Do the Leg Work

By Robin Sloan

David Halberstam doesn’t put much stock in great writing. Solid journalism isn’t about fancy verbiage, he says; rather, "it’s about ideas, about narration, about setting things out, about telling the story."

And what really comes first is legwork, "The more the better." The more interviews you do, the better. The more anecdotes you get, the better. Because when you’ve got a hundred different angles on a story, Halberstam says, you can write with authority. When you’ve got a hundred different anecdotes, you can leave the lame ones out.

Do both, and your writing will have -- and this is a key characteristic, Halberstam says -- it will have density.

"I can always tell when a writer is cheating," Halberstam says. "I can tell when it’s a two phone-call story."

It’s not surprising, then, that he says you have to actually enjoy talking to people to be a good journalist. The legwork has to be fun. You have to look forward to asking Halberstam’s Best Question That Any Reporter Can Ask a Source, which is: "Who else should I see?"

Robin Sloan works at The Poynter Institute.

Posted in reporting, sessions.Keynote, speakers.David Halberstam on December 5, 2003 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Best Beat for Narrative Journalism?

By Bill Mitchell

David Halberstam says it’s cops -- the beat with “maximum human collision…the place where the best stuff happens.”

Halberstam acknowledged the burden of daily stories that falls to police reporters. But he said cops and court slots yield the best shot to uncover stories that, given some digging and some time, can blossom into compelling narratives.

When told by young journalists that they're starting out on cops, he says he has a stock answer: “Best beat on the paper.”

If you can’t cover cops or courts, Halberstam recommended general assignment as fertile ground for narrative journalism.

“The most interesting stuff falls outside the bureaucratic beats that newspapers tend to create,” he said.

Bill Mitchell is the editor of Poynter Online and marketing director of The Poynter Institute.

Posted in crime & law, sessions.Keynote, speakers.David Halberstam on December 5, 2003 at 12:32 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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