Category Archives: Exceptional old-school (i.e. print) reads

A Heartbreaking Story Worth Reading

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Photo by Elizabeth Merrill/

The death of Brittany Hollenback last week was a tragic one. I know some of you were her friends. And even if you did not know her, it’s never easy to accept the loss of someone so young.

Here’s a story published recently on It’s also about death and a young woman, three of them actually. I’m a lukewarm sports fan but I’m a huge fan of sportswriting. Here’s a sports story unlike you’ve ever read before. Heartbreaking.


The (print) Story I Never Tire of Reading

One of my Mass Com students, Craig Dixon, got me thinking last night about stories that we remember; and stories that we forget. (Actually, that was also something Hedrick Smith noted yesterday, when he was looking at all his New York Times clips and applying for the Nieman. He admitted realizing some of his stories were forgettable. But, I digress).

I remember reading this story in 1995 and again when Rick Bragg won the Pulitzer. Think what you might about Bragg and what he did or did not do while at the NYT. But this story is genius.

Oseola McCarty spent a lifetime making other people look nice. Day after day, for most of her 87 years, she took in bundles of dirty clothes and made them clean and neat for parties she never attended, weddings to which she was never invited, graduations she never saw.

She had quit school in the sixth grade to go to work, never married, never had children and never learned to drive because there was never any place in particular she wanted to go. All she ever had was the work, which she saw as a blessing. Too many other black people in rural Mississippi did not have even that.

She spent almost nothing, living in her old family home, cutting the toes out of shoes if they did not fit right and binding her ragged Bible with Scotch tape to keep Corinthians from falling out. Over the decades, her pay — mostly dollar bills and change — grew to more than $150,000.

“More than I could ever use,” Miss McCarty said the other day without a trace of self-pity. So she is giving her money away, to finance scholarships for black students at the University of Southern Mississippi here in her hometown, where tuition is $2,400 a year.

Full story is here.

The Art of a Good Headline

Note to self: Don’t weave when carrying weed

By John de Leon, one of my former editors (I’ve had many, but not all of them were as good as de Leon) at The Seattle Times, for this post on The Blotter blog. Also, note the clever lead by Sara Jean Green.

The Power of a Blog

Holy cow! I’m an old reporter, and I know legwork when I see it. Those crack journalists at Fox, better known for coloring and commenting endlessly on the news than for actually breaking it, had unearthed not one but two explosive gems, and had been primed to expose Sotomayor’s darker purpose within minutes of her nomination! Leaving aside for the moment any question about the context of these seemingly damaging remarks—none was offered—I was impressed. In my newspaper years, I prepared my share of advance profiles of public figures, and I know the scut work that goes into sifting through a decades-long career. In the old days it meant digging through packets of yellowed clippings in the morgue, interviewing widely, searching for those moments of controversy or surprise that revealed something interesting about the subject. How many rulings, opinions, articles, legal arguments, panel discussions, and speeches had there been in the judge’s long years of service? What bloodhound producer at Fox News had waded into this haystack to find these two choice needles?

Mark Bowden writes about blogging as political ammunition in this story, published in The Atlantic.

Write Like a Fifth Grader

It can be harder to write a short story than a long one, and it can be much harder to write with simple words than with complicated ones. Most every good writer knows words that soar on silver wings. But sometimes those words fly off into the clouds and the reader loses track of the story. I like words that work for a living.

Writerly wisdom from one of the best newspaper writers in the country: Tommy Tomlinson of The Charlotte Observer.
He shares his thoughts on using simple words in this post here., part of this newly-discovered Nieman Storyboard website.

Telling the Story Authoritatively

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We may never have as much time reporting a story as we’d like but with some pre-reporting and some good, solid questions we can always find a way to write decisively.
This was last Sunday’s NYT’s Mag cover story, “Coming Out In Middle School,”  and it’s a good one. And here’s a brief interview with the author. What comes across in the story is how well he got to know — and build trust — with his subjects. And also, how slightly “foreign” the whole thing was to him. The reporter, who is young (er), didn’t come out until he was in his 20s.

“The Gravedigger”

OK. So memory failed me and it was the assassination of JFK and NOT veterans and it was written by a very famous writer — Jimmy Breslin. I’m talking about “The Gravedigger.” Still hunting for the actual (powerful) column. But here’s a nice post from Poynter on finding the invisible. Good info to help you find actual stories….

Here it is. Powerful prose.

A reminder to always look for different points-of-views/perspectives/entry points when telling stories.