America’s Best Newspaper Writing: Business Reporting and Explanatory Journalism

By Stuart Jones

William E. Bundell’s piece on the modern-day cowboy incorporates a strong formula that entices the reader to carry on. The lead carries a teaser that draws in the audience. After that near the top of the story, he tells the audience what he’s driving at. Then he continues to remind his reader throughout the story with different things about his main point. Finally he puts an ending to the story that encapsulates his whole message. Looking at a similar story line, Andrea Elliot a Pulitzer Prize winner and writer for The New York Times wrote about a Muslim leader making his way of life in Brooklyn in “An Imam in America.” Like many prize winning authors, Elliot sets up a well described scene from the everyday life of the Muslim man. It interests the reader because she describes him as a “ghost through empty streets” in the early hours of the morning. Once the scene is established, Elliot brings in the whole point of the story: how does a Muslim man, devote to Islam, practice his everyday life in America? Elliot walks through different examples of more illustrated scenes and then closes the story with a quote “Here you don’t know what will solve a problem,” he said. “It’s about looking for a key.” Read the rest of Elliot’s story here

Peter Rinearson of The Seattle Times drew in his skills as a reporter or technical topics to relay a complex and intricate message to an audience that knew nothing of a Boeing 757. In “Making It Fly: Designing the 757” he presents what should be technical jargon with words and numbers too big for the public to understand, very eloquently and simply. He gathers the most basic, quintessential figures and intersperses them through his story to help convey the problem that Boeing engineers were encountering. Laurie Garrett of Newsday in Long Island, N.Y. wrote “Virus Kills 56 in Zaire” in 1995 about a spreading epidemic. Her content that won her a Pulitzer Prize in explanatory journalism, could have been weighed down with medical technical jargon, but instead she only used it sporadically and when necessary. Whenever she did use complex terms, she explained them in the simplest sense for the average reader. As the first article in a series of coverage, she laid down the base work for the readers to understand the state of what was happening in Zaire at the time. She explained how Ebola has already spread in the country and given background on what it does to the body, how its transmitted and how it can cause death. Read more about her coverage here

Michael Gartner also uses the same concept as Bundell with repetition. But he does it in a building way. He doesn’t desire to cause his readers to feel like they’ve received a “whack over the head with a two-by-four” when they get a fact bomb dropped on them. Instead he uses repetition to lead to his point, while interspersing facts along the way. So when the reader reaches the height of the story where the punch line is they almost already see it coming. Leon Dash of The Washington Post in “Part One: A Difficult Journey; From Rural Hardship to Urban Adversity” looks at how homeless families can’t break the cycle and find themselves in further hardship. Dash points out over and over again how the different difficulties of their life continue to compile on themselves. How family members join each other in homelessness and how that reinforces their state. He consistently points out how the family holds her back or makes things even more difficult for her to come out of homelessness. Dash’s full story and series can be found here


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