America’s Best Newspaper Writing Chapter 2

By Stuart Jones

Top Ten Tips!

  1. Hit the streets! Get out of the office and get into the streets where the story is.
  2. Nothing can beat some experience on a beat when trying to prepare.
  3. Reporters must be more than watchdogs, but guide dogs, leading the public towards solutions and the common good.
  4. Be able to pick and choose a style of reporting and information gathering that works best for your style.
  5. Have a distinctive vision and powerful voice as a local writer.
  6. Make your readers “see” and “feel” what you’re writing. Allow them to witness the entire story from their kitchen table.
  7. Details can be conveyed outside of quotations when setting up the scene or when illustrating a character.
  8. Become an expert in your beat.
  9. Vary your pace of your story so that you can keep the reader occupied, but don’t whiplash them either.
  10. The hourglass template of writing allows readers to get the information they need at a quick glance.

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger presents Andrea Elliott with the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing.

Rick Bragg’s story and style of writing are great examples of how a writer should illustrate scenes vividly and with personal style. Most of his descriptors come outside of quotations and can be found in his well written body. Another example of this writing kind of strong descriptive writing is Andrea Elliott and her story An Imam in America which won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for feature writing. Elliott describes the bricks, the windows, the sun and even the flag as her character moves past them. Elliott truly enables her readers to be present with the character and witness the story. Read the full story at

Thomas Boswell has the ability to pace his stories at his own will. He’s capable of bringing the reader through slowly and building the action and then swiftly moves

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger presents Julia Keller with the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing.

into a fast paced sequence of events with just as much eloquence as the first scene. Then he brings it back down again, but all this to keep the reader engaged and tight to the pages. A writer who exhibits this well is Julia Keller of The Chicago Tribune who wrote “A Wicked Wind Takes Aim” in 2005 that won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing. Her story about a tornado that only took 10 seconds to wipe out a town varies its pace deftly. She starts with a fast pace that gets the reader’s heart pumping as she recounts those 10 seconds of touch down. Then she slows it down as she recaps the aftermath with interviews. Read her full story here

Turn around is critical when it comes to any story. Especially stories that are found to be most impactful

Columbia University President Lee C. Bollinger (left) presents Miriam A. Pawel, Mitchell Landsberg (second from right) and Sam Enriquez (right), of the Los Angeles Times, with the 2004 Pulitzer Prize in Breaking News Reporting.

when they are released close to the time of the event. Jonathon Bor’s story of the heart transplant is a reporter’s accomplishment of a lifetime the way that he reported for 48 hours straight and then turned the story out in 90 minutes. He exemplified the importance of working and forming the story during the event so that when the time came to write, he was able to turn it around efficiently. Any breaking news story is a great example of this necessary style of efficient reporting and writing. However one that exemplifies it well is “A Rampage of Firestorms” by Louis Sahagun, Joel Rubin and Mitchell Landsberg who won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting in 2004 when it ran in the Los Angeles Times. This team had to gather information and visit the site of the monstrous blaze and then return back with accurate information that they could print for the next morning. Readers expect to be filled in quickly and accurately and now even more so with online journalism. Read the full story here


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