, but observe how the print element weaves first-person accounts, official voices and factual data to show you the problem and give you a sense of the frustration in trying to effect change.

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