Last week I attended the International Regional Magazine Association (IRMA) conference in Scottsdale. One of the speakers was Terry Greene Sterling, writer-in-residence at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University who has won multiple journalism awards.
Her journalism mantra is to work for the greater good. She writes the talk, too, having penned such investigative triumphs as Illegal: Life and Death in Arizona’s Immigration War Zone.
She said that generally speaking reading is about the fusion of pleasure (women, on average) and knowledge (typically men). Writers should always keep this in mind and learn the secrets of literary journalism:
Report with all your senses. Remember them all (sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste), and make the setting vivid for the reader. Set the scene as well; what Terry calls the tiny stories within the story.
Illustrate the characters. Dig deeper to get something human. Push really hard for honesty from the people quoted and referenced in your story.
Tell all sides of the story. Do not leave any holes, which is ultimately the editor’s job to challenge the writer.
Story setup and context are key. What is the point? Why does the story matter? What’s new? “There has to be something new,” Terry says. This reminds me of what my Chico State journalism professors called the “so what” of our stories.
Finally, Terry reminded us editors to communicate with our writers. Collaborate and be open-minded. At Nevada Magazine, I like to send a PDF to writers before we go to print so they’re aware of any changes to their stories that might lead to inaccuracies. They can also help fact check photo captions at this time.
What improves your writing? Do you agree with Terry’s writing pointers? What would you add to the list? If you’re an editor, how do you massage the editor-writer relationship?