Deadline Writing: The Essential Form

By Patrick Larsen

Deadline Writing is perhaps the most essential distillation of News Media there is. True, long form stories work to great effect on the emotional and logical minds of audiences by utilizing extensive detail that may be necessary for a big break, but this mode of storytelling is not what journalism is essentially about.

I would argue that the bare bones of journalism are breaking and spreading news efficiently, and I think that the industry agrees with me. The public and professional desire for immediacy (as well as moving pictures) made quick work for the rise of television and now the internet as the main sources of the public’s information.

All of this speed requires some incentive; in this case, the incentive is the deadline. According to America’s Best Newspaper Writing, this deadline is both an enemy and a friend to the journalist. An enemy in that it keeps a story from perfection, a friend in that it forces action and inspiration.

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Of course, deadline writing is at it’s most recognizable in the context of a newspaper. Daily papers have specific times they are released each day, so naturally a deadline is essential to the completion of the paper.

Enough talk about and around this topic – let’s get into some examples.

Shiva for a Child Slain in a Palestinian Raid

By Richard Ben Cramer

Cramer’s work in this story teaches us the power of description and personal attachment in deadline war stories.  Instead of doing what was expected of him, writing faceless and numerical descriptions of violence (location, participants, time of occurrence, body counts), Cramer gave us vivid descriptions of wartime injuries and war-torn families.  He used character and in depth understanding of a situation to deeply affect the audience.

Jury Sends Santa Claus Killer to Electric Chair

By Leonora LaPeter

LaPeter continues to show us the value of personal stories and thorough journalism in this story.  She got to work early, gathering quotes from the entire trial of Jerry Heidler.  Her use of these quotes throughout her story is what gives the it its emotional sway.  Without such thorough research, she would not have been able to develop Heidler into the semi-tragic character that she did.

Men of Steel Are Melting With Age

By David von Drehle

Von Drehle takes more cues from narrative, developing a compelling story arc that keeps readers interested.  His ability to do so in this story is not only due to his skill as a storyteller, but also his search for meaning instead of just reportable facts.  It is his ability to find meaning that brings the heart of this story to the reader’s hands.

In Belfast, Death, Too, Is Diminished by Death

By Francis X. Clines

Clines proves even further than any of the previous authors that being on location is essential to deadline writing.  Being there allowed him to gather specific quotes and details to be placed in his story later for the benefit of the narrative.

Now, let’s find some contemporary examples.

Collins, Murkowski to vote no on education secretary nominee

By Phil Mattingly, Tom LoBianco, and Ted Barrett for CNN – 2/1/17

The story of Betsy DeVos is an ongoing one that will naturally result in regular updates as it progresses. It is likely that these updates have regular deadlines in order to keep people up to date.

West Bank Settlers Clash With Israeli Police Sent to Evict Them

By The New York Times – 2/1/17

This is an example of a story that was written on a deadline using many of the skills mentioned in America’s Best and also includes extensive photography, a contemporary facet of deadline journalism.

Senate confirms Tillerson as secretary of state

By Elena Schor for Politico – 2/1/17

In this story, Schor uses quotes from various people involved and thorough context establishment to provide the reader with a backstory.  This also gives us opinions from some high-ranking officials to weigh.

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