Article Summary: Explanatory Journalism and Business Reporting

It is very easy to see why these articles are considered to be some of the best ever written in their respective type of journalistic writing. It is rare nowadays to see writing similar to these. The great level of detail, the elaborate descriptions, and the way the writers are always able to keep the reader interested are just some of the characteristics that truly separate these articles from the normal everyday ones. The ability to keep the readers interest is what surprised me the most out of all. I found myself unable to look away and stop reading the article. I had to know what happens next, just like in a good novel. In my opinion, this is one of the most important skills a journalist should have. It is invaluable to be able to grab the attention of a reader and keep it. William E. Blundell did an incredible job in his article on cowboys called The Life of a Cowboy: Drudgery and Danger. In it, you get a great idea of just how much time and effort had to go into the making of it. Blundell keeps the reader’s interest peaking through every sentence and makes sure that it rarely, if ever, wavers. He goes in depth to a level that only the very best writers are usually able to go. The Wall Street Journal has been able to build a great reputation for their “A-Heads” mainly because of the great writing found in this article and many others by William Blundell and his fellow journalists.

Another good article, though different from Blundell’s, is by a writer named Patty Limerick, the chairwoman of the Center of the America West at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Her article, named How the West Will Be Won, talks about old Western mythologies and how they apply to the 2008 Presidential race (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121944648822765109.html?mod=psp_free_today). Her writing is based more on arguments than any actual facts, but she is still able to paint a vivid picture for the reader and keep hold of their attention from start to finish in her article, which appeared in the Wall Street Journal on August 23, 2008. What makes this even more impressive is the length of the piece and that she does use some words that most common Americans may not know the meaning of (but then again, that is not who the Wall Street Journal is targeted at). She brings up some interesting points and theories and gives both John McCain and Barack Obama some good ideas on to possibly win the West and the 2008 Presidential election, which could be one of the most important ones in American history.

One of the articles found in our book was written by the famous journalist Michael Gartner that talked about the unfair but perfectly legal tax exemptions found in Ames, Iowa. I was able to find another article of similar style in a recent USA Today, though it was about a completely different topic: remembering Tim Russet, the recently deceased former president of NBC News (http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2008-06-14-russert-appreciation_N.htm). When one compares the two articles, he or she can notice Gartner’s fingerprints and trademarks all over both. Both include many of his signature short couplets that he inserts into his writings, all with a certain pattern in mind. He is also able to grab the reader’s attention right off the bat with a great introduction: “Tim Russert didn’t want to be on television.” This immediately gets the reader asking themselves, “Wait, what?” and makes them read on to find out more so that they can understand.

In 1999, Eric Newhouse of the Great Falls Tribune wrote a great article on how alcohol affects people in Great Falls called Alcohol: Flowing Through Our Daily Lives (http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6332). Much like in Blundell’s article on cowboys, one can tell the time and dedication it took to write this story from the great amount of detail found in every little mini-story in the article. One feels like they are right next to Newhouse as he visits all around Great Falls, learning the story of many of its inhabitants and how alcohol runs (and in some cases ruins) their lives. You feel for these poor people and just read on in shock and awe over some of the stories, ranging from people at a Rescue Mission to houses where police get many domestic violence calls to two high schoolers at a winter prom who get caught with alcohol in their possession. It is one of those rare articles that readers can easily get very attached to.

Gareth Cook of The Boston Globe wrote an article in 2004 documenting the tough decision of a Catholic mother and her husband on what to do with two unused embryos three years after she had gone through in vitro fertilization (http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6894). One of her paragraphs is a particularly powerful one. In her sixth paragraph, she goes on to write, “Every experiment using embryonic stem cells — and every argument about their morality — ultimately begins with one of these embryos, about the size of the dot of an ‘i,’ conceived for a couple trying to build a family. About 400,000 sit in freezers around the country, awaiting a decision.” It really helps put things into perspective for the readers and helps keep their attention alive and well throughout the story.

In 2003, Kevin Helliker of the Wall Street Journal wrote an article that definitely had a title that caught the attention of all readers: How an Autopsy Can Save Your Life (http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/6799). The article talks about how an autopsy to a close relative can help detect a potential life-threatening disease in you, yet many families still refuse to do it. It also talks about some of the people who have had to make the tough decision to watch the autopsy of a loved one. But, one of the key aspects of this story that makes it stand out is its use of numbers, very similar to what was used by Peter Rinearson in his article (Making It Fly: Designing the 757) found in our textbook. In it, he is effortlessly able to string together words and numbers without scaring off or otherwise losing any potential readers to his article. Again, another interesting characteristic is that the reader never loses interest in the story, even though it is one of the longer ones a newspaper reader may ever see. While his story is not as long as Rinearson’s, Helliker is still able to put language and math together with relative ease and without scaring off anyone. After his great, attention grabbing headline, he then immediately goes right after the heart telling the touching story of a mother having to witness the autopsy of her son, who died at the young age of 29, after refusing to have him autopsied just four years earlier. It tears right at the heart and is something that many people can relate to, making them more interested to read about what else this article and its writer has to say.

Explanatory journalism is one of the tougher ones to master, let alone write well on a consistent basis. Yet, these writers were able to do just that and all received the recognition they so rightfully deserved. It is hard to imagine any kind of journalistic writing better than this one and any future journalist can only hope to one day reach the level these writers have achieved.

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