Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An Exercise for Basic Reporting

Here's the background: I decided to video a short speech to create a class writing exercise on the theory that students like variety (I'd done a phony press conference in the flesh already this semester) and that they like net video and would respond to the fact I am at least marginally net literate.

I found some blog comments by former SPJ president Christine Tatum that I thought made a good faux speech not only because of the content -- oh that Eff word -- but also because the more important stuff comes toward the end rather than the beginning, and one of my goals in basic reporting is that you do not let chronology dictate how you present information.

If I had been asked to write about what Tatum wrote about, I would probably have had a different emphasis, more "yes but" about the students' rights in this matter and how we should revere Free Speech. I was not thoroughly brought around to her point of view when I read her comments. But when I heard myself -- clumsily, stumblingly -- say what she wrote, I was persuaded, at least moved toward her emphasis.

Is this a lesson about the power of the voice to persuade, of facial expression to urge, of the magnetism of the flesh. Or is it just self-love, just affection for that crazy hairstyle?

Editor's Note: Yes, some of my older readers will be reminded of the Big Giant Head from that underrated sitcom, Third Rock from the Sun.


Tommayo said...

Hello Prof.
Wasn't there the idea of the inverted pyramid in writing as a reporter? I'm not sure but I think a very well known professor (on this blog)may have taught that concept many moons ago. Is this a departure from earlier teachings?
Do you identify feature writing and reporting under the same umbrella? Or am I totally off the mark?

....J.Michael Robertson said...

Tommy: The beautiful inverted pyramid is still out there and is still a useful way to present information in readily digestible bits to those who do not have time to feast on a whole table of information. A word that should be used more often in describing news is proportion. That is, lacking infinite space and infinite time to explore all those things we consider news and which we wish to pass on for that reason, we must exclude some things from the news package and we must write others short so what we think most significant can be written long. That means summary leads and stories that can be cut from the bottom. I have no trouble with that. It's honest and it's efficient and it acknowledges the role of human judgment -- of gatekeeping -- in the manufacture of news. Feature stories are anywhere from somewhat more entertaining than straight news to ONLY entertaining with very little of news about them. I've never really thought about it, but I will now say off the top of my head that a feature story written in the manner of the inverted pyramid is a contradiction in terms. Play and delay are characteristics of the feature story. Come over to the feature class blog at 0166325.blogspot.com and link to some of the student blogs and tell me what you think of what they are doing.