Local Reporting and Beats: Burning Shoe Leather

By Patrick Larsen

In chapter 1 of “America’s Best Newspaper Writing,” we get a thorough understanding, through explanation and example, of deadline writing.  Many of the same principles of good deadline writing apply to local and beat reporting as well, such as personal interaction and especially “burning shoe leather.”

Beat reporting gets deeper than most deadline writing, however.  This is where getting out of the office comes into its own as a strategy – local reporting especially necessitates getting to know the community, building relationships with people who know what is going on.

This connection with the community is exemplified by the first featured author in this chapter.

All She Has, $150,000, is Going to a University

By Rick Bragg

Bragg goes beyond interviewing the focus of this story, Oseola McCarty, to create a portrait of her.  He also uses the words of people affected by her to build an even sharper and more emotionally powerful image.  He interviews McCarty herself, the student to whom a portion of McCarty’s gift is being given, the student’s grandmother and even a nearby businessman who decided to match the Gift.  All of these voices speaking positively about McCarty make us certain that she truly is an admirable person.

Losing It:  Careers Fall Like Autumn Leaves

By Thomas Boswell

In this story, Boswell steps away from the local focus of the first story to a much grander national stage.  He deals with not only legends of baseball but also of literature.  This, paired with various anecdotes and some excellent writing on human issues, gives the reader two things.  First is the sense that this author knows precisely what they’re talking about, the second is that this author knows precisely who they’re talking to.  What is more human than making your way through life?  Boswell makes it challenging to think of anything else.


It Fluttered and Became Bruce Murray’s Heart

By Jonathan Bor

Medicine is not an easy field – we all know this to be true.  Why else would surgeons spend so much time in school and be so well compensated for their work afterwards?  Most popular culture references of doctors tend to be light on the medical science and heavy on the drama, which is part of why this story works.  Of course, it is no soap opera.  However, Bor builds characters through backstory that makes the climax of this story – the description of the operation – get our hearts pumping.

Mackenzie Football Star Another Gunplay Victim

By Mitch Albom

Albom’s work in this piece gives us an intimate and heartbreaking view in the all-too-typical life of many teenagers in Detroit.  The conversations with Dewon and his friends humanize him very well.  This is put to its best use at the end of the article when Albom calls on the reader to consider what the true implications of gun possession are.

Even for Trees, Age Could Have Its Privileges/Domino’s Bites Back at Tax

By Russell Eshleman Jr.

Eshleman shows us the value of powerful and entertaining voice in his writing.  This is likely what distinguishes these as short articles.  Not only does he get out to gather information, but he also shows it in an interesting manner.

Caught Up in the Crossfire

By Dan Neil

This article tries just as hard to appeal to all readers as it does to use all words in the English language.  Neil is constantly switching back and forth between precise specs or history and more physically grounded language that the average Joe can understand.  At the end of the day, he really sold this car.  I looked it up myself.

Here are some current examples:

A record gift — $6 million — and a capital campaign for Greensboro College

By John Newsom for the Greensboro News & Record

This is a good example of local and beat journalism for several reasons.  First and most obviously, the story is local through and through.  Newsom is telling us about a local couple donating to a local college that they have long-standing ties to.  It does not have the same effect on the reader as the other examples here, but it fits the bill nonetheless.  The reporter still worked hard to get all of the information that he did.

In Rural N.C., Trump Supporters Eagerly Await A Different Kind Of Change

By Ari Shapiro for NPR

This is an excellent example of beat reporting.  It is part of a series of articles that Shapiro is writing on rural Virginia and North Carolina in which he does in-depth interviews with various residents of towns he visits.  He turns these people that are so often made one dimensional by the news media into three dimensional characters.  He gives them flesh and blood that most other reporters would not through his intimate conversations with them.

Comatose, Then Homeless: ‘My Closest Friend Has Been Pain’

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