Narrative in the news

Brian Spadora interviewed Norman Sims for the Poynter Center, a progressive independent journalism education foundation. Sims is a scholar of literary journalism and the occasion was the release of his latest book, True Stories: A Century of Literary Journalism. Some excerpts from their discussion:

“On the journalistic roller-coaster ride of the 20th century, the major styles, such as muckraking, interpretative reporting, and even investigative journalism, did not remove the reporter from the text, but objectivity did.”

“Done right, public affairs journalism is hard work. Similarly, literary journalism requires time and careful attention. Some scholars have suggested that bringing voice and storytelling back to the newspaper in the form of narrative journalism may pay returns in a larger audience. It would be wonderful if literary journalism and public affairs reporting could contribute to the survival of the newspaper.”

“You don’t have to be John McPhee at The New Yorker to use the tools of literary journalism in newswriting. Within a larger story, a writer can embed a scene complete with setting, characters, dialogue, and action. Characterization that brings people to life can involve more than details of age, occupation, and address.”

“The risk for literary journalism has shifted from the publishers to the writers. This is a difficult time financially for all journalists. Just ask the hundreds of Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, and Chicago Tribune journalists who have been laid off. I don’t fear for literary journalism, because it has natural qualities that attract good writers. I have greater concerns about the sustainability of traditional public affairs journalism.”

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