Journalism

Journalism presents a broad, almost limitless opportunity for writers of creative nonfiction. Before the early 1970s, traditional newspaper reporters and editors would never have believed for a moment that writing in their publication would be increasingly creative. The word "creative" connoted that reporters would make up the news, create facts out of whole cloth, or, at best, would write subjectively about the news, instead of objectively, as they had been taught in school and by their editors. They didn't want to accept the increasing evidence that they would have to write more creatively—interestingly and dramatically, that is—to compete with magazines and the broadcast media. Magazines, especially the growing number of special-interest magazines, have been giving the public more exciting, more attractive, more dramatic presentations of the news and its background for years. Difficult as it may be to accept, there has been a rapid "magazining" of newspapers in America and more recently, a "magazining" of television news broadcasts.

Today, most newspapers have accepted the fact that if newspaper journalism is to survive as a medium against the powerful and more attractive media, it has to adapt—a sort of species adaptation for evolution and survival. If the newspaper species takes on too many of its competitors' attributes, of course, it is in danger of losing the primary attributes that have enabled it to survive so far— adherence to objective, accurate reporting of the facts. Newspapers must continuously monitor their adaptive efforts, but there are writers who are leading the way, writers who manage to keep the facts straight while surrounding them with colorfully written narrative that borrows from certain fiction techniques, as described in this book. These excerpts of journalistic writers show that such adaptive mechanisms can work, and work splendidly, whether written on a deadline or not. I've not been able to include one variety of journalism, sportswriting, but that field offers many opportunities for the creative nonfiction writer.

new york—A healthy 17-year-old heart pumped the gift of life through 34-year-old Bruce Murray Friday, following a four-hour transplant operation that doctors said went without a hitch.

Early Thursday morning, three surgeons at Presbyterian Hospital lifted Murray's flabby, enlarged heart from his chest cavity and replaced it with a normal heart that had been flown in from St. Louis inside an ice-filled beer cooler. The operation lasted from 3:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m.

As Murray's diseased heart sat in a stainless-steel bowl at the foot of the operating table, doctors gradually weaned Murray away from the heart-lung machine that had kept him alive throughout much of the operation. The new heart, beating slowly at first, gradually took over the task of pumping blood through Murray's body. And by 5:25 a.m., Dr. Eric Rose emerged from the 19th-floor operating room and proclaimed the procedure a success.

Jonathan Bor

"It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray's Heart," Syracuse Post-Standard (May 12, 1984), collected in Best Newspaper Writing 1985

St. Petersburg, Florida—Suspense is building at the track. Fans mill around the staging area to get a glimpse of what a woman describes as the "fantastic chest" of her favorite contestant. When the runner's name is finally announced, he gets a long ovation. One man hops around, shouting: "Give me a K! Give me an E! Give me another E! Give me an____"

The cheers are for a greyhound named Keefer. Few dogs ever attract so much attention, but when it comes to Keefer, people here get downright dogmatic. They say he is the smartest or the best-looking or the most affable young racing dog they have ever seen. They even applaud when his victories are replayed on the track's closed-circuit television system.

Keefer's trainer, James Schulthess, is his most outspoken fan. He calls Keefer "the best dog in the world, and maybe the best dog that ever lived."

Such biased views aside, this much is certain: At the tender age of two, the big beige hound from Kansas is one hot dog____

Francine Schwadel "Red-Hot Racing Dog Wins People's Hearts Even When He Fails," Wall Street Journal (April 16, 1986)

Craig Stedman, a South Kingtown patrolman, headed down Worden's Pond Road to the Tucker house. The rain was really something. He found Charlie lying nine feet from the porch.

There was a loaded .38-caliber pistol near his left elbow and a nine-pound iron bar against his right arm. He had bad head injuries and a sporadic pulse. Stedman knocked on the door and wrote down the first thing that Lucy Tucker said to him.

"I didn't want to kill him, but he had a gun and said he would kill me and the children. He had a gun and wouldn't stop so I hit him. Oh, God, he wouldn't stop."

Stedman radioed for help and then went back outside to check Tucker again. This time there was no pulse. It was 12:15.

Mark Patinkin

"I Didn't Want to Kill Him, But He Had a Gun," Providence, R.I. Evening Bulletin (March 20, 1981), collected in How I Wrote the Story

It used to be easy to put together the qualities that made for a good, honest tavern. That's because there were only two basic kinds: simple neighborhood places with the owner serving the drinks and popping for an occasional round, and dim Formica joints that called themselves cocktail lounges, where a hired hand mixed the drinks and shorted the register.

Now there are bars for every taste, or lack of same. We have the California-inspired fern bars, where you can get a sliver of goat cheese in your martini; a sports-theme bar, with youngish customers living for the day a TV crew will record them holding up a finger, shrieking that they're number one; and activities bars, where the owners take the place of suburban moms and dads by organizing outings, softball games, dwarf-tossing competitions, and an occasional wedding.

Mike Royko

"A Clean, Well-Lighted Place," Esquire (June 1986)

For the last 50 years, the increasing speed of computers has been as much a constant as the outstretched arm of the tax collector. While that good fortune is bound to come to an end eventually, teams of scientists and engineers continue to produce faster and faster machines. They accomplish that by a mixture of clever new designs and an old-fashioned devotion to cleanliness.

None of the dire predictions about the end of innovation have come true yet, said Robert Dreyer, a former Intel chip designer who is now studying at Harvard. "The end is always 10 years away," he said. "As you get closer to the end, the engineers find new ways to push it back."

Computer chips are enormously complicated machines, but their operation can be explained by a few simple principles. All the decision-making about where the pop-up windows will be on the screen, which monster will explode or how the modem will squawk depends upon the movement of packets of electrons between transistors, the switches that direct the flow of current on a chip. A full packet means one thing to a transistor, and an empty packet or, more precisely, the absence of a packet, means the opposite. Each chip has millions of tiny packets moving among millions of transistors at the same time, and somehow they manage to do the right thing.

Peter Wayner

"The Incredible Shrinking Chip.. .Circuits," New York Times (January 13, 2000)

helsinki, 1952—Sauna (pronounced sowna) is a Finnish bath, and a great deal more. It is a sacred rite, a form of human sacrifice in which the victim is boiled like a missionary in the cannibal islands, then baked to a turn, then beaten with sticks until he flees into the icy sea, then lathered and honed and kneaded and pummeled by the high priestess of this purgatorial pit.

Nothing relaxes a Finn like this ritual of fire worship, water worship, and soap worship. It is an ancient folk custom dating from forgotten times, and it explains why Finland produces so many great marathon runners. Anybody who can survive a sauna can run twenty-six miles barefoot over broken beer bottles.

Red Smith "Good, Clean Fun," The Red Smith Reader

0 0

Post a comment