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Writing The Book by Nieman Foundation for Journalism (Harvard University)


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Writing The Book by Nieman Foundation for Journalism (Harvard University) …

Writing The Book by Nieman Foundation for Journalism (Harvard University)

WINTER 2011 Edition - Topics:

Compelling Story, Unflappable Belief, and Digital Teamwork By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

Feeling It’s a Book, Then Pausing to Wonder If It Is By Mitchell Zuckoff
On the Road to Writing Books: Blazing New Trails By William Wheeler
Brief Story, Book Proposal, a Longer Feature, Then a Book By Amy Ellis Nutt
Writing a Life, Living a Writer’s Life By Gaiutra Bahadur
A Year of Reinvention By Alfredo Corchado
Starting as a Journalist, Ending as a Memoirist By Lucette Lagnado
Journalists and Memoir: Reporting + Memory By Michele Weldon
Tips for Journalists Writing Memoirs By Michele Weldon
Newsroom to Classroom: Books as a Thread of Connection By Brooke Kroeger
Narrative Writing: Craft to Ethics, Theme to Characters By Beth Macy
A Literary Exploration of How Power Corrupts By Thrity Umrigar
Novels Win Out Over Journalism By William Dietrich
Will I Ever Write the Book? Why Not? By Bret Schulte
Leapfrogging the Book: A Newspaper Story Jumps to Film By Paul Lieberman
Dealing With Hollywood By Paul Lieberman
Journalism: Done The Atavist Way By David Wolman
It’s a Long Article. It’s a Short Book. No, It’s a Byliner E-Book. By John Tayman
The Writing Life: Examined in a Digital Minibook E-Book Excerpt by Ann Patchett
Transformation in Publishing and Optimism About Books Conversation with Peter Osnos
Sooner Sounds Better By Philip Meyer
Telling Political Stories in Closer to Real-Time Books By John F. Harris
E-Books as a Business Strategy By Federica Cocco
Visual Intensity of Words By Len Edgerly
Out of Print, a Book Reappears—And Earns Its Author Money By Dan Kennedy
Journalist to Marketer—With a Book In-Between By Rochelle Lefkowitz
Making a Book—Digital and Print—From Scratch By Elizabeth Castro
Learning the Inner Workings of an E-Book File By Elizabeth Castro
Powerful People and a Book They Almost Stopped By Marites Dañguilan Vitug
Books Take Over Where Daily Journalism Can’t Go By Andrew Meldrum
Transit: An Assignment and an Idea—Now a Book, Exhibit and Website
An Essay in Words and Photographs by Espen Rasmussen
A Photography Book—Absorbed in Print and on the iPad By Boris Muñoz

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  • 1. Nieman ReportsTHE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. 65 NO. 4 WINTER 2011 E • LEN • STYL G TH I CE • O A V U D • IE T EP N CE NC • P CO L AT F O R M • way fo r the ese rism tes t h ya pho pera M go . Any lishin b ooks ow." pub ood m. N ys is "G t the da u wa n y yo SE wa os Osn –P eter F L - PU B LI SH G IN G • MARKE TIN
  • 2. ‘to promote and elevate the standards of journalism’ Agnes Wahl Nieman the benefactor of the Nieman FoundationVol. 65 No. 4 Winter 2011Nieman ReportsThe Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard UniversityAnn Marie Lipinski | PublisherMelissa Ludtke | EditorJan Gardner | Assistant EditorJonathan Seitz | Editorial AssistantDiane Novetsky | Design EditorNieman Reports (USPS #430-650) is published Editorialin March, June, September and December Telephone: 617-496-6308by the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University, E-mail Address:One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098. nreditor@harvard.eduSubscriptions/Business Internet Address:Telephone: 617-496-6299 www.niemanreports.orgE-mail Copyright 2011 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College.Subscription $25 a year, $40 for two years; add $10per year for foreign airmail. Single copies $7.50. Periodicals postage paid at Boston,Back copies are available from the Nieman office. Massachusetts and additional entries.Please address all subscription correspondence to POSTMASTER:One Francis Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02138-2098 Send address changes toand change of address information to Nieman ReportsP.O. Box 4951, Manchester, NH 03108. P.O. Box 4951ISSN Number 0028-9817 Manchester, NH 03108
  • 3. Nieman Reports THE NIEMAN FOUNDATION FOR JOURNALISM AT HARVARD UNIVERSITY VOL. 65 NO. 4 WINTER 2011 Writing the Book Concept to Content 4 Compelling Story, Unflappable Belief, and Digital Teamwork | By Gayle Tzemach Lemmon 6 Feeling It’s a Book, Then Pausing to Wonder If It Is | By Mitchell Zuckoff 9 On the Road to Writing Books: Blazing New Trails | By William Wheeler 11 Brief Story, Book Proposal, a Longer Feature, Then a Book | By Amy Ellis Nutt 13 Writing a Life, Living a Writer’s Life | By Gaiutra Bahadur 14 A Year of Reinvention | By Alfredo Corchado 17 Starting as a Journalist, Ending as a Memoirist | By Lucette Lagnado20 Journalists and Memoir: Reporting + Memory | By Michele Weldon22 Tips for Journalists Writing Memoirs | By Michele Weldon24 Newsroom to Classroom: Books as a Thread of Connection | By Brooke Kroeger26 Narrative Writing: Craft to Ethics, Theme to Characters | By Beth Macy28 A Literary Exploration of How Power Corrupts | By Thrity Umrigar29 Novels Win Out Over Journalism | By William Dietrich 31 Will I Ever Write the Book? Why Not? | By Bret Schulte 33 Leapfrogging the Book: A Newspaper Story Jumps to Film | By Paul Lieberman 35 Dealing With Hollywood | By Paul Lieberman Platform to Audience36 Journalism: Done The Atavist Way | By David Wolman38 It’s a Long Article. It’s a Short Book. No, It’s a Byliner E-Book. | By John Tayman39 The Writing Life: Examined in a Digital Minibook | E-Book Excerpt by Ann Patchett 41 Transformation in Publishing and Optimism About Books | Conversation with Peter Osnos42 Sooner Sounds Better | By Philip Meyer45 Telling Political Stories in Closer to Real-Time Books | By John F. Harris46 E-Books as a Business Strategy | By Federica Cocco48 Visual Intensity of Words | By Len EdgerlyCover Design: Diane Novetsky | Nova Design
  • 4. 50 Out of Print, a Book Reappears—And Earns Its Author Money | By Dan Kennedy 52 Journalist to Marketer—With a Book In-Between | By Rochelle Lefkowitz 54 Making a Book—Digital and Print—From Scratch | By Elizabeth Castro 55 Learning the Inner Workings of an E-Book File | By Elizabeth Castro Voice to Visual 56 Powerful People and a Book They Almost Stopped | By Marites Dañguilan Vitug 58 Books Take Over Where Daily Journalism Can’t Go | By Andrew Meldrum 61 Transit: An Assignment and an Idea—Now a Book, Exhibit and Website | An Essay in Words and Photographs by Espen Rasmussen 68 A Photography Book—Absorbed in Print and on the iPad | By Boris Muñoz 3 Editor’s Corner: Guided By a Simple Vision | By Melissa Ludtke 71 Nieman Notes | Compiled by Jan Gardner 71 Trying to Make a Difference | By Annmarie Timmins 73 Class Notes 82 End Note: A Way to Understand the World | An Essay in Words and Photographs by Eli Reed • Discover compelling stories. • Absorb ongoing work by fellows and contributors. • Get the latest Nieman Notes. • Explore past articles and see what still resonates. • Go to Professor’s Corner and use our content in the classroom.2 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 5. E DITOR ’S C ORNERGuided By a Simple Vision Not far from the Nieman Foundation’s Greek Revival house on Francis Avenue, the future dimensions of media are being explored in the modernistic glass-walled zones of the Massa- chusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab. On a recent morning I visited it with Nieman Fellows, and our tour began with Hiroshi Ishii, its associate director and a Nieman affiliate (as the husband of 2012 fellow Akiko Sugaya), orienting us to what’s happening there. High-tech projects—Ping-Pong tables on which fish images swim, bottles that sing when their caps are removed—perplexed and dazzled. Still, what stuck with me is Hiroshi’s PowerPoint image of an inverted triangle. [See image, below.] Here’s why: Sparse with words and numbers, it conveyed a convincing message—one I transposed from his rumina- tions about media to mine about journalism. I was riveted by its clarity. While vision ripples for a century, how we apply tech- nology has the staying power of a decade, and technology’s tools come and go in a year or so. This image helped me to visualize ideas of endur- ance and transience, notions that until then I’d not seen so clearly. I realized then how these ideas informed the way Nieman Reports has tried to tell the stories of journalism in our digital times. During my 13 years as editor of Nieman Reports—a job I depart with this issue—waves of digital media have washed through journalism as disruptive forces and invigorating insti- gators of change. Newsrooms, too slow to adapt in the minds of many, are prodded now by the pioneering efforts of entrepreneurial entities. No certain business model has been found, though lessons in sustainability are emerging even from the failures of experimentation. As technology’s tools and gadgets, apps and platforms push us to reinvent how we do our work, Nieman Reports has kept its core focus on the journalism produced, as told by those who do it best. We ask “how” and describe “why,” as we wonder about “what” and think about “where.” All the while we adhere to the Nieman Foundation’s mission of elevating the standards of journalism. Technologically driven inventions like those being conceived at the Media Lab carve visionary paths that, in turn, will open up new possibilities for journalists; yet technology won’t determine our ethical framework or reinforce our standards, inform our judgment or strengthen our practices that set high-quality journalism apart from other sources of information. This we must do, and that belief has guided my work as the editor of Nieman Reports. —Melissa Ludtke Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 3
  • 6. WRITING THE BOOK | Concept to Content Compelling Story, Unflappable Belief, and Digital Teamwork ‘What I knew was that everyone who said there was no audience for this story was wrong. Not because I saw the future, but because I understood the present.’ BY GAYLE TZEMACH LEMMON W hat do you do when the have lost power, then who are my book “The Dressmaker of gatekeepers tell you it the new ones? Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One can’t be done? The answer: You. Remarkable Family, and the The answer: Go around them. When I began pitching the Woman Who Risked Everything And if the old gatekeepers story of what would become to Keep Them Safe,” I met a slew Barred from teaching after the Taliban took over Kabul, Afghanistan, Kamila Sidiqi, right, found another way to support her sisters. She is the subject of Gayle Tzemach Lemmon’s “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana.” Photo courtesy of Mercy Corps.4 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 7. Concept to Contentof unmoved listeners. One New York and to girls on college campuses and I got in touch with former newsroomliterary agent luminary told me that if in high school, I saw their excitement colleagues and friends at ABC News,he had found “anything at all” in the at hearing the story—and it inspired who helped secure media bookings.story of an Afghan teenage woman— me to keep fighting. I kept every dis- Tina Brown and The Daily Beast,teacher-turned-entrepreneur—whose couraging e-mail as fuel. I knew that for whom I reported from Afghani-dressmaking business supported if I could just get the story to women, stan, scheduled an excerpt. I called,women across her neighborhood under they would find themselves in this e-mailed and tweeted within as manythe Taliban, he would tell me to pursue story of resilience, faith and family. different networks as I could think ofthe book idea. Not long before the book’s publica- that would be natural audiences and Unfortunately, he said, he did not. tion I met a senior publishing executive allies for the book. Still, we wantedI swallowed, felt sorry for myself, who told me rather politely that it was to reach out to more groups. Soonand went to bed. And the next day I “not like” “The Dressmaker of Khair I was connecting with women in 85began again. Khana” would be a bestseller so I Broads, the business network, and to should enjoy the process of publishing development nonprofits such as BpeaceBelieving in Your Story my first book. Hearing that made me and Dining for Women. I got in touch more determined than ever to make with Harvard Business School, whereWhat fascinated me as the pitch ses- it succeed. I began my reporting for this booksions continued was that men of a during my studies for a master’s incertain age would nearly always give business administration. We receivedme the same, certain reaction when I support from Goldman Sachs’s 10,000shared my idea: a bored yawn. Women Women, which reaches worldwide toof nearly any age would almost always serve underserved female entrepre-ask me to tell them more. neurs with business education, and the I believed in the power of the International Center for Research ondressmaker’s story from the start. Women. And I reconnected with theThe tale of women who became Thunderbird School of Global Manage-breadwinners during years in which ment, which I mention in the book.they were banned from their streets Meanwhile, Drucker pitched non-was only one extraordinary narrative stop to radio and TV for interviews,I had encountered in my reporting, to book bloggers and mom bloggersyet it stood for so many others. When for posts about the book, and Juliamen go off to fight, women battle built a network of women leadersfor survival at home and make sure who felt strongly that the dressmaker’sthere is a place to return to when story should be told. They becameconflict ends. Their stories of daring, our champions, and soon, with themadventure and survival nearly always reaching their friends and contacts,are ignored in a war narrative focused our circles of influence expanded.entirely on men. When book bloggers wrote about Women go unseen and underesti- “The Dressmaker,” I’d find out and replymated, and I sensed women had had quickly to let them know that I wouldenough of both. Telling the dress- gladly do a Q. and A. for their sites.maker’s story could change that. It Self-Marketing Push When the online SITSGirls offered tocould do its small part to honor brave make “The Dressmaker” their bookand quiet heroes who dare to make In the run-up to publication of “The club selection, we leapt at the chance.things better, every day, in all corners Dressmaker of Khair Khana,” my edi- HarperCollins offered a book giveawayof the world, without waiting for help tor, Julia Cheiffetz, at HarperCollins, to the hip fashion site Modcloth, andand against great odds. I could not the book’s publicist, Heather Drucker, Cheiffetz reached out to the onlineknow then that a deepening global and I became rogue digital market- crafting powerhouse Etsy, where werecession would make the story of the ing agents, with assistance from Lisa hosted a Twitter discussion about thepower of one to create change even Sharkey, who helped me bring the power of women entrepreneurs tomore resonant for many. book to the publisher. Working as create change. And when I met the What I knew was that everyone who a team—combining the strength of very gracious (and wildly successful)said there was no audience for this our individual arenas of contacts and author Deepak Chopra in a CNBCstory was wrong. Not because I saw expertise—our strategy was to draw green room, Cheiffetz followed up bythe future, but because I understood wide attention through mass media writing to see whether, given his beliefthe present. When I talked with women outlets and simultaneously target niche in the power of women to change theon airplanes and in shopping malls audiences of interest and influence. world, he would be willing to tweet Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 5
  • 8. Writing the Bookabout “The Dressmaker.” He was. And pretzel entrepreneur in Chicago wrote stories are war stories, too. Thesewe were on our way. to me on my website about how the were people who knew stories like this Glittering reviews in places such as book taught her that if a girl could one excite and inspire. Our army ofPeople and O Magazine were incredibly start a business under the Taliban, she champions—underestimated by many,powerful, and so were readers who could surely work around obstacles she connected by technology, and eager tofound out about the book online. Twit- faced in her enterprise. Dads in Alaska be heard—enabled my book to succeed.ter was a potent engine for spreading posted on Facebook about how they And its success became theirs, too.the word and so were bloggers. My hoped their daughters would sharebook was one of the first nonfiction the dressmaker’s values. And women Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, author ofbestsellers at HarperCollins in which booksellers would stop me at book “The Dressmaker of Khair Khana:the e-book outsold the hardcover. events to say, “My boss was surely Five Sisters, One Remarkable By using social media effectively, surprised you were a bestseller. I was Family, and the Woman Who Riskedthe power was ours to quickly and thrilled to put your book on the shelf Everything to Keep Them Safe,” isdirectly connect with people as they’d and show him he was wrong.” a contributing editor at large athear about “The Dressmaker” on radio This was the right moment for a Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Sheinterviews or Facebook, for example. little story that could about an entre- is a fellow at the Council on ForeignHomeschooling moms tweeted about preneur who never believed she could Relations, where she serves as deputythe book, and I wrote back to let not. But that didn’t alone guarantee director of its Women and Foreignthem know that their support made a its success. My job as its author was Policy program. More of her workdifference—something that may have to keep in touch with the audience is at and onbeen a new experience for them and that had propelled us forward, the one Facebook; she tweets @gaylelemmon.others who posted words about it. A who knew, as we did, that women’s Feeling It’s a Book, Then Pausing to Wonder If It Is ‘Does the fact that this story hasn’t been told mean that there’s not enough to tell it?’ BY MITCHELL ZUCKOFFT he great director Robert Altman thought might be a World War II had a stock line whenever people story that could sustain a book (and asked him for advice: “Don’t take my interest) by indulging in one ofadvice.” With that in mind, I come my favorite research activities: readinghesitantly to the task of giving writ- newspaper archives. There’s no bettering advice, knowing that every writer way I know to immerse myself in ais unique and brings different tools particular place or time that isn’t myto the job. What I can do, however, own. From the placement and toneis describe some of the experiences I of stories and photos to the priceshad while researching and writing my in the ads, newspapers are to writersrecent book, “Lost in Shangri-La: A of historical nonfiction what tar pitsTrue Story of Survival, Adventure, and are to archaeologists. Even if I thinkthe Most Incredible Rescue Mission of I know what I’m looking for, I engageWorld War II,” in the hope that other in what seems like the time-wastingwriters might find them useful, or at activity of letting my eyes wander overleast satisfyingly familiar. random headlines, down columns of To state the obvious, there’s no book agate-type classified ads, throughwithout a book-worthy idea. “Lost in impassioned editorials about issuesShangri-La” began for me with a happy of fleetingly momentous importance.accident. I was researching what I When I’m doubting a project, usually6 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 9. Concept to Contentbecause I’m bored or disappointed by it,I find myself spending unbroken hoursfeeding my historic newspaper habit. That was the case with my origi-nal World War II idea, which I hadbegun to realize would make a decentmagazine-length story but couldn’tpossibly sustain a book, at least nothow I was then envisioning it. Tome, a book requires not just a greatstory, but also a theme that fuels thenarrative engine. In my oversimpli-fied explanation, my books have beenabout, respectively, life, death, money,art and war. (I only half-jokingly saythat I’m working my way up to sex.)Rather than force myself back to it, Iaimlessly scanned through microfilmof dozens of Chicago Tribunes from1945 when I came upon a headlinethat read: “Clouds Defeat HiddenValley Rescue Effort: Glider SnatchWaits on Good Weather.” Margaret Hastings was one of three survivors of a plane crash in Dutch New Guinea in Huh? The story described how this World War II. She held the rank of corporal but she is wearing a jacket with sergeant’svalley on the island of Dutch New stripes that was dropped in. Photo by C. Earl Walter, Jr.Guinea, nicknamed “Shangri-La” byUnited States Army airmen and warcorrespondents, had become a tem- the fact that this story hasn’t been “Shangri-La.”porary home to three survivors of a told mean that there’s not enough to One thing led to another, and soonplane crash, one a beautiful woman, tell it? I’ve walked away from more I found myself in the Tioga Countyand a team of paratroopers who’d potential ideas than I care to think Historical Society building in Owego,volunteered to protect them from the about because there wasn’t a “critical New York, where local historian EmmaStone Age natives who lived there. It mass” of sources—documentary and, Sedore had meticulously maintained anfurther explained that the military’s if recent enough, human—to sustain archive of materials about hometownrescue plan involved dropping huge a nonfiction narrative of something gal Margaret Hastings, the femalegliders to the valley floor, where, if like 100,000 words. survivor. Sedore provided me with aeverything went well, they’d await low- trove of letters, photos, scrapbooksflying planes that would snatch them Starting With Earl and—miracle of miracles—a typed copyback into the air—with the survivors of the 20,000-word diary Hastingsand paratroopers aboard. In this case, after the disappointment kept in the valley. How, I wondered, was this possible? of learning that the three survivors Over the months to come, I’d findNot just the gliders and the Stone Age had since died, I had the incredible additional photos, scrapbooks, letters,tribesmen, but the very existence of good fortune of finding the leader of declassified military documents, andwhat seemed like an amazing, untold the paratrooper rescue team, C. Earl lots more, but at that moment I knewstory of World War II. It seemed too Walter, Jr., living quietly with his this would be a book.good to be true, and having already memories firmly intact in a retirement One quick aside: Not everyonewritten a book about the original home in Oregon. Knowing that he was agreed.Ponzi scheme, I was especially wary of in his late 80’s, I flew from Boston When I first began to pursue aanything that fit that description. Yet within days of that discovery. contract for “Lost in Shangri-La,” Iwith a little digging, it became clear During the three days we spent was already committed to write a muchthat with the exception of a collec- together, Walter and I developed the different book. It was a good idea fortion of reprinted documents, profile beginnings of a friendship and he the right person, which wasn’t me. Assketches, and short essays, the story gained enough trust to give me a copy I wrote in the acknowledgments tohad remained virtually unknown and of the three-inch-thick scrapbook his “Lost in Shangri-La,” my daughtersuntold at book length. late wife had made of this adventure, could tell from my lack of energy and The next question reflects the deeply and even better, the daily journal he excitement that I was struggling to dragheld skepticism of all reporters: Does kept during the six weeks he spent in myself to my computer, a telltale sign Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 7
  • 10. Writing the Bookof a terrible fit. Without going into too suavely: Tell her to preempt at will Sometimes that will mean leaving outmany uncomfortable details, the idea and I’ll consider it. In fact, I probably something altogether, while other timeshad come from an editor for whom slobbered something like, “Oh, thank it will mean keeping faith with readersI have great respect and affection. I God, I’m not ruined.” by making it unmistakably clear whenasked him if I could switch ideas but From there, I went happily on what supposition is all I have to go on.was told that his publishing house I like to call “my nonfiction scavenger The way I figure it, as a journalistwasn’t interested. Knowing that it hunt,” making long wish lists of people I long ago accepted that omnisciencewould mean an end to a professional and documents I knew that, if found, was the province of novelists. Therelationship I cherished, I held my would help me tell this story in all its best I could hope for was a relentlessbreath and dove into the new idea. glory. When I make these lists, I know pursuit of the truth and transparency First, though, I dug into savings and that I won’t be able to find everything. about where I succeeded and wherereturned the largely spent advance for In fact, if I ever found everything I I fell short.the never-to-be-written-by-me book was looking for when writing a work There’s a lot more to say about how(plus my agent’s 15 percent fee; I was of narrative history, I’d know my list I approach research and writing booksthe one backing out of a contract, not wasn’t ambitious or audacious enough. as a journalist-turned-author, but thathim). Soon after, a second editor I liked By shooting for the moon, I might might risk sounding as though I amalso passed on a proposal I wrote for reach the sky. Knowing in advance giving new idea, which at the time I was that I won’t find everything also helpscalling simply “Shangri-La.” I confess to keep my blood pressure in check. Mitchell Zuckoff is a professor ofto unsightly sweat stains at this point. As a believer in strict nonfiction, in journalism at Boston University andThen my agent called and told me which the work is backed up by exhaus- the author of five nonfiction books,he had a perfect fit: Claire Wachtel tive endnotes—they are my favorite 40 including The New York Times best-at HarperCollins loved the idea and pages of “Lost in Shangri-La”—I have selling “Lost in Shangri-La: A Truewanted to make a preemptive offer to make peace with the fact that not Story of Survival, Adventure and thebefore it went to auction. In my selec- every question, theory or desire I have Most Incredible Rescue Mission oftive, self-serving memory, I answered will be answered, proved or fulfilled. World War II.” On his visit to “Shangri-La,” Mitchell Zuckoff found wreckage from the plane crash that stranded three members of the American military in a remote valley of Dutch New Guinea. Photo by Buzz Maxey.8 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 11. Concept to Content On the Road to Writing Books: Blazing New Trails ‘What transforms journalists into nonfiction authors is the heft of their voice, the narrative arc of their idea, and its marketability. These aren’t lessons that tend to be reinforced on the way up the newspaper ladder.’ BY WILLIAM WHEELERI begin writing this essay in my room in a nearly empty hotel in Tripoli, Libya where I sit trying to ignorethe incessant gunfire rattling fromevery corner of the city. Rebels areshooting anti-aircraft guns into thesky to celebrate the reported captureof one of Muammar el-Qaddafi’s sons.The skyline looks like London in WorldWar II as bright arcs of tracer fire cutacross the dark. Occasionally I hear theweirdly silent flutter of bullets fallingfrom the sky, striking glass or brick,even clanging into the spiral staircaseof the fire escape outside my window. I work for low pay, without assur-ance my work will ever see the lightof day, and zero gratitude. I am afreelancer—by choice. When I started With political unrest a near constant, the city of Tripoli can be a dangerous place to be ain journalism seven years ago I knew freelance reporter. Photo by Abdel Magid al-Fergany/The Associated Press.I wanted to write nonfiction books,serious and gripping ones aboutwhat is happening in the world. My magazine pieces. prevent that fate. This meant formermetabolism never felt quite right for A friend who is a staff writer at a employees were scrambling to findthe daily news grind. But then a mentor major national magazine soon recom- writing work and calling in old favorsreminded me that journalist/authors mended that I read a story in the from friends and colleagues. For alike Jon Lee Anderson climbed their New York Observer about how the newcomer, it was hard to break in. Butway through the ranks of newspapers well-worn path to writing books is no with will and desperation, I perseveredand magazines, learning the pains- longer a reliable one to follow. David as I branched out into multimedia,taking craft of reporting before they Hirshey, executive editor of Harper- newspapers and finally found a footholdembarked on book-length projects. Collins and a former deputy editor of in the magazine world. So I put in my time at a weekly Esquire magazine, was quoted at the Through the years, as a freelancer,newspaper in California. In decades beginning of the piece: “Thirty years I have filed reports from Lebanon,past I might have hopped from ago, you worked at a newspaper, you Thailand, Kenya, Nepal, Pakistan,paper to paper, paper to wire service, moved to a magazine, and then you Bangladesh, Denmark and Haiti,befriending the foreign editor and wrote books or screenplays,” Hirshey often with funding from the Pulitzerwaiting until I could get a position as said. “Today you can be a blogger who Center on Crisis Reporting. I signeda foreign correspondent. But this was writes books or you can be a stripper on with a book agent with the idea ofnot then, and with the implosion of who wins an Academy Award for Best writing a book about political crisesthe industry’s business model nothing Screenplay.” with roots in environmental a career ladder existed any longer. I soon learned how hard it was This concept was not unlike JaredSo I went to Columbia University to to break into writing for magazines, Diamond’s “Collapse: How Societiesstudy journalism and international especially when the global recession Choose to Fail or Succeed,” but mineaffairs, and after graduation I set hit. Magazines were either dying or would be told in real time. For monthsout on the road and started pitching paring down their in-house staff to I worked on writing a book proposal, Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 9
  • 12. Writing the Bookfocusing chapters on topics such as: magazine articles.” that tend to be reinforced on the way • “I worried about breaking his nar- up the newspaper ladder. This also• How the loss of wetlands along rative out in the crowded environ- turns out to be a cautionary tale for the Louisiana coast was making mental category.” old newshands trying to make the New Orleans more vulnerable to transition to writing books. hurricanes Soon an earthquake in Haiti would Marketing the idea—and selling• How a century of greedy irrigation kill an estimated 300,000 people, you as its author—is everything in practices in Australia paved the way leaving hundreds of thousands home- getting to write a book. Long gone to more drought-induced firestorms less amid mounting civil unrest. Oil are the days when an editor can go and flash floods would gush for 86 days and seep into with her gut, putting trust in a writer’s• How a booming population in Egypt remaining Gulf Coast wetlands, and potential and in her ability to coax had gobbled up all the arable land biblical floods would ravage Australia. out a product that will sell. Now, an and the next spike in global grain And the surging price of grain would editor’s instinct must be confirmed prices was likely to ignite unrest be an instigating factor in the Arab by marketing data. (I’ve heard that• How deforestation in Haiti had uprisings. Feelings of disappointment major studios use computer formulas exacerbated floods, driving peasant turned into dismay as each of these to decide which films are marketable farmers into the shantytowns of events transpired and I realized that enough to produce.) Still, it can be slum-infested Port-au-Prince. if my book had not been rejected I’d to my advantage that I’m a first-time be in these places, weaving the stories writer. “You have no numbers,” a Haiti had been plagued in journalism professor told merecent years by coups and riots enviously. Since book sales datarelated to the deforestation are so readily available, a writerand flooding. On the heels of must sell a lot of books or earnfour devastating storms and critical acclaim with prior bookshurricanes in winter 2008, so as not to suffer diminishingthe International Crisis Group returns on subsequent advances.warned, “a new natural disaster A few months ago I had somein 2009 in an overpopulated disheartening conversationscity such as Port-au-Prince with friends as we lamented thecould easily transform the writer’s life. I decided to giveconsiderable opposition to the up on journalism and e-mailed[current] administration again friends declaring that I was leav-into violent conflict.” ing the game. The next day a We circulated the proposal, big magazine commission cameand publishers responded by through, and a few weeks latersaying that while they liked the I got another. While reportingidea they felt the marketplace in Libya, I came across yetwas too crowded with books another story about the coverton environmental subjects. In operations to liberate Tripolishort, publishers expressed from within, and I sold theuncertainty about what the final idea to Byliner, a start-up Webproduct would be and how it publisher that sells long-formwould stand out from what was journalism e-books. [See Johnalready in bookstores. Here is The oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was among a string Tayman’s story about Byliner ona representative sample of the of environmental disasters in 2010. Photo by Gerald page 38.] So I’m back, trying toreasons given for passing on Herbert/The Associated Press. find my footing in an evolvingmy book: marketplace and still trusting that a market will always exist• “This is a Catch-22 for journalists, together as my book’s core narrative. for irresistible ideas and compelling I realize, but it’s just hard to take I learned, too, in this process that storytelling. the leap, knowing that the narrative my early mentor’s advice was wrong. will be what distinguishes the book A captivating, well-reported story can William Wheeler is a freelance jour- from ‘Collapse’ and all the other be the right place to start out. What nalist. His recent New York Times eco-crisis books in the works.” transforms journalists into nonfiction story about Libya, “After Liberation,• “This is fascinating … But I couldn’t authors is the heft of their voice, the Nowhere to Run,” was supported get myself to see this as something narrative arc of their idea, and its by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis more than a series of interconnected marketability. These aren’t lessons Reporting.10 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 13. Concept to Content Brief Story, Book Proposal, a Longer Feature, Then a Book ‘… it would be a while before people would say, “Hey, this is a book.” ’ BY AMY ELLIS NUTTT here is nothing normal about controversial operation with a brain my journalism career—I landed surgeon in Pittsburgh. Sarkin did, my first newspaper job at 42—or but within hours of the operation hemy book-writing career. In a former suffered a massive stroke.long-ago life as a sports reporter, I Weeks later, when he came outcoauthored a golf book/memoir for a of his semi-coma, Sarkin was awoman on the professional tour and different man both physically andit hit the remainder bin faster than psychologically. The greatest changea two-foot gimme hits the bottom was in his personality. A calm, evenof the cup. So after a 13-year hiatus shy, serious medical professional wasand a move from Sports Illustrated suddenly loud, abrasive and com-to The Star-Ledger of Newark, New pletely uninhibited. Whatever was onJersey—you get the upside-down idea, his mind came out his mouth. Afterright?—I had some trepidation about rehabilitation, when he learned toembarking on a second book. walk, talk and dress himself again, As it does for most newspaper Sarkin went home. That’s when thereporters who write books, my unantici- drawing started—spontaneously andpated journey started with an article. prodigiously. He drew on magazines,Back in 2003 I’d met Jon Sarkin, the on scraps of paper, on the basementsubject of “Shadows Bright as Glass: walls, even on his cane. And the moreThe Remarkable Story of One Man’s he drew, the more obsessed he becameJourney From Brain Trauma to Artistic stroke patients who have suffered iden- with creating art. Primitive drawingsTriumph.” Actually, first I met his art. tity disorders. Sarkin asked Feinberg if of cartoonish figures eventually becameI was in New York City interview- he could somehow explain what had dense, complex art pieces, and heing neurologist Todd Feinberg for a happened to him. expanded from impulsive drawing tomajor story I was writing on science’s In 1988, Sarkin was a successful large-scale portraits, collages and evensearch for the origin of consciousness. young chiropractor. On a crisp autumn abstract landscapes.Questions about identity and mind day in October, he was standing on the When I learned that Sarkin was ahave always interested me and, in eighth tee of a golf course not far from native of New Jersey and was aboutfact, prompted me to go to graduate his home in Gloucester, Massachusetts to have his first major New York Cityschool in philosophy. (It was escaping when something shifted inside his art show at the Diane von Furstenbergthe PhD dissertation that sent me on brain. The experience wasn’t painful, Studio, I knew I had to write aboutmy circuitous route to journalism.) but it was terrifying and within days him for The Star-Ledger. We hit it On the wall of Feinberg’s office Sarkin began experiencing tinnitus, off, and I wrote what was little moreI noticed a fascinating and colorful a ringing in the ear. It steadily grew than a biographical sketch for thepicture and asked him about it. The worse, and then every sound became newspaper’s features section.abstract drawing of a series of 1950’s magnified until even the crackling ofCadillac tailfins was clever and deeply eggs in a frying pan was enough to send Short Feature to Bookintriguing. So the doctor then told me him cowering under the bedcovers. He Proposalthe tale of Sarkin, a man who had went to every doctor, every specialist,contacted Feinberg by phone a year he could find, including chiroprac- Sarkin and I kept in touch, and itearlier after hearing him interviewed tors, audiologists, psychiatrists and would be a while before people wouldon NPR. At the time, Feinberg had neurologists. The best advice anyone say, “Hey, this is a book.” Eventuallyjust written his first book, “Altered could offer was that he use a white- we realized they were right. But thereEgos: How the Brain Creates the Self,” noise machine. One doctor, however, was a problem. He’d already sold thein which he chronicled his work with suggested he might want to try a rights to his life story to Tom Cruise Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 11
  • 14. Writing the Book People would think enormously challenging. In fact, I I was writing about found nothing was harder than trying art, they argued. The to mesh these two stories. When I way I saw things, this handed the first draft in to my editor—a is what a subtitle month early—I felt pretty good about is for. Despite my what I had written, but not great. I’d best efforts (through actually handed in just 50,000 words Loose) to convince and would have another 30,000 to them otherwise, my write, although I naively didn’t realize backup, “Shadows it at the time. Bright as Glass,” a Turns out I was about to encounter line from poet Wal- the hurdles of length and style and lace Stevens, emerged voice that lots of reporters-turned- as the book’s title. book writers trip over the first time (Its subtitle is “The around the track. My editor pointed“What I Am” by Jon Sarkin, whose transformation from Remarkable Story of me toward places where I needed tomild-mannered chiropractor to frenetic artist Amy Ellis Nutt One Man’s Journey add or extend scenes. Good advice,chronicled in her 2011 book. From Brain Trauma relatively easy to execute. Getting my to Artistic Triumph.”) writer’s voice to work well was harder. Nearly everyone I My reporter’s training had put me inand Paula Wagner, then at Paramount asked agreed that “The Accidental an objective frame of mind so I wasPictures. As it turned out, the book Artist” was better. using quotes and selecting words inrights were tied in with the film ways that made my book’s storytellingrights and it took close to five years Making a Book sound stilted and formal.of on-again, off-again efforts to clarify That needed to be fixed, and oncethat contract before the green light The Star-Ledger’s series of stories, again, my editor offered guidance bywas given. which consisted of a number of key reminding me that I had to insert Finally, in 2008, when I was writing scenes from Sarkin’s life, was very myself more into the book, not aswhat would become a 40-page book different from the book proposal. My a character, but as an interpreter ofproposal, I realized so much had hap- book agent, Wendy Strothman, kept events and people. And loosen up aspened to Sarkin since I’d first written urging me to expand the story beyond a writer, she counseled me. Be moreabout him that I should do a longer the tale of one man’s unusual brain expansive—even philosophical. Thispiece for the newspaper. My editors trauma. The wider the story’s scope, hint turned out to be what I neededat The Star-Ledger agreed. So this is the larger its prospective audience to stitch chapters together seamlessly,how my short feature—after a break and the greater the chance would be though not easily. All of this was partof a few years—got transformed into of selling the book—to the publisher of creating a “narrative arc,” the twoa book proposal, then re-reported as a and then to readers. words that most terrify journalists whonewspaper series, and finally became Easier said than done, and doing this decide to become authors.a book. By the time the series, “The meant thinking differently. How could I After thousands of hours and hun-Accidental Artist,” was published connect Sarkin’s experience to a larger dreds of pages of drafts, I embracedin the paper, I had a book contract theme? What could I contribute—that my fear, even if I still haven’t embracedfrom Free Press. For that series, I hadn’t been said already—about this my book’s title.was named a finalist for the Pulitzer theme? Ideas percolated, as my agentPrize in Feature Writing in 2009. I pushed me away from straight biog- Amy Ellis Nutt, a 2005 Niemandidn’t win, but being a finalist helped raphy and tugged me toward telling Fellow, is a writer with The Star-to solidify support at the publisher, a parallel stories about a man’s search Ledger in Newark, New Jersey. Shedivision of Simon & Schuster. for himself and the story of science’s was awarded the 2011 Pulitzer Prize During the next year I worked with search for the self. for Feature Writing for her “deeplya marvelous editor there, Emily Loose. This became a book I wanted to probing story”—“The Wreck of theAlthough I had very little contact with write, and it seemed like one that Lady Mary”—about the sinking of aher during the writing itself, she was wouldn’t be too hard to figure out how commercial fishing boat. On the daya terrific hands-on word editor after I to write. I was correct about the first the Pulitzers were announced, herhanded in the manuscript. I didn’t dis- assumption, and way off on the second. book “Shadow Bright as Glass” hadagree with a single suggestion. My only Trying to weave together two diver- just been published and Terry Gross’sdisagreement was with the publisher’s gent strands—the narrative of a man’s interview on “Fresh Air” with hermarketing department, which didn’t life with details of science writing and and Jon Sarkin was broadcast thatlike the title, “The Accidental Artist.” history about brain research—proved afternoon.12 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 15. Concept to Content Writing a Life, Living a Writer’s Life ‘At one point, my mother, a woman who is anything but acid, told me: “Get a job, and get a life.” She said this out of love and concern because all I ever did—all I ever do—is work, seven days a week, practically every waking hour.’ BY GAIUTRA BAHADUR“ In exile, the only house is that decided that instead of re-entering an servants, semi-forced laborers who of writing.” Theodor Adorno, the industry in serious upheaval I would replaced slaves on sugar estates. Talk German philosopher and critic, pursue a book project. With half of about exile. These women knew exile.conceived that metaphor. I encoun- my Nieman stipend saved, I set offtered it in a book I was reviewing, and for England to dig in archives for a Getting StartedI decided to use the words, translated story I wasn’t sure I would find wellfrom German, as a tagline for my documented enough to tell. The journey I was about to embark onwebsite. Full disclosure: except for the I wanted to write nonfiction explor- was nowhere close to theirs in daringnine words that begin this essay, I have ing the mystery of my great-grand- or sacrifice.never read any Adorno. I hear his prose mother, who left Calcutta, pregnant During my Nieman winter break, Iis difficult. Yet these particular words and without a husband, to work on had made some forays into the Britishof his made perfect, intuitive sense to a Guyanese plantation in 1903. The Colonial Office archives in London andme. I know I can’t really compare his details of her exit from India, with then to India to ensure the story wasexile, that of a Jewish merchant’s son their hint of trauma or scandal, were substantial enough to take a risk. Itfrom Nazi Germany in the 1930’s, to not unique. Her story was the story was. I didn’t, however, realize how greatthe rootlessness I was feeling at the of hundreds of thousands of Indian the risk would seem to the publishingtime. Still, I identified, deeply. women who ended up in British industry, then facing its own crisis. What am I an exile from? I come colonies worldwide as indentured It took more than a year for myfrom an immigrant family, twice over.But immigration is not the same thingas exile. As any Cuban will tell you,exile involves a dream of return to yourhomeland—one you were forced toleave. It’s a matter for debate whethermy family had to leave Guyana in1981. I didn’t have a say, in any case.I was only 6. But when I left The PhiladelphiaInquirer in 2007, I truly had nochoice, being one reporter among manydozens laid off by a new corporateowner. Suddenly I was an exile froma newsroom, part of an early wavereplenished many times over as theentire newspaper industry enteredcrisis mode. I was among the fortunate few. A fewmonths after my layoff, I was selectedas a Nieman Fellow. For a time, thisgave me shelter, a nice one as far asshelters go—warm, well stocked, evenkind of glamorous, and the compan-ionship of fellow travelers. But like allshelters, it was temporary. As spring Gaiutra Bahadur’s great-grandmother sailed to Guyana on this ship called “The Clyde.”arrived, I surveyed the job market, then Photo is from the 1935 book “Coolie Ships and Oil Sailors” by Basil Lubbock. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 13
  • 16. Writing the Bookbook proposal to sell. Five editors at We ultimately felt that, while an “difficult” subjects. I’m not sayingfive houses liked the proposal well engaging, global and beautifully that my proposal was perfect or thatenough to pitch it to acquisition boards. written memoir, the audience for all rejections were as kind or gentlyOthers said they liked it, but didn’t this would be small and difficult written as the ones I’ve quoted. I’mbother to pitch. The consensus seemed to reach … We all loved her writ- saying it cuts to hear that the storyto be that the story wasn’t commercial ing, though … and would love to of your people is not “big,” even whenenough for anyone to take a chance on see her pursue a bigger story or worthy and well written—and it disap-during what turned out to be the start subject in the future. points to hear that “big” seems to meanof publishing’s crisis years. An editor mainstream and marketable, even toat a major trade house complimented When my proposal was on the publishers whose mission statementsme and the subject matter, saying market in 2009 and 2010, publish- declared was “a story well worth telling, a ing was purging its own employees, This is about when Adorno’s wordsstory well worth hearing.” But she enlarging a parallel community of struck such a chord. I had put every-concluded: “I’m sad to say I found exiles. Established writers and books thing into the pursuit of a story that novery few problems with the proposal on more mainstream topics were one seemed to want. To top it off, theand the story itself—my only worry is still being contracted, of course. But United Kingdom border control officemore on our end, how we’d bring this there didn’t seem to be great room for denied me a one-year business visato a big enough audience.” new voices or for risk—for first-time because, it said, book research didn’t Another rejection letter read: authors, like me, wanting to take on constitute a valid business purpose. A Year of Reinvention By Alfredo Corchado Ours was a year of uncertainty, we were not convinced especially after reverberations from that book publish- September’s economic crash worked ing was much better their way through the global economy. off than newspapers, It was the fall of 2008, and my Nie- hard times galvanized man year was beginning. As our class us to feel a sense of came together, we sensed that more urgency to move in newsroom jobs would be evaporating. some direction. A new What was supposed to be our year of one seemed inviting. retreat, reflection and reinvigoration The Nieman Foun- turned into a time when we kept a dation introduced us close watch on events in the industry to excellent writing as we looked for ways to reinvent teachers and men- ourselves. tors—Anne Bernays Books written by Nieman Fellows fill—and in some cases Some of us retreated to bars and Rose Moss for more than fill—the shelves at Lippmann House. Photo to reflect, of course, while others fiction and Constance by Jonathan Seitz. imagined writing a book as a way to Hale, who goes by reinvigorate our careers. Some of us Connie, for nonfic- combined the two. The idea of writ- tion narrative. I took Connie’s class, of our writing class has had her book ing a book offered an escape, if only which by midyear had morphed into published and at least two others temporary. It was a place to turn as a wonderful support group. We went have books in progress, including we followed our wandering hearts. to the spring narrative journalism me. In October, Nieman affiliate Writing books is certainly not conference that she put together. She Karin Grundberg had her book, a rarity for Nieman Fellows; the helped us to network as we headed “Dying Dandy: A Biography of Art bookshelves at Lippmann House are out into the world of agents, authors Collector Fredrik Roos,” published in packed with the abundant product of and publishers. Stockholm, Sweden. She remembers many Nieman authors. Even though Now, a few years later, one member the class as being “instrumental for14 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 17. Concept to ContentThe officer in Edinburgh who detained with a housesitting arrangement. I a life.” She said this out of love andme when I tried to enter on a tour- rented rooms cheaply from friends, concern because all I ever did—all Iist visa instead told me frankly that friends of friends, mothers of friends, ever do—is work, seven days a week,the meager state of my bank account and strangers who looked kindly on practically every waking hour. Andprobably accounted for the rejection. starving artists, and acquaintances who who can blame her for thinking that“Plenty of people come here to hole believed in what I was trying to do. a woman in her mid-30’s should notup in nice houses on the Isle of Skye In my year and a half there, I lived in be living with her parents? Who canand write,” she said. eight different flats in London. blame her for thinking her amply and By then my Nieman stash was gone. When I wasn’t working on the expensively educated daughter shouldI hadn’t put it into health insurance. I book, I was working on freelance book maybe have a place of her own? Orhadn’t put it into the bric-a-brac of a reviews or magazine articles or pitches that she should have the time to domiddle-class life: evenings out, eating for them or fellowship applications or things other than work (like, ahem,out. I didn’t even put it into an apart- teaching Saturday morning English get married and procreate somethingment or a house. Everything I had went classes to 13-year-olds who didn’t want other than a book)?into research for the book, mostly at to be there, all to replenish the bank I’m not sharing the sordid detailsarchives in the United Kingdom and account that the border control lady to make you feel pity. Don’t. I chosethe West Indies. I had no lease, no had found so distressing. At one point, this life. It is exactly what I want tomortgage, no permanent address. I my mother, a woman who is anything do, and on most days I am thrilledlodged or, once or twice, lucked out but acid, told me: “Get a job, and get to be doing it. I feel blessed. I haveme.” As she wrote to me, “I made is not my strong point,” she added. a book that goes beyond tragedy orfriendships that boosted my book Support happened outside of class, sensationalism but is an attempt toidea and gave important and con- too. We were fortunate to have two weave together the search for evil—structive feedback … Connie gave fearless Argentineans, Nieman Fel- political and criminal—in Mexicogood homework, such as capturing low Graciela Mochkofsky and her and in the United States with mya person or place.” husband, Gabriel Pasquini, among own search for home and belonging Another fellow, Julie Reynolds, us. Everyone needs an Argentinean to as a Mexican American. To believewas introduced to her book agent be pushed to a higher level, and they in a curse is to believe in the the Nieman conference. Julie had instilled in us courage and confidence I find it comforting—and remark-joined our class in the spring when in our ability to take what we knew able—that in writing my book I relyshe was in the process of crafting a as journalists and believe we could on just about the exact outline Ibook about Hispanic gangs, a topic put to work as authors. Each was a developed with help from Conniefamiliar to her because of the crime veteran author in Buenos Aires, and and my classmates, including Gabriel,beat she covered at The Monterey with them we created an underground Graciela, Karin and Julie. A splendidCounty (Calif.) Herald. The class writer’s club, aptly named El Club side benefit of writing this book ishelped her to “give the thing a narra- de los Secretos (“The Secrecy Club”). recalling the lasting gift we gave eachtive shape,” she recalls. She named her They introduced some of us to the another in the friendship cementedbook “The Cause,” after “the doctrine glamorous, turbulent world of New in our writing class—a place wherethe kids believe they’re fighting for,” York agents, editors and publishers. our true reinvention happened.she told me. She describes her book I considered myself the mostas a “nonfiction soap opera about unlikely among us to emerge as an Alfredo Corchado, a 2009 Niemantheir loves and delusions, with this author. Yet Penguin Group has me Fellow, is bureau chief for Thebackdrop of crime in rural America.” under contract and I am writing my Dallas Morning News based in She’s written her book, but it has first nonfiction book; the working title Mexico City and is completing hisnot yet been sold. “Of course the is “Midnight in Mexico: The Curse.” book, “Midnight in Mexico: Thebook industry is also going through In it I try to describe the violence and Curse,” scheduled to be published instrange times. Let’s just say timing corruption tearing Mexico apart. It’s late 2012. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 15
  • 18. Writing the Book Photographs of indentured laborers imported by sugar The author began her research with this plantation owners, as the author’s great-grandmother emigration pass, issued to her great- was, were sold as postcards. Photo is from the Michael grandmother, when she went to a Guyanese Goldberg Collection, The Alma Jordan Library, The Uni- plantation in 1903. Courtesy of The Walter versity of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. Rodney Archives, Georgetown, Guyana.supportive friends and family and col- And it takes being blessed. It’s not house that Google Earth can locate,leagues. I have co-publishers I respect something to undertake just because but I know exactly where to find it.and trust: University of Chicago Press you think books might be a better bet I make words there every day, wordsand Hurst, an independent press based than newspapers right now. that I believe in, words that I hope willin London. And somehow I still have When I was on staff in a newsroom, make a contribution, words that haveenough money to pay for five more I was a workaholic. What I did was a reality well beyond the imaginarymonths of rent at a writer’s studio in who I was. And so I made the mistake homeland of a newsroom.Manhattan and subway and train fare of identifying my job with a hometo get there. country. It wasn’t. It’s still true to Gaiutra Bahadur, a 2008 Nieman I’m writing this so you know this say that what I do is who I am. But Fellow, is writing her first book,is the hardest thing I have ever tried now I know that this transcends any “Coolie Woman,” which is scheduledto do. It takes soul-risking hustle and particular employer, as compelling to be published in 2012. An excerptsoul-exposing humility, a combina- as health insurance and a biweekly appeared in the Spring 2011 issue oftion that comes from being rejected paycheck can sometimes seem. Writing The Virginia Quarterly Review andrepeatedly yet somehow still believing is not a job. It’s a vocation, a calling. was reprinted in the Indian maga-that the ultimate goal is bigger than If you’re lucky, it can be a house, zine The Caravan and can be readyou or your bruised ego. It takes too—the thing that shelters you in in full at—a downright obsessive love seasons of transition and constant Story/1058/Her-Middle-Passage.html.for your subject and belief in its value. address changes. It’s not the kind of16 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 19. Concept to Content Starting as a Journalist, Ending as a Memoirist ‘I have come to realize that my obsessive precision—a great virtue in a reporter—wasn’t necessarily the greatest quality in a would-be memoirist.’ BY LUCETTE LAGNADOI took a leave from The Wall Street a century, beginning with my father’s Digging for Details Journal to work on two family mem- arrival in Cairo from his native Syria oirs, but in a way I never left—and as an infant in 1901 to his courtship I was sure that all those great habitsthe pesky habits, methods, techniques, of my mother in 1940’s Cairo, from cultivated as a journalist would helpeven the mindset I’d always adopted as my family’s forced exile to America me with my undertaking, and at firstan investigative reporter stayed with all the way to my parents’ passing in they did. I set about my book withme. For better and for worse. the 1990’s. I was going to document the same fervor and diligence that I’d My work had made me a stickler the rise and fall of my family through approach my Page One lead stories. Ifor accuracy and precision, with a these decades and, in the process, made frantic phone calls and contactedfear bordering on phobia of making a recreate this vanished world that had sources around the world and poredmistake. Practically speaking, I knew haunted me so—a time when and a through old documents I retrievedas did my editors that my stories place where Jews lived peaceably with by filing the equivalent of Freedomwere likely to be read over carefully, Muslims and Christians in a magical of Information Act requests. Evenwith the people I exposed poised to Arab city called Cairo. before formally working on my book,attack, so that I had to be I’d approached the Hebrewexcruciatingly careful. I Immigrant Aid Societymastered habits peculiar to (HIAS) that had resettledthe culture of investigative us and requested our familyreporting such as “bullet- files. It took a while but toproofing”—as in, “you have my amazement, the agencyto bulletproof your story,” found them—scores of let-to make sure no one could ters documenting our sadpoke holes in it. efforts to find a home after Deadlines were invari- leaving Egypt. There, in theably terrifying events, when midst of the thick dossier,I walked around the news- was the single most com-room with a copy of my pelling document I’d find2,000-word story, reading about my family: The ledgerit over and over again, showing my dad’s paymentsafraid I’d gotten so much in $10 and $15 incrementsas a comma wrong. Then, for our passage to Americasuddenly, here I was with a on the Queen Mary.contract to write a 100,000- In approaching thisword book about my Egyp- project as a journalist, Itian-Jewish father who had thought, why not try forpassed away years earlier, other immigration files? Iso that I couldn’t even turn recalled that another agencyto him to verify facts and called the New York Asso-run by rumors. ciation for New Americans I secretly dubbed my (NYANA), now defunct,book, “100 Years of Levan- had helped in our resettle-tine Solitude.” And that ment, so I demanded ourwas in fact my grand files from there as well.ambition—to chronicle These proved to be evenwhat happened to my Lucette Lagnado, whose family called her Loulou, with her father. more jarring—especiallyfamily over the course of Photo courtesy of Lagnado family archives. the pages of case notes from Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 17
  • 20. Writing the Bookour old social worker, railing tantalizing story but how toagainst my dad for being confirm? Om Kalsoum wastoo old-fashioned, too sexist long dead, and in terms of theand patriarchal. Between people around her, who onthe HIAS and the NYANA earth could have confirmedpapers, I felt I had a sound that once upon a time anbasis for reconstructing our imam’s daughter turnedearly days getting out of chanteuse had a relationshipEgypt and of our emigration with a tall handsome Jewishto America. Emboldened by man about town who favoredthe results of my quest, I white sharkskin suits?flew to Paris and retrieved As I weighed what tomy family dossier from our do, I realized the story wastime as refugees living in a consistent with other storiesfleabag hotel for nearly a I’d heard about Dad andyear in the 1960’s. Before leaving Egypt, Leon and Edith had this portrait taken rang true. But I owed it to With aspects of our lives with their 6-year-old daughter Loulou and her brother Isaac. the reader to state explicitlythat documents didn’t cover, Photo courtesy of César Lagnado, Lagnado family archives. that it was still in the realmI searched for sources, exactly of mythology, albeit a mythas I would with a story. For I happened to believe.chapters on my father as a single man to me, exactly as a reluctant source This section remains one of myin 1940’s Cairo, I flew to Milan and would have, “Are you through now?” My favorites. I had begun exploring ithuddled with an elderly cousin who oldest brother was a bit more lenient. using traditional reporting, contact-had lived with him before his marriage An accountant by profession, he had ing people in Egypt, finding long-lostto my Mom. He vividly remembered a special interest in documenting the relatives who might have known aboutwatching as my Dad (before he was past. I found that over the years he my father and Om Kalsoum. I couldn’tmy dad) went out night after night, had kept an extraordinary array of really confirm it but rather than adherenot returning till the early dawn. Dad’s papers—cancelled checks going to the journalistic law of “if in doubtMy cousin left it to my imagination back to the 1980’s, business cards from leave it out,” I decided that the mereto figure out where “the man in the Cairo in the 1950’s. fact such a story could have circulatedwhite sharkskin suit”—a description Occasionally it occurred to me about my dad revealed worlds aboutof him that I made the title of my to wonder why he had preserved so his character and reputation.first book—went every night. (Think: much. Was he expecting an audit of The greatest impediment of all toWomen, bars, casinos, cabarets—the our father’s life? Was that, in effect, these memoirs turned out to be me—mytypical Cairo nightlife, once upon a what I was doing?time.) But he also stressed that Dad Ultimately, no matter what I did,was always back by dawn—a stickler there were still gaps—areas whereabout attending morning services at reporting basically no longer worked,the local synagogue, no matter what where I had reached the limits of itshis nocturnal adventures had been. usefulness. Even with my trove of docu- I searched for any other relatives ments, my ability to find good sourcesor friends who knew my father. Most and persuade them to cooperate, I wasof them were in their 80’s, even their missing pieces of the story. Key rela-90’s, and that was great, because to my tives had died or there remained nomind the older they were, the greater written record of what I was seeking.the chance they would have significant What to do?remembrances—assuming their ownmemory was still intact. Letting Memories Flow I perfected the art of reportedmemory. When my own memory failed I guess that is when I was forced tome, I turned to family members and learn my new craft—as I transitionedmy older siblings with questions about from journalist to memoirist. I hadfamily incidents. Once again my years heard, for example, that my father hadas a reporter came to my aid. Indeed, a dalliance with a legendary EgyptianI was so relentless in the way I ques- singer named Om Kalsoum, possiblytioned my older sister that she seemed the greatest Egyptian performer, idol-to dread our encounters and would say ized in the Middle East. It was such a18 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 21. Concept to Contentown memory, the memory of someone country is now underwho had left Egypt as a small child. a military dictatorshipAt the tender age of 6, I had become that doesn’t want Jewsa refugee and undertaken a journey or foreigners. But shemost adults would find daunting, does feel—intensely—from Egypt to France to America. My the events around her.memories of that period were nothing She simply experienceslike those of my siblings; they were them under her terms.a little girl’s memories, marked by Suddenly my under-the longings of a child who suddenly taking made perfectfinds herself having lost all that she sense. No, I wouldn’ttreasures—her school, her home, her be able to write astreet, her cat, her favorite patisserie memoir about the fallwhere her dad takes her as a treat of King Farouk andeach afternoon. the rise of Colonel They were hardly enough to turn Gamal Abdel Nasser,into a memoir of a lost Egypt, and I but I would be ablewas at a loss as to what to do until I to tell the story of anremembered a cardinal rule I’d learned elegant Swiss patis-at the Journal—what we dubbed “jiu serie named Groppi’sjitsu.” That was the art of turning a where I—or youngweakness into strength, to transform Loulou, rather—lovedeven a flaw in a story into an asset. to go and sit in aThat is when I realized that I had to pebbled garden andtell the story—this seemingly adult spoon out freshly-memoir of exile and loss—in the made chantilly crème.voice and through the eyes of a child, I would be able toof the little girl me, a girl named recall once upon a timeLoulou, who watches bewildered as attending a Frenchher world changes because of massive lycée in the heart of Lucette Lagnado, whose family called her Loulou, with herpolitical and social altercations. Loulou Cairo and wearing a mother at the beach in Brooklyn in 1968. Photo courtesy ofdoesn’t understand the politics—she dashing uniform with Lagnado family archives.has no sense that a revolution has a crest. I would conjuretaken place in Egypt and that the up my home, and my little cat Pouspous who I loved above ultimately served me well. I took less all others, and turn her into a major poetic license, I believe, than some of character. And of course I would write my fellow memoirists and became a about my home, but in the way that I true believer in the power and potential had known it—as large and graceful, of reported memory. with balconies facing both a boulevard and an alleyway, and the constant Lucette Lagnado is the author of two vendors stopped by selling marvelous memoirs about her Egyptian-Jewish treats: fresh figs, apricots, fish, and family, “The Man in the White occasionally, baskets of rose petals my Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Mom used to make rose petal jam. Exodus From Old Cairo to the New The memories flowed, as did the World,” published by Ecco in 2007, emotions, and if I needed to “fact and more recently, with the same check,” well, I would turn to an older publisher, “The Arrogant Years: One sibling and run some incident by them. Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, I have come to realize that my From Cairo to Brooklyn.” She is a obsessive precision—a great virtue reporter at The Wall Street Journal. in a reporter—wasn’t necessarily the greatest quality in a would-be memoir- ist. Imagination, the ability to recall and bring to life lost people and lost worlds, are far more valuable. Yet I suppose that my reporter’s mindset Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 19
  • 22. Writing the Book Journalists and Memoir: Reporting + Memory ‘The story must move beyond a verbal regurgitation of hastily recalled anecdotes. You need to report live from your life, researching with interviews, data and documents that support your recollections.’ BY MICHELE WELDON“ Professor Weldon, I had no idea Still, the career memoir is a frequent you had a past.” entrée in the buffet. Soledad O’Brien’s A student I had taught in a “The Next Big Story: My Journeyfreshman journalism skills class at Through the Land of Possibilities,”the Medill School of Journalism at published last year, charts her courseNorthwestern University stopped me from childhood to the CNN anchoron the first floor of Fisk Hall on my desk. Ron Nessen’s recent release,way to give a lecture. The look on her “Making the News, Taking the News:face was parked between astonish- From NBC to the Ford White House,”ment and curiosity. It was a few days is also a career overview. Each is aafter I appeared as a guest on “The collection of anecdotes and eyewitnessOprah Winfrey Show” in October revelations, career highs and lows,2002, speaking about my first book, more of a narrative version of their“I Closed My Eyes: Revelations of a Wikipedia entries than a salaciousBattered Woman.” glimpse into a fascinating, fast life “Yes, I do,” I answered. “When youget to be my age, everyone has a past.” Of all the millions of words I havewritten as a journalist for newspapers,magazines, websites and radio in thepast three decades, the memoir aboutmy marriage to a cyclically violentattorney and the difficulty of raisingthree sons in the aftermath of domestic to the Chicago Tribune was becauseviolence is what I am most proud of I felt foolish and hypocritical tellingpersonally and professionally. That is other people’s stories as a journalistnot to imply it was easy. every week when I was afraid—and It felt risky as a journalist to spell embarrassed—to tell my own.out the secrets of my own life, to The drive to authentically articulatestand in front of my peers, editors, the truth was more powerful thanadministrators, students and readers I could have imagined. It is a forcewithout pretense or shame, to invite many journalists experience. “Career Rearview Mirror” memoirsthe collision of the professional andpersonal. But I felt it important to The Inside Scoophonestly dispel the myth that such an many of us will never know or theaberration does not happen to women Journalists penning compelling mem- train wreck celebrity memoirs oozinglike me who are successful, confident, oirs is not new; but what is new is the out from the coasts.intelligent and have no history of abuse. growth of the genre and the evolution This Google Earth approach to The point of the memoir, as it is into several subsets of memoir. This is journalist memoir is only one take onfor most memoirists, is to artfully a recent splintering beyond what I call the genre. In it, the journalist stars asilluminate a corner of the world to the “career rearview mirror” tome of main character in a historical narra-empower and educate others. My moti- the past that can involve namedrop- tive, chronicling a timeline that canvation to write the memoir in stolen ping and exotic locales peppered with offer revelations about the processmoments while teaching and working peeks behind the scenes and insights of reporting, if not always about theas a freelance contributing columnist into the profession. inner mechanics of a contemplative life.20 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 23. Concept to Content Another approach, or the “how I when you didn’t want to be part of the curiosity about their lives because ofcame to be” memoir by journalists, story. With all the social media—Twit- their suffering or triumph over illness,has traction because it can serve as a ter, Facebook and everything being catastrophe and misfortune. Rogermentoring guide as well as bridge the about me, me, me—it’s now such a Ebert’s new “Life Itself: A Memoir”personal to the universal with well- personality-driven journalistic world.” promises to deliver the characteristicwritten discoveries about self-purpose witticisms of a movie reviewer cultbefore the onset of journalistic fame. Objective Journalism vs. hero, who literally lost his audibleUSA Today columnist and ABC and Subjective Memoir voice, only to sharpen his written one.NPR commentator Christine Brennan’s In a category of memoir I call “in“Best Seat in the House: A Father, a It is that traditional imagined wall sickness and in health,” Hoda KotbDaughter, a Journey Through Sports,” between the objective and the subjec- contributed her 2010 book, “Hoda:from 2006, is a sentimental and intel- tive in journalism that appears now to How I Survived War Zones, Bad Hair,ligent ode to her family, particularly be eroding, if not crumbling, thanks Cancer, and Kathie Lee,” an irreverenther father, and how his encouragement in part to blogs and social media. work from an irreverent broadcastled her to a career in sports journal- Perhaps this is smoothing the path for journalist.ism. Quite recent is former Newsweek more journalists to attempt memoir.editor Mark Whitaker’s “My Long Trip With the advent of more narrativeHome: A Family Memoir,” which tells approaches in everyday news report-the complicated story of his parents’ ing, the genre of memoir is not seeninterracial marriage and its effects as so daring a leap for a journalist toon his life. Earlier this year Michele take. Stylistically it is not so difficultNorris, cohost of NPR’s “All Things to imagine expanding the narrative muscle into a personal book. For many journalists, their creative nonfiction career has regularly deliv- ered large doses of personal observa- tions and insertions of self. And for those writers who recount phases of their lives in what I call “delicious slices,” one memoir is not necessarily enough. Joan Didion recently wrote “Blue Nights,” about the death of her daughter, Quintana. The book cover even mimics the tone and look of her 2005 book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” her memoir about the period“How I Came to Be” memoirs following her husband’s death. With Didion, writing is the leading character, “Far Away” memoirs raw, vulnerable and simultaneouslyConsidered,” released “The Grace of polished and deliberate, shining in itsSilence: A Family Memoir” about her timelessness and originality. The “far away” memoir is one thatupbringing. Some iconic journalists inspire travel writers and journalists living With compelling writing and repor- abroad or on voluntary or imposedtorial skill, these memoirs highlight sabbatical render, including the clas-personal growth and transformation, sic from Martha Gellhorn, “Travelsthe unseen sides of public personas With Myself and Another: A Memoir,”who tell the truth about current events originally published in 1978. Magazinefor a living. journalist Alexandra Fuller, who grew Brennan, an author of six other up in Africa, recently released a secondbooks, worked for 15 years as a memoir, “Cocktail Hour Under the Treereporter for The Miami Herald and The of Forgetfulness,” a prequel to her 2001Washington Post before she became memoir, “Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogsa national columnist in 1997. “I was Tonight: An African Childhood.” Thesemore prepared to write a memoir as a memoirs offer setting as character andcolumnist than I ever would have been the author on a journey of discoveryas a reporter,” she said, adding, “It’s driven by place. Print and broadcastquaint now to think about the days “In Sickness and in Health” memoirs journalist Katherine Lanpher took the Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 21
  • 24. Writing the Bookbackdrop of a move to New York as it may be difficult for you to be seen oirists move to self-publishing and goa driving force in her 2006 memoir, as a credible journalist.” straight to Kindle or Nook, bypassing“Leap Days: Chronicles of a Midlife In an era of sophisticated blogs the gatekeeping editor of publishingMove,” proving that for a Minnesota- that can support early musings and houses, the safety net of copy editorsbased journalist even Manhattan can drafts that can later be formed into and fact checkers is removed (and atbe a far journey. some publishing houses, line editing Chicago journalist Maureen Jenkins doesn’t happen anymore anyway).who has spent two decades writing for Any journalist hoping to write anewspapers including The Oregonian, memoir needs to pause before postingThe Charlotte (N.C.) Observer, The personal content since what is writtenArizona Republic, Chicago Sun-Times, now—and appearing anywhere—canand Chicago Tribune, is eager to begin definitely have an impact on a on such a memoir when she Some new memoirs by journalistsmoves later this year to Samois-sur- have little to do with their professionalSeine, a small village 40 miles south lives. From the first female executiveof Paris, for one year. To begin to feel editor of The New York Times, Jillcomfortable with the more personal Abramson, comes her 2011 book, “Thevoice required for memoir, Jenkins Puppy Diaries: Raising a Dog Namedbegan blogging. Still, she understands Scout,” about her golden retriever’s firstthe price of naming her personal voice. “Out of Left Field” memoirs year. This “out of left field” memoir “Everything you put your name on may say more in what it does not say,you have to be comfortable stand- while revealing an arena of a famousing behind whether it is a tweet, a a memoir, journalists can heed the journalist’s life completely unrelatedFacebook entry, or a memoir,” Jenkins caveat that no matter where the content to the work. Ellen Sweets, a journalistsaid. “At some point you will want to appears, it must be truthful and able and longtime friend of the irasciblewrite objective journalism again and to withstand scrutiny. As some mem- and irreverent Molly Ivins, this year Tips for Journalists Writing Memoirs Several journalists have participated and often not naming someone from birth to the present. You in Michele Weldon’s Writing to Save can help you avoid litigation. can start in the middle and tell Your Life memoir writing workshops Your story must be true, and you it with flashbacks and scenes or during the past decade. While she finds must be able to prove it. start now and work backward. that journalists are at an advantage because of their writing and reporting 2. Be sure your motivation is not 4. Create scenes in each chapter, skills, there are still some caveats vengeance. Take the high road, making sure there is a dramatic when the task involves making the write about yourself and your arc to the story. After years of transition from objective reporting to life, omitting pieces that could writing articles and columns, it is personal narrative. Here, she shares harm anyone else’s life or could difficult at first to write a chapter some advice: be seen as malicious. that is only a piece of the story to be continued. Resist the urge 1. Be sure that you can back up with 3. Move beyond chronology and a to have every chapter be its own a document every claim, anecdote linear retelling of events. Choose entity. Each chapter builds up to or scene involving another per- the portion of your life to highlight what will follow. son named or unnamed in your that will yield a captivating story. book. Consult a libel attorney or Realistically, all and every part of 5. Introduce characters who will be intellectual property specialist for your life is not the best reading. developed fully in your narrative advice. The truth is a defense, You do not have to tell your story and will have some transforma-22 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 25. Concept to Content in Yemen,” a 2010 book by Jennifer Without the dutiful pursuit of facts Steil, included stories of a love affair and a clear, deliberate attempt to as well as her year running a Yemeni decipher some meaning from the acts, English-language newspaper. Stories events and occurrences with introspec- of culture clash, courage and daring tion and context, what results is simply also populate the 2010 book by Fred a collection of dusty anecdotes from Minnick, “Camera Boy: An Army the past. And that is a work that is Journalist’s War in Iraq.” no more interesting or artful than a No matter what category a journal- grocery list found in a pocket of an ist’s memoir falls into, accuracy must old raincoat. be maintained, along with faithfulness to the reporting and depiction of a life Michele Weldon is an assistant“Bang Bang” memoirs in toto or a slice of life that is truth- professor of journalism at North- ful. The urge to write a personal story western University’s Medill School cannot eclipse the need to report fully. of Journalism, the author of threereleased “Stirring It Up With Molly As I remind my students at Medill books, and a journalist for moreIvins: A Memoir With Recipes,” a and also in my Writing to Save Your than 30 years. She is a seminarcookbook/memoir serving up friend- Life memoir workshops around the leader and mentor/editor for Theship as well as recipes. country, memory cannot be the only OpEd Project and recently completed The category of what some others thing you rely on to produce memoir. a second memoir, “Escape Points,”call “bang bang” memoirs is becoming The story must move beyond a verbal about raising three sons, their highmore and more crowded as correspon- regurgitation of hastily recalled anec- school wrestling careers, and herdents and freelance journalists filing dotes. You need to report live from recovery from cancer.from conflict zones around the world your life, researching with interviews,return home. “The Woman Who Fell data and documents that support yourFrom the Sky: An American Journalist recollections. tion or impact on your story. 7. Once released from the con- you a role model? Is the story a You may leave some people out, straints of word counts, you may peek into an undiscovered world? remembering that the reader find yourself overwriting. Resist Is this an exposure or glimpse will have to carry every person the urge to go on and on to into an elite life others have no and every scene you write about, describe each morsel as if it is a access to? as if lugging a backpack up a priceless artifact. Make sure there mountain. You want to be sure is an immediacy and urgency to 9. Join a writing group for feedback, the reader is doing all that heavy the writing and that you shift the hire a book doctor, partner with lifting for a reason. focus of your story from up-close an agent, then an editor who to medium shots to context and loves you. Make sure every word,6. Omit anything that will ruin your overview. No one wants to read every sentence, every paragraph, career. Salacious items about a book of your rantings. every page is your absolute best sex, drugs, illegal activity, and work and perfectly articulates rock ’n’ roll may land you on 8. Answer the question: What does your intent. the talk shows, but may bar you this mean to the reader? It cannot from future employment or may simply be you telling your story 10. Invite me to the book signing. hinder your credibility. Don’t be to make yourself feel better. How mean to be funny, and just don’t will readers connect? As caution- be mean. ary tale? Inspirational story? Are Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 23
  • 26. Writing the Book Newsroom to Classroom: Books as a Thread of Connection With a forthcoming book about undercover reporting—along with a reporter- friendly database of historic examples—a j-school professor keeps her focus on familiar topics. BY BROOKE KROEGERT oo often, journalists draw blanks journalist Nellie Bly had been in print They Are” explores why people of when they are asked in faculty for four years and I had just submitted good purpose would falsify the way search interviews to expound on the manuscript for a biography of the they present themselves to others.their big ideas. Had I still been in the American novelist Fannie Hurst. The My fourth book comes out in 2012.hurricane of daily journalism when I books certainly helped me get the job. “Undercover Reporting: The Truthinterviewed for a full-time academic Teaching at New York University About Deception” argues in favor ofposition, I might have done the same. (NYU) turned out to be just as reward- the controversial journalistic practiceAs things turned out, when I answered ing as I had hoped, but it quickly in its advertisement on a lark in 1998, I became clear that the center panel In a deep bow to our digital times,had the distinct but unplanned advan- of the academic triptych—alongside the book has a companion—a freetage of having left a newsroom a full teaching and service—is scholarship. online database created in partner-decade earlier. By then, my biography So a new book got under way. “Pass- ship with NYU’s Elmer Holmes Bobstabout the adventurous, undercover ing: When People Can’t Be Who Library. Together they exhume fromBrooke Kroeger’s upcoming book is about undercover journalism done in the public interest, and a Chicago Daily Timesmadhouse exposé is part of a free online database that she created and will launch with her book’s publication.24 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 27. Concept to Contentthe microfilm burial ground nearly sized Department of Journalism and200 years worth of great but forgotten then, in 2008, founding director of itshigh-impact undercover journalism Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute,committed in the public interest. My which are effectively the same entity.hope—and intent—is to broaden the Given the demands that the tumult indatabase beyond its clear U.S.-bias our industry have brought on j-schoolsonce it goes live at http://undercover in these years, let’s just say it’s been with the book’s publica- wire service crazy time. I also continuedtion in 2012. to teach—one course a term instead of I admire the many journalists two—and created the graduate Globalwho manage to research and write and Joint Program Studies, which Ibooks while doing stories on constant also direct. Gone were those coveteddeadline in someone else’s keep. But I vacation breaks.could never have carved out the space Looking back, I know that a majorto do books that way. The 12 years I spur to finishing my last book with sospent being wire service crazy—four much else going on was the shameyears in Chicago, eight in the mael- I felt, as any self-respecting tenuredstrom of foreign bureaus—and then professor should, for not having man-two more years at a daily newspaper aged to write for publication duringin New York City took all the energy my first two years as chair.and focus I had, especially given the Luckily, I happened on two greatcompetition from a family at home. No expediters. One was the sudden surge indoubt becoming a freelancer made the the online availability of documentarytwo biographies possible, shielded by material. In the years between thecommercial advances and the largesse publication of “Passing” and the startof a husband willing to let me sate of research for “Undercover Reporting,”a desire that took hold as I headed dozens, but by no means all, of theinto my 40’s. documents I needed became available and searchable online, arriving freeBook Boosters or through subscription-based digital repositories, many of which NYU pro-The university has been just as mag- vides through Bobst, which is anothernanimous a patron but a far more huge research advantage of academicexacting one. Teaching allows tighter affiliation. Even more material nowcontrol over time than daily journal- comes glitch-free, in ways it formerlyism does, but student needs are too did not, as e-mail attachments, eitherconsuming ever to be treated as a as a courtesy from individuals withsideshow. It took only one three-hour- personal archives or via the preciousand-forty-minute class for me to grasp services of interlibrary loan.that teaching has an unexpectedly In fact, I retrieved much of theexhausting performance dimension, primary material that undergirdstoo. “Undercover Reporting”—works of No complaint, however. In the journalism in every medium goinguniversity, the onus to produce new as far back as 1822—in pajamas. Theknowledge is not a thing apart; it’s other big helper was when I figuredbuilt into the brief. During the years I out that waking up at 4 a.m. turnswas researching and writing “Passing,” one workday into two.the terms of my full-time universityappointment also provided three Body of Work12-week summer breaks and threefive-week winter breaks. In the scope One of the things the tenure andof my book writing time, this was a promotion process does is obligevirtual year. professors to articulate the cohesion “Undercover” also took nearly four in their body of work. My first twoyears to complete but under more books made this easy. The researchencumbered circumstances. In 2005, I I had done for Bly (1864-1922) hadbecame chairwoman of NYU’s school- actually led me to Hurst (1885-1968), Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 25
  • 28. Writing the Bookan ideal chronological successor. In of how deception can be used for The only big change for me thisthe overlapping lives of these two good purpose. Yet I had to ask myself time is that the publisher and theextraordinary but largely forgotten whether these two books cohere with premise are academic like, gulp, me.women writers, I began to ferret out the earlier ones in some vast, incisive The journalist, however, still rules.why a highly redundant women’s move- scholarly plan. Although I didn’t The book is jargon-free.ment came into being in the 1960’s consciously plan it, they do.when so much of this same feminist The thread I pulled from Hurst Brooke Kroeger, a professor at Newground—the lives of women entering was her classic 1933 women’s weeper, York University’s Arthur L. Carterthe workforce in Bly’s day were pure “Imitation of Life,” the ultimate black Journalism Institute, served as chairtestament—already had been trod passing for white melodrama, which of the Department of Journalismbetween 1880 and 1920. In figuring was the inspiration for wondering if from 2005 to 2011. She is the authorout what caused the amnesia and then people still had cause to “pass” 70 of four nonfiction books, includingthe re-run, Hurst’s life, work and social years later, and if it was or was not “Undercover Reporting: The Truthcircles provided persuasive clues. a bad thing. And who better than the About Deception,” to be published by The connective tissue of the two iconoclastic Bly to summon the larger Northwestern University Press inbooks I’ve written while teaching questions inspired by the potency and 2012. Her website isjournalism—“Passing” and “Under- pitfalls of the passing that is at the Reporting”—is the exploration heart of reporting undercover? Narrative Writing: Craft to Ethics, Theme to Characters In ‘Storycraft’ Jack Hart ‘reveals the story behind the stories.’ BY BETH MACYI stumbled upon Jack Hart’s new prompting me to think deeper—and narrative writing guide at the same talk to my editors more—about the time I was preparing to return to importance of theme.the classroom for the first time in In his introduction, Hart promisesseven years. I was also two months “help, not literary hairsplitting.” Retiredinto reporting a 130-inch narrative, from his job as The Oregonian’s long-about a troubled Iraq War veteran time narrative writing guru, he shareswho committed “suicide by cop,” for behind-the-scenes stories accrued froma newspaper series on post-traumatic his career working with Pulitzer Prize-stress disorder (PTSD). Though I winning reporters. He seems to havehaven’t written a book—and don’t dissected every important narrativehave one under way—Hart’s hints written in the past century and satabout writing stories seem as apt to in on every major writing conference.that longer endeavor as they are to All of my journalism action heroesmy present-day ones. are present, spouting some of my For me, his book’s appearance was favorite journalism-isms. There is Billfruitful timing, not unlike finding a new Blundell, telling me to digress oftenrecipe the morning of a dinner party but not for too long; Tom Wolfe withand realizing all the ingredients are his status details; Anton Chekhov within your pantry. Hart’s “Storycraft: The the rifle that better damn well fire;Complete Guide to Writing Narrative and Jon Franklin with his formulaNonfiction” fortified me. It underscored that cliché + theme = universal truth.lessons I thought I’d already mastered, Elmore Leonard sets the bar for juicy,26 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 29. Concept to Contentpage-turning prose by declaring that essayist to a radio reporter to a plastic reasoned, the team would have seenwe should “leave out the parts that surgeon who earns more than the me as a jerk.people skip.” But when to digress and rest of us combined yet still longs to I once asked The New Yorker’s Jonwhat exactly to skip? see his name in print. (He’d read all Lee Anderson to explain why he had Hart takes the long view, citing an the books before class began.) They helped a post-earthquake subject inastonishing breadth of examples— appreciate Hart’s friendly, avuncular Haiti find food: “Journalistic mistakesplays, radio stories, screenplays, non- tone and have absorbed many of his are not as important as moral andfiction books, and copious newspaper feature-writing tenets, such as to avoid ethical mistakes,” he said. “It’s notarticles spanning an array of length, linking verbs and passive construction. about how I feel about myself or somesubject and style. He quotes from I imagine Hart’s book, like Jon code that was enacted in a hallowedAristotle to Ira Glass, from Michel Franklin’s “Writing for Story,” will be chamber.” Complicated, messy storiesde Montaigne to John McPhee. He one they will turn to repeatedly in should leave readers and reporterssits at the feet of the masters, giving their writing lives, absorbing its more feeling ragged, sore and raw becauseyou Jim Collins’s advice on mapping advanced lessons as their experiences that’s the way life is, he told me.a narrative arc and Nora “Everybody should feelEphron’s on divining a little bad afterwards.”theme (“All storytelling If I have one quibbleis a Rorschach”). about “Storycraft,” it’s But Hart’s passion Though I haven’t written a book—and don’t that Hart doesn’t delveshines brightest, and have one under way—Hart’s hints about writing into the emotional tollhis writing flows the that intimate journalismmost seamlessly when he stories seem as apt to that longer endeavor as exacts from reportersreveals the story behind who often straddle andthe stories he personally they are to my present-day ones. occasionally cross thoseedited. He describes the slippery, ethical lines.elements of short-story One of my studentsnarrative by deconstruct- confessed that her firsting classical music critic story profile subject—aDavid Stabler’s tale of what happened progress. I know I learn something new transgendered veteran struggling withwhen an injured pianist couldn’t each time I reread Franklin’s how-to PTSD and her own felony-riddledperform Sergei Rachmaninoff ’s Third narrative-writing tome. past—got under her skin so badly thatPiano Concerto and a last-minute she couldn’t sleep the night after herfill-in was flown in to replace him, Reporting Ethics first interview.nailing a thrilling standing ovation Spotlighting more examples fromperformance. From The New Yorker stories of Atul women journalists—featured only He takes readers behind the scenes Gawande to Tracy Kidder’s “Mountains about one quarter as often as the menof an explanatory narrative by Richard Beyond Mountains,” Hart’s bibliogra- are in this book—might have offeredRead that follows the course of a phy is an exemplary required reading different insights into the emotionalpotato from a farm in Moses Lake, list for both the beginning and seasoned landscape, and fresh narratives alsoWashington to a serving of French practitioner. His final chapter on ethics would have been instructive as well asfries at a Singapore McDonald’s—by raises interesting real-life conundrums. a few more examples of stories thatway of some rioting Indonesians and He seems to agree with Read’s decision tried but failed.Chinese farmers. The Pulitzer Prize- not to sort pills at the request of an These are minor complaints, though,winning story explains the impact of overwhelmed medical team he was given how much “Storycraft” does haveglobalization with entertaining and covering following the 2004 tsunami in to teach veteran and newbie reporterspainstakingly crafted story lines that Sri Lanka, arguing that the reporter’s alike about the craft of writing. Andshow how increasingly entwined our job is to document his subject’s work this is bound to serve us well, whetherglobal economy is. Hart describes the without altering the reality. our assignment is due tomorrow—orFrench fry saga—an example of meta- The altering-reality rule isn’t one I in two years.journalism at its finest—in ways that abide by, my litmus test being: If it’scleverly demonstrate his own explana- life or death, being a person comes Beth Macy, a 2010 Nieman Fellow,tory narrative formula of alternating first. Having covered the recent chol- is the family beat reporter for Thescenes and digressions. era outbreak in Haiti, I found myself Roanoke (Va.) Times and teaches The graduate students in my liter- sorting pills and fetching supplies in literary journalism to graduateary journalism course span a wide my down time. To do less also would students at Hollins University.range of experience, from a published have altered the reality; after all, I Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 27
  • 30. Writing the Book A Literary Exploration of How Power Corrupts This story is ‘about how the worlds of journalism and fiction writing are not as unimaginably different as one might think.’ BY THRITY UMRIGARI published my first novel in 2001, a year after I completed my Nie- man fellowship. In fact, I wrote thenovel, “Bombay Time,” during my timeat Harvard. To be honest, I appliedfor the fellowship in part because Iwas hoping it would allow me timeto write my book. And write it I did,even when it meant waking up at 4:30on cold Cambridge mornings so thatI could write for a few hours beforestarting my day as a Nieman Fellow. But to start at the beginning: Onceupon a time, not too long ago, therelived a journalist who wanted to bea novelist. After almost 15 years of reportingon other people’s words, thoughtsand ideas, of never revealing her When I was a reporter, the artificial as well as I know how. Saying thisown opinions, feelings or beliefs, the hierarchy that people drew between in no way diminishes the mystical,journalist was ready to explore the journalism and literature used to make subconscious, almost sacred aspect ofinterior life—to express what she me mad. Talk about journalism being storytelling, those days when you canbelieved and felt and held sacred. To a poor cousin to literature made me hear the angels singing to you andtell the stories that she wanted to tell, bristle. In order to blur these artificial through you. But when I catch myselfand not the ones her editors thought lines, I tried to infuse my journalism sounding pretentious about what I dowere newsworthy. articles with as much literary flavor for a living, when I hear myself use And so, in 1999, I applied for and as I could get away with. Years before terms like “narrative structure,” “storywas awarded a Nieman fellowship. someone coined the term “narrative arc,” and “archetypal characters” tooMy apartment in Cambridge was so journalism,” I was drawn to longer, often, I remind myself—all I do allcold I wore light leather gloves while I magazine-length stories—stories about day is spin yarns. The drunk at thetyped on the HP desktop I had lugged human beings, not sources; stories bar down the street from my houseall the way from Ohio. The ridiculous that could be told with nuance and probably does it better. Better yet, Igood luck that had gotten me the fel- complexity, that illuminated something imagine my former colleagues in thelowship in the first place lingered by about the way we lived; stories that newsroom rolling their eyes at me. Itmy side a little longer, and I found had “interiority.” works like a charm every agent and then a publisher while It turned out to be wonderful I believe that every life has a theme.I was still at Harvard. Some of this practice for my current career as When I was 6 years old, I beganstuff you can’t make up. a novelist. First of all, journalism to write poems. These poems were But that’s not what this story is imposed a certain discipline, a work usually addressed to my parents andabout. It’s about how the worlds of ethic, a workmanlike attitude toward took on the aggrieved tone of a childjournalism and fiction writing are not making art, which I appreciated. There who had been refused something. Itas unimaginably different as one might is nothing precious or coy or airy-fairy was my way of taking on the powerthink. About how, in the end, there about journalism. With modesty, it bills structure, of trying to right a perceivedare only two kinds of writing—good itself as a craft and not as art. I try to injustice. Years later, my journalismwriting and the mediocre kind. The bring that same muscular, proletarian took a similar path—whether I wastransition from one genre to another attitude toward novel writing—it’s writing about homelessness or AIDSis not as difficult as some people think. my job, it’s my calling, I try to do it or class and gender disparities, I was28 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 31. Concept to Contentactually writing about power—who I guess you could say, this is my life’s are often inchoate and inarticulate,in our society has it, how it is used theme—the exploration of how power but fumbling toward greater humanagainst those who don’t, and what the corrupts human relationships, the gap communication; and they are almoststrategies of resistance are. between the haves and the have-nots, always held together by that shaft of My novels have similar concerns. and the endless struggle for happiness grace that we call love.I have written about the power that that human beings engage in.a rich family in Bombay has over the So I try not to think too much Thrity Umrigar, a 2000 Niemanilliterate domestic servant who works about genre. What matters to me is Fellow, is the author of a memoirfor them, about an American couple liv- the human heart that beats at the and five novels, including theing in India who assumes that the rules center of all great stories. When I look bestselling “The Space Between Us,”don’t apply to them, about how adults back on my writing life, I see that published in 2006 by HarperCol-abuse their authority over powerless the vehicles may be different—poems, lins and “The World We Found,” tochildren. Most recently, I have tackled short stories, news stories, novels—but be published by HarperCollins inthe issue of Islamic fundamentalism, the passengers are the same. The January 2012. For more about herbut from a non-American, non-9/11 passengers are always struggling to and her books, go to www.umrigar.perspective. move from darkness into light; they com. Novels Win Out Over Journalism ‘The biggest shift in going from journalism to books is not from scribe to artist, but employee to entrepreneur—suddenly self-employed, with no benefits, no expense account, and no security.’ BY WILLIAM DIETRICHI became a journalist so I could write, and Michael Connelly. Even longer kids through college and produced the rather than a writer so I could would be a list of reporters who tried bulk of my retirement savings. (This practice journalism. Accordingly, books and didn’t care for the labor, says more about newspaper pay thanit’s been a slow but natural transition uncertainty and poor return. my success as an author.) But bookto move from newspapering at The Publishers rely on reporters’ ability writing is unstable, and during the 21Seattle Times to writing nonfiction to produce on demand, be succinct, years that I’ve had some kind of bookbooks and fiction. I had dreamed of meet deadlines, cooperate with edi- contract, I’ve also worked as a full-being a novelist since I was a kid, and tors, and write for general audiences. time journalist, half-time journalist,now am the astonished author of 15 Unfortunately, book writing is even half-time college professor, freelancer,books and counting. more competitive than journalism. ghostwriter, speaker, or consultant With journalism in turmoil, book Publishers in the United States alone to keep things going. In 2001, whenwriting is an obvious alternative. issue more than 6,000 books a week. I gambled on a new novel and 9/11Unfortunately the book industry is in Entry can be hard: agent Jennifer Weltz temporarily shut down the industry,turmoil too, with Borders declaring told the Historical Novel Society in my income was zero.bankruptcy (the latest in a long line June that of 8,000 queries she receives Aspiring authors talk craft. Estab-of mass market store-on-pavement in a typical year, she will take on five lished authors talk business. The big-booksellers to do so), independent new clients. And like professional gest shift in going from journalism tobookstores under siege, and e-books sports, acting or music, writing books books is not from scribe to artist, butchallenging the old economics. tends to be a winner-take-all profes- employee to entrepreneur—suddenly Is a move to book writing like leap- sion in which the top authors—often self-employed, with no benefits, noing from the frying pan to the fire? celebrities to start with—reap outsize expense account, and no security. YourThe list of journalists-turned-author rewards while the majority of authors, mission is to become a brand, figure outis legion, including Charles Dickens, including many who were journalists, how to market it, and then reapply forMark Twain, Ernest Hemingway, Joan struggle. your job every year or two with a newDidion, Carl Hiaasen, Susan Sontag, I’ve been fortunate. Books got my and enticing proposal for a publisher. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 29
  • 32. Writing the Book contract in my screen door less useful for books. Your story the same day in 1990 that should be as timeless and global I shared a Pulitzer Prize for as possible. It can take at least a covering the Exxon Valdez year to write a book, a year from oil spill. acceptance to publication, and a My exasperated agent said year to paperback. Aim high, write the modest $30,000 advance for the ages, and think foreign and could have doubled if I had digital rights. known the prize was coming. • Don’t write for mom, your English I didn’t. I also cen- professor, city editor, the critics, or tered that 1992 book, newsroom know-it-alls. Write for “The Final Forest,” in you and (maybe) the folks at the Forks, Washington, mall. but failed to put a • Think audience and where your single vampire in it. words will be shelved. Readers must Later I calculated recognize your “brand” and know that author Stephe- where to find you. My reluctance nie Meyer sold more to define myself cost me sales. copies of her “Twi- • For commercial fiction, you’ll likely light” series in 20 be asked to do a book a year, to minutes than I had of be flexible to trends, and to heed “The Final Forest” in marketing. Listen. 20 years. So it goes. • Don’t reinvent the wheel. Read Why do it? Freedom. Control. A book on the Columbia River books on how to write books. ForCreativity. Self-expression. No com- followed, but a half dozen others on nonfiction, start with “Thinkingmute. No news cycle. With the right that subject came out the same spring. Like Your Editor: How to Writecombination of talent, persistence and Bumping into such competition is a Great Serious Nonfiction—and Getluck, there’s a chance to earn more likely consequence of writing books it Published,” by Susan Rabiner andmoney than in a newsroom. Books on newsworthy topics. Alfred Fortunato.can also earn you royalties for years When I couldn’t sell an idea for • Don’t dabble, plunge. Get a websiteor decades after publication. a nonfiction book on Antarctica, I and Internet presence, attend and Cover a topic of high interest—such decided to try a novel based on a real- speak at writer conferences, readas terrorism, Wall Street shenanigans, life Nazi expedition to the continent. at bookstores, study your genre.a politician or celebrity from your It was a mess: I had to get rid of Few authors hit it big with theirown stomping grounds, or a “stay- Hitler, pick up the pace, and more first book. Philip Roth has writtenhealthy”—and there’s the likelihood fully develop characters. about 30 books, Stephen King andof getting a contract and monetary In journalism you often conceal Elmore Leonard about 50, Danielleadvance for a nonfiction book by your heart; in fiction you mine it. In Steel 105, Nora Roberts 210. Hardproducing a compelling 20- to 40-page journalism facts can carry a story; in work!proposal with convincing evidence that fiction the telling becomes crucial sothe idea can sell and that you know style and insight grow in importance. I tremendously enjoyed to sell it. Publishers produce at Newspaper editors cut the clutter of But burnout, health issues, age and theleast two times as many nonfiction descriptive detail while fiction editors newspaper slump meant books camebooks as novels and are looking for demand it. In journalism the punch at a good time for me. It’s probablyjournalist storytellers. To get a novel line usually comes at the beginning, easier to stick with journalism. Butpublished means producing the entire in fiction usually at the end. And some have the itch. If you have tobook before trying to sell it. so on. I spent nine months revising scratch, you know it. after it initially sold, but “Ice Reich”First Book—To Last did well enough to launch my fiction William Dietrich, a 1988 Nieman career. I’m now editing an 11th novel Fellow, has written 15 books. HisThere’s no typical route to author- and starting two more. most recent novel is “Blood of theship, but mine is illustrative. Simon Having made every mistake in the Reich,” published by HarperCollins.& Schuster wanted a book on the book (pun intended), here’s some His website is www.williamdietrich.Northwest timber wars in 1989, a advice: com.dispute I covered. I wrote a proposal,it went back and forth several times, • Newsroom skills like timeliness,and FedEx coincidentally stuck the localizing the story, and speed are30 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 33. Concept to Content Will I Ever Write the Book? Why Not? ‘I teach nonfiction books. I study them, praise them, and pick them apart, and as I do so, I often wonder what’s holding me back from writing one.’ BY BRET SCHULTEI ’m addicted to news. I believe in the Chicago Tribune, The Washington watchdog role of the Fourth Estate Post, or maybe a national magazine. and that our democracy and way of With print crumbling, the old pathslife depend on a free press. When I to success are being dismantled.teach journalism at the University of Emerging from this rubble is eachArkansas, I preach these sentiments reporter as a brand—an authority, ato my students. But these are not the producer of multimedia and socialreasons I got into journalism. I wanted media, an all-media entrepreneur. Anda place to write. that even includes the granddaddy of As an undergraduate at the Uni- media—the book.versity of Nebraska, I thought I mightbe a novelist. I was an English major Literary Aspirationswith a real thing for Ernest Hemingwayand F. Scott Fitzgerald and all of Ger- It’s not as though journalists haven’ttrude Stein’s “lost generation.” Then, traveled a similar road before. In athrough the mortifying experience of few of my journalism classes, we reada sophomore fiction writing class, I Tom Wolfe’s seminal treatise on liter-was confronted with the possibility ary journalism in his 1973 anthologythat I had no imagination. I was a “The New Journalism.” In it, he writesterrible dreamer. about the newsrooms of the 1960’s and, Still, I felt I was a writer who should After “The New Journalism” anthology was in particular, the dark fate of featurebe out there learning things and writ- published in 1973, journalists wanted to writers who regarded newspapers asing things. My words should find an write nonfiction “novels.” a “motel you checked into overnightaudience. Call me naïve or idealistic on the road to the final triumph.” Theor a narcissist; it is probably a mix of triumph was the novel, at a time whenall those things. But after joining the go who want to make a living at their the novel reigned supreme.student newspaper and after many craft. Name a bunch of novelists who Wolfe writes about how some report-years of working as a professional aren’t holding down a second job. What ers actually pulled it off. There was,journalist and after earning a master’s about poets? The best are transcen- he tells us, a newsman named Charlesin fine arts in nonfiction writing, I dent. Shakespeare was a poet. So was Portis, who left his plum Londonfigured out that this urge to be out Goethe. When was the last time you bureau gig to return to Arkansas tothere wasn’t mine alone. It penetrated bought a book of poetry? write in a fishing shack. He emergedevery newsroom I worked in. Seems It’s no surprise then that so many with two novels, the latter being “Truelike it’s a basic requirement for the job. reporters become book authors, too. In Grit.” Wolfe, practically screaming, And that’s good. The industry is fact, at many magazines and national writes, “A fishing shack! In Arkansas!blessed with people who should be newspapers, such as The New York It was too goddamned perfect to beout there; the kind of people who can Times, it’s the new normal. The ques- true, and yet there it was. Which istrack the glimmer of a story in the tion for folks like me, reporters who to say that the old dream, the Novel,shadows and cracks, who can wiggle fancy themselves writers, is: Why the has never died.”in, push it out, find the sources, the hell haven’t you written a book? The Literary aspirations have long stirredfacts, the narrative, and expand it pressure is on. lowly news reporters. But Wolfe andinto a piece that shines a blinding It used to be enough just to leap from others were responsible for re-castinglight on a subject. Those stories won’t market to bigger market, from beat to that old dream. In newspapers andbe told without good reporting. But bigger beat, swinging your way up the magazines they shrugged off the con-they don’t attract an audience without food chain until you get to what used to ventions of newswriting and swipedgood writing. be called the “destination paper”—The whatever they could from fiction Journalism is where good writers New York Times, Los Angeles Times, writing. Scene-by-scene construction, Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 31
  • 34. Writing the Bookextended dialogue, multiple points of said one student. “You really engage ing people something they’ve neverview, and as Wolfe calls it, a person’s the reader.” Another noted: “When I seen before. It has to be a towering“status life,” the possessions, the speech, read a news article, I take away what display of reporting and a show ponythe mannerisms, the customs, habits, it was about. When I read literary of storytelling. It has to be … genius.and all the things that go into the journalism, I think about the issue On good days I like to think thatway people “express their position in but also the way it was presented. I it’s because I haven’t found my topicthe world, or what they think it is or give the author credit.” It was “hard yet. But that’s a cop-out. What is reallywhat they hope it is to be.” to go back to fiction now that I know going on is that all this study of books, Naturally, some of those articles the real world can be written about as a student and as a professor, hasbecame books. Wolfe, Gay Talese, and so vividly,” one said, while another driven home how hard writing a bookJimmy Breslin all published literary made the point that writing books can is to do well. And the bar just keepsnonfiction books, which Wolfe hailed as liberate a journalist from depending getting higher. Consider the true-lifedisplacing the novel, a form he regarded on newspapers as a source of income, storytelling from Laura Hillenbrand,as having given up on reality. The list no small consideration in this day and the frontline war narrative produced byof journalists-cum-authors since then age (though there is no guarantee this Dexter Filkins, or the character-drivenis immense. And they’re not writing will happen, either). “It’s pretty hard historic accounts by Erik Larson.novels. They’re writing best-selling to ignore the romance of writing a I know how hard this is to do. I wasnonfiction, such as Mark Bowden book,” one student observed, and in a research assistant for memoirist and(The Philadelphia biographer BeverlyInquirer), author of Lowry and studied“Black Hawk Down: under another notedA Story of Modern Now it’s not even enough to write a book. It has to be biographer, MeryleWar”; Ron Suskind Secrest. I’ve writ-(The Wall Street the book—important, and showing people something ten magazine coverJournal), author of, stories and othermost recently, “Con- they’ve never seen before. It has to be a towering display in-depth reports. Itfidence Men: Wall of reporting and a show pony of storytelling. is not easy. I knowStreet, Washington, the obsession itand the Education of It has to be … genius. requires, the maniaa President”; Isabel it can induce, andWilkerson (The New the sacrifices thatYork Times), author have to be made.of “The Warmth of Other Suns: The doing so captured the allure the book Knowing all of this is the brakingEpic Story of America’s Great Migra- has held for generations of journalists. mechanism that stops me from goingtion”; Steve Coll (The Washington after the big prize, from attempting toPost), author of “Ghost Wars: The The Author’s Itch joining the ranks of those journalistsSecret History of the CIA, Afghani- that Wolfe so vaunted, the ones thatstan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet I’ve wanted to write a book since I “wiped out the novel as literature’sInvasion to September 10, 2011.” Their was in college. That’s why I went to main event.”names and titles go on and on. George Mason University for a master’s I always felt Wolfe was writing When I ask my news and editorial of fine arts in writing. I also worked to his fellow reporters in that essay,students why they’re drawn to journal- for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, reassuring us that writing a greatism, the vast majority say “writing.” The Washington Post, and U.S. News story—the great book—has nothingDelivering the news/informing the & World Report. While I found these to do with having a big imagination.public is a distant second. This is not jobs satisfying, I also felt the nagging It’s about finding a story worth telling,to say that both ideas aren’t important notion that all this was just prep work then using the right tools to tell it. Ito them, but there are a lot of ways for something bigger. That feeling has know he’s right. Someday I will be ato deliver the news. These kids want only grown since I started teaching. I reporter-cum-author. Just as soon asto write. And the power of the book teach nonfiction books. I study them, I find my topic.still holds sway over young journalists, praise them, and pick them apart,just as Wolfe noticed. and as I do so, I often wonder what’s Bret Schulte is an assistant professor Students in my Literature of holding me back from writing one. in the journalism department at theJournalism class marvel at the power What, I ask myself, prevents me University of Arkansas and a free-of the nonfiction book, noting how from joining the class of the new elite, lance writer.temporary and fleeting newspaper the reporter as author? Now it’s notstories are in comparison. “There’s even enough to write a book. It hasno skimming in a nonfiction book,” to be the book—important, and show-32 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 35. Concept to Content Leapfrogging the Book: A Newspaper Story Jumps to Film ‘The desire to have the best—or most salable—story must never undermine our responsibility to challenge even our most compelling material.’ BY PAUL LIEBERMANW eeks after I arrived in Los Angeles in 1984 a producer called and asked if I’d writea film. I sensed it wasn’t supposed tobe that easy but headed out to “dolunch,” all the while imagining scenesfor “our movie.” The producer had seena series I’d written for the Atlantanewspapers about pornography kingMike Thevis, who brought peep showsout from sin centers such as TimesSquare into the American heartland,blowing away rivals in the process. Ilaughed to myself thinking how wemight dramatize porn becoming main-stream by showing a convention whereXXX-rated fare was sold openly, withrow after row of chocolate body parts. By the time I arrived at the pro-ducer’s office I had a few actors inmind as well. He threw out names,too—big stars!—while driving us tothe restaurant in his Rolls Royce witha license plate bearing the title of hislast film, a small-budget horror flick. Gangster Squad, the secretive Los Angeles Police Department unit whose job it was to getOver burgers he said, “Let’s do it!” and the mob out of Los Angeles, circa 1948. Photo by Gangster Squad member Conwell Keeler.proposed a deal—I’d get “two points”for writing the script, meaning just ashare of the proceeds, with no guar- rarely involve the printed word, the cornball reporters, I found the workantee I’d make a dime for my work. I Harry Potter franchise aside. Ponder so rewarding I sometimes felt guiltysaid, “Fine, and in the meantime you’ll the allure of a wide-release opening taking a paycheck, even when earningpay me how much?” and that was the weekend generating $20 million or $120 a week.end of our beautiful friendship, in the $50 million at the box office. Why But if you generate stories like that,parlance of “Casablanca.” not dream big? you don’t have to do anything to get The Hollywood fantasy comes easily. From the start of my journalism intriguing feelers—they’ll ring youIf you produce ambitious narrative career, I was drawn to dramatic up, all these producers and agentsjournalism it’s not hard to imagine stories—a notorious cop killer who looking for material, some wannabes,your work making it to the Big claimed to have been reborn in prison, sure, but real ones too. So for years IScreen, with your real-life characters a surgeon who butchered young found myself negotiating option deals,played by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, children until other doctors around promoting potential mini-series, writ-and his luscious significant other, him revolted, a reclusive heiress who ing film treatments, and one-paragraphAngelina Jolie. You can write the died mysteriously and left her $1 (“back of the napkin”) pitches, alongbook, sure, with a first printing of billion estate in care of her butler, with one full script, all the while tak-20,000 if you’re fortunate. But these a hospital killer who lurked on the ing lots of lunches … without a singledays our culture’s shared experiences graveyard shift, and so on. Like many movie being made. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 33
  • 36. Writing the Book Hoodlum Mickey Cohen, center, smiled as marshals escorted him from federal court in Los Angeles, California in 1951 after he was sentenced to five years in the penitentiary for income tax evasion. Photo by The Associated Press. The daunting odds were under- Brolin and Ryan Gosling, Hollywood’s after moving to New York to work asscored in Robert Altman’s “The Player,” heartthrob of the moment, play cops a cultural correspondent. When thein which Tim Robbins portrays a studio obsessed with bringing him to justice main figures began to die off, I finallyexecutive who kills a screenwriter or to the morgue while Emma Stone is found editors who agreed that wewhose pitch he rejected. In a scene the main love interest, caught between didn’t need a conventional news pegset in a Palm Springs spa, Robbins Cohen and the cop played by Gosling. in an era when everyone was gropingexplains to his naïve new paramour how Her character is invented, but the cops to find new ways to reach readers.his studio fields 50,000 submissions were real, the ones whose stories I “L.A. Noir: Tales From the Gangstera year and green-lights only a dozen. began chronicling two decades ago. Squad” ran in October 2008 as a seven-“Everyone who calls … they think that In 1992, I got a call out of the blue day serial, focusing on two cops whocome New Year’s it will be just them from a reader wanting to correct an made getting Cohen a personal crusade.and Jack Nicholson on the slopes of article that discussed the history of a One was O’Mara, who’d managed toAspen … The problem is I can only police division accused of questionable sneak guns out of Cohen’s house andsay ‘yes’ … 12 times a year.” snooping. The caller, clearly an older etch initials under the butt plates so Which brings us to my “yes.” man, said we’d failed to mention the they could be tied to him if ever used Gangster Squad, formed in 1946. When in a murder. The second, roguish JerryFrom Tip to Film I asked how he knew about it, he said, Wooters, forged a secret alliance with “Well, I was on it.” The next day I was one of Cohen’s rivals, hulking JackI am writing this with bleary eyes in the living room of long-retired Sgt. “The Enforcer” Whalen, who was shotafter a long night on the streets of Jack O’Mara, intent on getting down down by Cohen’s crew in the closingLos Angeles, where Warner Brothers is his stories, even if it was hard to see days of the 1950’s.shooting “The Gangster Squad” based, how they’d fit into a daily newspaper. In the spirit of the times, I alsowith dramatic liberties, on my 2008 Los Then I tracked down other survivors of created videos for the Web. The firstAngeles Times series about a secretive the squad that waged a guerrilla war day’s showed evocative night shotspolice unit given the job of driving the to keep organized crime from gaining of the city, bullet holes in vintagemob out of Los Angeles after World the same foothold in Los Angeles as cars, and scar-faced Cohen, all whileWar II. Sean Penn plays the showboat- it had in cities back east. I kept at a deep-voiced narrator (yours truly)ing hoodlum Mickey Cohen and Josh it for years, in my spare time, even promised the unfolding story of “Two34 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 37. Platform to Audiencecops. Two hoodlums. And the killing still alive at 90, to see if she recalled on as Cohen, a character he was surethat ended an era in Los Angeles.” the gift dog, a Great Dane. “Yes, sure,” to mold himself. After that, the rest ofSome colleagues noted that it came she said, “Thor.” the A-list cast fell into place, eager toacross like a movie trailer, as if I was A commercial film, on the other work with Penn and up-and-comingusing the package to play “Let’s Make hand, thrives on embellishment. I director Ruben Fleischer, known fora Deal” with Hollywood. To which I deserve little credit—none, actually— his evocative visual style—he’d likelyreplied, “Who me?” for “The Gangster Squad” getting the show spinning cartridges being ejected Of course, even the thought of final “yes” that will put it in theaters from the Tommy guns in super slowcashing in that way poses ethical across the country in October 2012. motion.issues for a journalist that novelists or I did not even try to get the job of Another journalist selling a storyscreenwriters don’t face. I may quip writing the screenplay—a partner to Hollywood asked me, “How muchabout an ambitious project, “Some and I once insisted on that with a creative control do you get?” I askedof it is even true,” but that’s a joke. comedy project about to be packaged back, “Do you want that on a 10-pointThe desire to have the best—or most by a leading talent agency and killed scale or 1-to-100?” The answer in eithersalable—story must never undermine our deal. In this case, in a touch of case was “zero.” You may provide plentyour responsibility to challenge even our poetic justice, Warner Brothers gave of memos and briefings, but basicallymost compelling material. I loved the the scripting assignment to a Los go along for the ride … and, if you’rerenegade cop’s tale of being offered Angeles cop-turned-writer, Will Beall, lucky, to the bank.a guard dog by his hulking gangster who had authored a gritty novel about Yet on the set, I’ve been gratifiedpal. Wooters said he told Whalen he street gangs, “L.A. Rex.” With “The by how many of the actors and crewdidn’t want any @%$# dog, “They die Gangster Squad,” he understood that ask, “Did this really happen?” “Whaton you, then you’re miserable,” only to the studio wanted to go big, with flying was he really like?” “Did they ever …?”have the gangster come back at him bullets and fists. I’ve grown hoarse answering but there’swith all the ways Cohen could ambush In real life, the cops had Tommy a moral to all those questions: That’shim with shotguns or plant a bomb guns—slept with ‘em under their beds— why you write the his car … until he had to give in: but, no, they didn’t have wild shootouts“Where do I pick up the dog?” Great in front of the old Park Plaza Hotel, Paul Lieberman, a 1980 Niemanstuff, almost too good, and you could the sort of scene required if the film Fellow, is working on a book versionrun with it under the rationale, “Well, was going to become the Los Angeles of “The Gangster Squad.”he said it.” But I felt much better when version of “The Untouchables.” Beall’sI tracked down the hoodlum’s sister, muscular script helped get Penn to sign Dealing with Hollywood Paul Lieberman offers tips—and you are complying with the ethical • If there is considerable interest cautions—for journalists when film guidelines of your publication. in your work, don’t try to weed or TV folks are interested in a story • Understand that while producers through the offers on your own. you have reported. may want rights to your story as Get an agent who can better evalu- a way of developing a film or TV ate the legitimacy of potential Make sure the rights to your project, they may instead seek bidders and which one has the story are yours to sell—some “life rights” from the characters best chance of actually getting a publications may insist that they about whom you have written. film made, the step that triggers retain any film or TV rights. • The deal often starts with sell- the bigger payoff. • Don’t take any steps to sell story ing merely an option to buy • Your role in the actual production rights until your piece or series rights to your story. While this is, like everything else, negotiable. has been published. Otherwise can be profitable in itself, espe- You may play no role, serve as you have dual masters … and cially if a project is nursed for a consultant—perhaps with a perhaps a financial stake in years—requiring renewal of the producing credit, or even write puffing up the material. option—don’t be shocked if the or co-write the script, though • Keep your editors informed of initial option payment is quite that would be rare. what you are doing to make sure small. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 35
  • 38. WRITING THE BOOK | Platform to Audience Journalism: Done The Atavist Way ‘… I liked the idea of being part of something new and something that attempts to reinvigorate the field of long-form journalism by re-engineering the business model that pays for it.’ BY DAVID WOLMAN I n the final days of Egypt’s revolu- tion to overthrow President Hosni Mubarak, I was in the snowy mountains of Colorado for a vaca- tion with the in-laws. There was no way I was going to unplug, though. Like most, I had been captivated by events in the Middle East. I also had something of an inside line. Every few days I received short correspondences via e-mail or text message from two activists in Cairo I had gotten to know in 2008 while reporting a story for Wired about young people using social media to organize against Mubarak’s regime. Two and a half years later I was stunned to learn that many of these same activists from the April 6 Youth Movement were now at the center of the revolution—organizing marches, coordinating efforts with other anti-Mubarak groups, and spearheading efforts to communicate a message of nonviolence. When the uprising began, I started contacting them to check that they were safe. By the second week I was writing a few short items for and On February 10 I received a text message from Ahmed Maher, cofounder of the April 6 Youth Move- ment: “Mubarak will go now. LOL.” By the next day Mubarak’s reign was finished. It was then that I knew I needed to go back to Cairo to write a fuller account of how Maher and his cohorts had transformed from rabble-rousers into full-fledgedOn Apple devices, David Wolman’s “The Instigators” is augmented with infographics, a video revolutionaries and chronicle whatclip, and this graphic artist’s rendering of a tense meeting the article describes. Illustration they had experienced in the lead-upby Jason Oldak. to and during the uprising.36 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 39. Platform to AudiencePushing Past Rejections ered, backstories reported, and scenes recreated. From the get-go, Ratliff andI banged out a pitch and sent it to I had in mind that this could easily beeditors at four or five prestigious a 10,000-word story. After whittlingmagazines. The rejections came in away about 4,000, the final versionrapid succession: “This is a great came in around 10,500.proposal, but unfortunately we already What I couldn’t appreciate abouthave some Egyptian coverage in the e-publishing until we were near toworks.” “It sounds like a fascinating closing was just how much otherand timely story, but it’s not one we information we could weave into andcan use right now.” “Thanks for giving around the piece. While I was doingus a shot. Given other things in our what I normally do—reporting, writinglineup, turns out there’s no way.” and rewriting—Ratliff and Atavist pro- Digital publishing start-up The ducer Olivia Koski had been schemingAtavist had been on my radar; two of ways to enliven the reader experience.1its founders are Wired alums, and I’d They commissioned a graphic artistread a short piece about the project to draw the scene of a tense meetingin Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The that occurs in the opening section.Atavist commissions and publishes They pinpointed places mentioned inlong-form stories as e-books for various the story on a Google map of Cairo,devices—Kindle, iPad, Nook, etc.—or to which readers can jump to with abe read on computers using e-reader you’ve earned enough in sales to pay click. They embedded a video clipsoftware such as Kindle for PC. It’s it back do you start to earn royalties— of the protests and sprinkled somestrictly digital. No paper. If that fact generally on the order of 15 percent of my photographs from Cairo andmakes you prickly, you should probably of bookseller price per (hardcover) Alexandria into the text. They com-quit reading this essay. unit, which roughly works out to a missioned an infographics wizard to E-publishing was still rather foreign dollar per book. The margin is even put together an elaborate timeline ofto me. I don’t even own an e-reader or thinner for paperbacks. The Atavist, events, and we also decided to pay fortablet computer. But I liked the idea in contrast, shares profits 50-50 with an Arabic translation, which we giveof being part of something new and writers (after Amazon, Apple, and the away for free.something that attempts to reinvigorate like take their cut, which is about 30 Some people have mixed feelingsthe field of long-form journalism by percent, although it varies depending about all this augmentation. Don’t there-engineering the business model that on the platform and whether sales bells and whistles detract from thepays for it. That, plus I really wanted are domestic or international). True, prose and reader engagement with it?to get after it with this Egypt story. The Atavist stories only cost $1.99 or To that concern, I would say: Take 30 I sent my pitch to Evan Ratliff, editor $2.99. But the sharing kicks in from seconds to look at the software. Youof The Atavist, and after a little back the first sale, and there’s potential for can turn off all the extras with a singleand forth, he said yes. He could even decent after-publication earnings. Not click. But if you ever change your mindpay me. It wasn’t a huge amount, but so with magazine assignments, even and decide you do want some addedit was respectable, particularly when if an article you write turns out to be information about a character in themeasured against other upstart pub- wildly popular. story or you want to see a photographlications that so often expect writers On the nearly empty flight from of one of the revolutionaries’ hideoutsto work for a pittance. Amsterdam to Cairo last March, I in Cairo, it’s all there waiting for you. realized that I’d never written anything As one generally technophobic friendHow The Atavist Works like this before. With digital publish- of mine put it: “It’s a totally different ing, there is no word-count limit. kind of reading!”Ratliff and his fellow cofounders That obviously doesn’t necessarily “The Instigators” was published inhave also devised a curiously attrac- make for better writing, but the real early May, about seven weeks after Itive profit-sharing arrangement with estate concerns that sometimes plague returned from Cairo. Early reactionswriters that can best be described as magazine stories and lead to the death were encouraging, with some favorablea kind of hybrid magazine-book deal. of whole scenes or sections just don’t write-ups in a couple of publicationsWhen you write a book, your publisher exist with e-books. I could swing for and even positive customer reviewsgives you an advance, and only when the fences in terms of material gath- posted to Amazon by people who1 Most of these bonus features are currently only available with Apple devices, but as e-reader technology improves, they may become available on other platforms as well. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 37
  • 40. Writing the Bookaren’t my cousins. download the (free) Kindle-for- the form, as if to imply that I’ve either What hasn’t been so sunny? For Mac or Kindle-for-PC software, produced a B-rate product or somehowone thing, I don’t know what to call install it—it takes all of 80 betrayed literature itself by publishingit. Among e-book enthusiasts “single” seconds—and then you’re off! straight to digital. What those people(or Kindle Single) is shorthand for a fail to recognize is that e-publishingwork that is generally too long to be I’ve been happy with sales, which in The Atavist model or some futurea magazine feature but too short to continue steadily, but make no mistake: iteration of it offers a new way ofbe a book. For much of the world, There is no zippy sports car in my supporting professional writers andthough, the lingo of “singles,” “e-books” future. And it’s difficult to determine stands in contrast to the predictionand “e-readers” still causes confusion, what marketing strategies helped, that narrative nonfiction can’t surviveakin to talking about CDs in 1985. (A hurt or were just a waste of time. For in the age of Twitter. I like physicalfew months ago, I tried referring to example, we sold an excerpt to The- books and magazines as much as“The Instigators” as a “mega-feature,” It’s impossible to know the next guy. What I like even more,but that’s clunky and makes me sound if that translated into a substantial though, is long-form storytelling. Iflike an appliance salesman.) number of sales or whether people its future is in the digital realm, so It has also been a bit of a challenge to who read the teaser found it to be a be it.make more people aware of the story’s sufficient dose of inside informationexistence—it’s not on any real-world about Egypt’s revolution, and decided David Wolman is an author, jour-bookshelves, and Atavist doesn’t have against coughing up the $2 or $3 for nalist and a contributing editoran army of publicists working on my the whole piece. Still, the attention at Wired. “The Instigators,” hisbehalf. Even people who want to read this new marketplace is getting keeps e-book about Egypt’s revolution,it sometimes need guidance on how to me optimistic. As of late November, can be found at it. Since publication, I’ve written “The Instigators” was still a top rated His book, “The End of Money,” is tothe following far too many times: Kindle Single, which should keep the be published by Da Capo Press in sales coming. I hope. February 2012. More information is You don’t need a tablet com- Only occasionally do I encounter on his website, www.david-wolman. puter or Kindle to read it. Just someone who voices suspicion about com. He tweets @davidwolman. It’s a Long Article. It’s a Short Book. No, It’s a Byliner E-Book. ‘Our idea was to create a new way for writers to be able to tell stories at what had always been considered a financially awkward length.’ BY JOHN TAYMANH ow many words do I have? It’s effort in fewer words. Or I could tell it even when that count might not serve a question I’m accustomed to in more. With my words destined for the story well. asking whenever I write a story. Nieman Reports’s print pages—and for Over the years, I’ve often been theSometimes I ask it of myself, more its website—it’s natural for the editor one doing such slashing and stretching.often of my editor. Before I started to think about how many words she It’s never fun. Some stories escapedwriting this piece, I asked the editor wants and what visuals might accom- unscathed, but most suffered—andof this magazine for a length. pany them. This is a sensible approach their writers suffered—simply because “You’ve got 1,000 words,” she and until recently was how publishing a few magazine ads went unsoldreplied. worked, whether in a magazine or a or the marketing department felt a That’s an arbitrary word count, of book. Editors assigned story lengths, fatter spine would sell more copiescourse, since I could tell the story of then slashed or stretched what got in bookstores. Oh, we waxed poeticour eight-month-old digital publishing delivered to a workable word count, about “letting the story find its natural38 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 41. Platform to Audience The Writing Life: Examined in a Digital Minibook Earlier this year novelist Ann of unpleasant tasks in an attempt work got done. Patchett published on Byliner what to avoid item number one—writing The lesson is this: The more we it described as “a practical memoir fiction. (I admit this is complicated, are willing to separate from distrac- about the agony, ecstasy, and occa- that I can simultaneously profess tion and step into the open arms sional lunacy of the writing life.” to love writing and to hate it, but of boredom, the more writing will What follows is an excerpt from if you’ve read this far you must be get on the page. “The Getaway Car,” the minibook pretty interested in writing yourself, If you want to write and can’t she wrote for Byliner, where it sells and if you are, well, you know what figure out how to do it, try this: for $2.99: I’m talking about.) Pick an amount of time to sit at your desk every day. Start with Even if I don’t believe in writer’s 20 minutes, say, and work up as block, I certainly believe in procras- quickly as possible to as much time tination. Writing can be frustrating as you can spare. Do you really and demoralizing, and so it’s only want to write? Sit for two hours natural that we try to put it off. But a day. During that time, you don’t don’t give “putting it off ” a magic have to write, but you must stay at label. Writer’s block is something your desk without distraction: no out of our control, like a blocked phone, no Internet, no books. Sit. kidney—we are not responsible. We Still. Quietly. Do this for a week, are, however, entirely responsible for two weeks. Do not nap or check for procrastination, and in the best your e-mail. Keep on sitting for as of all possible worlds, we should long as you remain interested in also be responsible for being honest writing. Sooner or later you will with ourselves about what is really write because you will no longer be going on. able to stand not writing—or you’ll I have a habit of ranking every- get up and turn the television on thing in my life that needs doing. because you will no longer be able The thing I least want to do is to stand all the sitting. Either way, number one on the list, and that you’ll have your answer. is almost always writing fiction. I once gave this entire explanation The second thing on the list may The beautiful thing about living to an earnest group of college fresh- be calling Verizon to dispute a in Provincetown [Massachusetts] in men who had all suffered cruelly charge on my bill, or cleaning the the winter, and having no money from writer’s block. When I finished, oven. Below that, there is mail to and no place to spend it even if one girl raised her hand. “Clearly, answer, an article to write for a I did, was that there was rarely you’ve just never had it,” she said, newspaper in Australia about the anything in the number two spot and the other students nodded in five most influential books in my life on my to-do list. There was really relieved agreement. Maybe not. and why. What this means is that nothing to distract me from the I will zoom through a whole host work I was there to do, and so thelength.” But deep down we knew it and shorter than a book was thought was chatting with some writers andwasn’t possible. A story that needed to be. editors about an idea for a company10,000, 20,000 or even 30,000 that would bring stories that fell intowords to be properly told inevitably Swift Publication that dead zone to life. Our idea wasfell into publishing’s dead zone. This to create a new way for writers to berepresented the vast wasteland of In January 2009, a year before the able to tell stories at what had alwaysimpossible-to-place stories that were iPad was launched and two years before been considered a financially awkwardlonger than magazine space permitted Amazon introduced Kindle Singles, I length. Such articles—at this longer Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 39
  • 42. Writing the Booklength they were likely fan bases. We knew weto be told as narrative didn’t want to rely onaccounts—would be the customary book-reported and written publishing model—getswiftly, not unlike a the book into stores,magazine piece. We’d send the author out tosell them on digital talk it up, and hope forplatforms as e-books. good reviews so it can Back then I scribbled gather an audience. Wethis note about our wanted to upend thatconcept: Essentially, scenario by aggregat-we’re creating a roy- ing an audience via analty system for long author’s social network;magazine pieces, and in this way, we couldthe writer benefits from collects and shares information about its authors’ social commission an originalthe first copy sold. It’s media connections. e-book and publish ita nice change of pace (essentially presold) intofor established book that targeted fan base.writers, looking to test-drive an idea to keep reporting—adding details to To do this, we worked to construct aor to clean their palate after a multi- his investigative essay, as he unearthed discovery platform to complement ouryear project. For established magazine them—up until its release. publishing efforts. utilizeswriters, they’re actually invested in Happily, we discovered he could do well-known social media techniques,their pieces. this. Byliner published “Three Cups such as a Twitter-like system alert so As always, word count would matter, of Deceit” at 22,000 words, some of that readers don’t miss the publicationbut not in an overly limiting way for which were written, edited, checked of an e-book by their favorite writers, aswriters. These swiftly conceived and up to an hour before publication and well as a Pandora-like recommendationcompleted books would be done at a based on reporting he’d finished that system that helps readers discover newlength—fewer than 30,000 words— day. We released Krakauer’s e-book authors. Importantly, it also enablesthat would make them readable in two on our website immediately after authors to leverage their back catalogshours or less. (The average American “60 Minutes” aired its own exposé, of narrative pieces so they can betterreads 250 words per minute.) We in which Krakauer was featured. market their latest e-book.wanted to give writers the opportunity As our website’s initial offering, his Even though our pieces are long—atto draw out the complexities of a story e-book was made available free of least when compared with newspaperand get it in front of potential readers charge during the first 72 hours when or magazine pieces—we still keep anwhile the event or action or news is some 70,000 readers downloaded the eye on word count at Byliner. Forrelatively current. Our strategy would PDF version. When his e-book went example, we know that the averageliberate them from the pre-determined on sale in Amazon’s Kindle Singles word count of the Byliner Originalsschedules of traditional book and store—neither Apple’s Quick Reads we’ve published is 23,765 per e-book.magazine publishing. nor Barnes & Noble’s shorts digital If a fan of Michael Lewis wants to At least, this was our theory, tested storefront were open yet—it quickly check out his long-form stories, Bylinerwith our first Byliner Original by Jon became the top selling e-book; it has can point him to stories he’s writtenKrakauer. He was troubled by certain sold steadily ever since at $2.99. In adding up to 428,465 words. In all,details in Greg Mortenson’s bestselling subsequent months, Byliner has sold readers can choose among more thanbook, “Three Cups of Tea” and had more 100,000 e-books, including those 60 million words that we’ve collected,heard unsettling allegations about written by bestselling authors such organized, published or spotlighted.his charity work. He knew there was as Ann Patchett, Mark Bittman, and Our focus is on providing writers withan important story to be told—which William T. Vollmann. the space that works well to tell long-required depth and length, but the form contemporary stories and theinvestigative piece he wrote was Aggregating Audience platform from which to sell them. Yet,20,000 words long. At that length, it we also know that Byliner is workingdidn’t work as either a conventional The writing and publishing of e-books as a go-to place for readers looking formagazine piece or a book. There were tells only half of Byliner’s story. With vivid storytelling that displays depth,timing challenges with publishing it, our (relatively) long gestation period, breadth and complexity—without alltoo: Krakauer wanted to release his we spent an inordinate amount of of those hundreds of pages to turn.story when a “60 Minutes” report on time thinking about how our site’sMortenson would be aired in mid- e-books would be discovered and how John Tayman is founder and chiefApril. Yet he wanted also to be able writers would acquire and grow their executive officer of Byliner.40 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 43. Platform to Audience Transformation in Publishing and Optimism About Books ‘A n enduring challenge for journalists is to take their experiences, background and skills as a writer and turn them into a fully developed narrative.’Nieman Reports editor Melissa Ludtke digital publishing was really marginal. one of the ways in which people nowtalked by phone with Peter Osnos, Now we know it’s very substantial. access information. It used to be thatthe founder and editor at large of As far as I can tell, writers are still you hoped your book would make itPublicAffairs books. In “The Platform,” writing in the traditional way with an on its merits, with perhaps a boosta weekly column he writes for The awareness that a substantial number from a review or two.Century Foundation, Osnos often of their readers will be reading on Today that’s different. It’s essentialfocuses on book publishing. The two digital devices. The content is consis- that journalists recognize that to trulydecades he was at The Washington tent. What’s changing—and changing reach their audience, it is necessary toPost—as Indochina bureau chief, quickly—is the means of distribution. devote as much attention, time andMoscow-based correspondent, foreign effort to the promotion of the bookeditor, national editor, and London Ludtke: You recalled in another article and its contents as to its writing. Itbureau chief—as well as his years at that almost a decade ago writer and used to be that all you had to do wasPublicAffairs publishing books written futurist Esther Dyson indicated that get the story, and it was someoneby journalists give him a valuable we no longer live in the information else’s job to sell it. That is no longerperspective on the topic of reporters age but in the attention age. You wrote the case and it makes some authorsand editors who decide to become about how writers were becoming uncomfortable because they don’tauthors and the publishing industry marketers of their work. In the news understand the importance of theirin the era of e-books. Edited excerpts industry’s transformation, journal- role in this process.from their conversation follow: ists have had to learn how to brand You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned themselves by communicating in ways social media. That, too, is important. It’s essential that journalists recognize that to truly reach their audience, it is My ap for th horism ates thes oper e way e ny necessary to devote as much attention, time and effort to the promotion of publis hing oks. A the book and its contents as to its writing. is "G ood bo . Noww." days t them u wan way yo s snos – Pe ter OMelissa Ludtke: In April you wrote: that go beyond just doing their work. Social media is today’s word of mouth.“Publishing is now undergoing the most So when it comes to books, do these If enough people hear about somethingsignificant transformation in the way skills put them in the driver’s seat? and tell other people who are in theirbooks are distributed and read since network, and they tell others, it spreadsdevelopment of high-speed printing Osnos: It certainly helps to be well- that way. Authors can make a signifi-presses and the transcontinental rail known. And how do you get to be cant impact through what amounts toand highway systems.” If we think of well known? Well, if you’re a journal- digital word of mouth.the digital highway as the road that ist, it’s because of where you work.books are traveling on with greater Traditionally it was the major news Ludtke: At the other end of things,frequency, how do you think this organizations. Now a lot of journalists though, there has to be this exerciseaffects those who are writing them? are well-known for their multiple plat- of judgment in choosing which books forms—they appear on television, write actually deserve to be written or sup-Peter Osnos: It’s too soon to say with a blog, may contribute to magazines, ported, as you point out in one of yourcertainty. It‘s all happening so fast. As and are on the radio. An author gets to pieces, because now anyone can writerecently as 2007—before the Kindle— be known by communicating in every a book and publish it. It’s a question Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 41
  • 44. Writing the Bookof whether they’re going to get support often find myself saying to would-be together, call it a book, and post itfrom a publisher to do it. Do you have authors, “Remember, if you write this through Amazon or on some otherideas to offer journalists about what for a magazine or a major newspaper digital channels. Book publishers startseparates their daily stories from what or even the significant online news from the premise that we are not basi-works well as a book? outlets, you’re going to probably reach cally the extension of a magazine. Our a bigger audience than you would if goal is to find the writers and subjectsOsnos: That’s a central question. Jour- you write a nonfiction book. Only write that justify the range and depth andnalists are familiar with writing in the a book if you need that kind of length length that a book should have andsame way that musicians are familiar and are truly compelled.” that distinguishes it from either short,with music. But that doesn’t automati- How a book is defined, particularly medium or even, in some instances,cally translate music into a symphony a digital one, is evolving. Increasingly, magazine-length journalism.or a piece of writing into a book. An we have what are coming to be known How that content is delivered isenduring challenge for journalists is as singles—essentially essays written what is changing. But the process ofto take their experiences, background in book form. When a big news story producing a coherent, well-argued bookand skills as a writer and turn them breaks, many major news organizations is not. Experienced editors still helpinto a fully developed narrative. I take what they already have, put it even the most gifted authors articulate Sooner Sounds Better By Philip Meyer Recently I wrote a memoir with the old, faster is better. So I signed working title “Paper Route: Finding up with iUniverse of Bloomington, My Way to Precision Journalism” Indiana, which will have my book and then I started looking for a out in paper and e-book by spring. publisher. One of my first stops was Its plan pays royalties quarterly the website of Algonquin Books, a instead of annually. The modest boutique publisher in Chapel Hill, fee gets me a range of services North Carolina owned by Workman including editing, cover design, and Publishing Company of New York. It worldwide distribution. had advice for prospective authors. That’s not all. I have a drawer “If you’d like more information full of old publishing projects that on what goes into a great book never seemed worth the trouble proposal,” it said, “click here …” before but might work now that The link took me to an excerpt targeting the narrowest of markets from a title on the Workman list, is feasible. Good thing that I’m not “The Essential Guide to Getting Your too old for a new career. Book Published: How to Write It, Sell It, and Market It … Success- Philip Meyer, a 1967 Nieman fully!” by Arielle Eckstut and David Fellow, is Professor Emeritus in Henry Sterry. So I bought it. the School of Journalism and I found the book, at 481 pages, Mass Communication at Univer- clear, thorough and convincing. The sity of North Carolina at Chapel part I liked best was Chapter 11, would first need to find a publisher Hill. He has written several books “Publish Thyself.” Modern technol- willing to read my manuscript. It including “Precision Journalism: ogy, with e-books and on-demand might take a year to get a decision. A Reporter’s Introduction to Social publishing, makes assisted self- If the decision should be favorable, Science Methods” and “Ethical publishing fast and inexpensive. getting from manuscript to a bound Journalism: A Guide for Students, Putting the book down, I looked volume ready to ship would take Practitioners, and Consumers.” at the calendar. To go the route another year. taken with my previous books, I For an author who is 81 years42 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 45. Platform to Audiencetheir message, and even though digital best of these devices make reading spin it out. Keller identified all of thepublishing is pushing 20 percent of the a completely convenient experience. major problems that editors have whennet sales of books, the overwhelming There’s another aphorism appropri- their reporters go off to tell a story atpercentage of books are still being ate to this age and that is that the greater length. This will always be thepublished in the traditional way. That two things that people look for are case. Increasingly, as more journalistsnumber will go down and the digital convenience and quality. Now people feel that their role at the newspapernumber will go up, but when you sit know they can get the book they want or magazine or their day job is adown to read on an e-reading device, when they want it. That is a formi- platform, they will want other meansin most cases you’re doing exactly dable asset in how people feel about of reaching an audience and will dowhat you would have done had you books; if you hear about a book, see that through books. An extraordinarybeen holding the book in your hand. a review, hear an interview, know an number of good journalists are eagerYou turn electronic pages, stop when author, you don’t have to go through to write books, and whether they willyou want to, and pick up again where the prolonged process of figuring out depends on whether they can find ayou left off. where to find it. publisher and if they have the energy The most important thing about to move through the process.the digital reading experience is that Ludtke: Former New York Times ex-it addresses what for a very long time ecutive editor Bill Keller wrote about Ludtke: In writing about e-books youwas the major challenge for publishers: journalists and book writing, and you observed that Amazon’s long-termHow do we give consumers what they called his tone cranky. When news intention is to condition consumerswant, where they want it, and when organizations, specifically the Times, to the lowest possible price. At a timethey want it? My aphorism for the “indulge our writers,” Keller wrote, “we when paywalls are being put into placeway publishing operates these days do so at a cost. Books mean writers at some newspapers, there remains theis “Good books. Any way you want who are absent or distracted from belief among many that news wantsthem. Now.” I think that is the essence daily journalism, writers who have to be free. So there is a question ofof where we are in publishing. It’s to be replaced when they leave their how reporting will be paid for bothup to us to choose the books and to reporting beats and landed somewhere in newsrooms and in supporting theenable authors to write the best book when they return.” There is, he went on journalist in the time needed to reportthey can and then make it available to say, “the tricky relationship between and write meaningful nonfiction every way that a consumer could what they unearth for their books andpossibly want to read it. what goes into the paper.” And this Osnos: As I said, this is a dynamic happened in a noteworthy way with the process. It has moved very quickly.Ludtke: Some of the e-books published book that Times investigative reporter In a bit more than a decade we haveby news organizations appear to be James Risen wrote about the CIA and reinvented the way information isdriven more by there being a market the Bush administration. “There is the distributed. We’ve been here before.than by their content so they are a awkwardness of reviewing books by Between the late 1940’s and earlyvehicle to repurpose content and in- colleagues,” Keller continued. “There ’60’s television went through multiplecrease a revenue stream. is the resentment of those left behind stages. A curious feature of network to take up the slack.” Do you think television is that it was always adver-Osnos: Increasing revenue is a com- Keller has a valid point? tiser supported. Buy a TV and watchpletely legitimate objective. All of it. Then came the cable system; nowus know that in order to function Osnos: Absolutely. “Where you stand you buy a TV, but also pay your cablewe have to constantly be looking for depends on where you sit,” and as the provider that in turn pays people whonew forms of revenue and new ways paper’s executive editor he’d see a writer create the content. This happened into reach consumers. There was a come in and say, “I’ve just been working essentially a generation.question as to whether people would on this story for the last year for you, We’re going through that now withread long-form journalism or narrative and now I want to take time and go books and, to some extent, news. Theon devices. For the most part, we’ve off and write a book about it.” That thing to remember about books isfound that the traditional laptop or creates problems for him. Whether that we never had advertising as adesktop wasn’t a particularly good way that means that journalists shouldn’t revenue stream so unlike news that’sto attract people to read at length. write books in general, which is what not an issue for us. Nor did we reallyEven now lots of people, if they get he goes on to argue, that’s another have subscribers. For book publish-to a long article that they really want issue. I don’t agree with him on that ers the issue always was whether weto read, they print it out. I would do score at all. could manage inventory: Can we putthat. Maybe it’s generational. Newspaper and magazine editors books where they need to be when After the e-reading devices appeared need to accept the fact that the people the consumer wants them? It is aI accommodated very quickly and who work for them will have the natural considerable virtue that we now canread with considerable pleasure. The inclination to want to take a story and do this—giving the reader options Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 43
  • 46. Writing the Bookabout how they want to read it and I don’t know. Will people want to have more power in the choice of formatat what cost. Inventory management material that they could have had in and the means of distribution thanis not exactly a glamorous concept but previous formats just because at the they did a generation is essential in the way that book moment it’s particularly interesting?publishing has evolved. We don’t know. In a few cases short Ludtke: What if we substitute the word books about something very much “journalists” for “consumers” in yourLudtke: You sound optimistic about in the news worked, such as Jon last statement? It’s true that they alsothe plethora of platforms at different Krakauer’s “Three Cups of Deceit,” have more choices in producing whatprice points adding up to something which was initially available as a they have to say at different lengths.that will be able to pay for the kind promotional download but continues There might have been a choice beforeof reporting time needed to produce to sell on Byliner for $2.99, and between sticking with their daily jobserious nonfiction books. Christopher Hitchens’s “The Enemy,” and taking the material to a full-length an essay on the assassination of Osama book. Now reporters might have moreOsnos: Yes. Book publishing, like Bin Laden, that sells for $1.99. choice about what they produce.every other part of the information In my 27 years or so in publish-and entertainment industry, is run- ing, I’ve seen transformations, one Osnos: Absolutely. I think you willning as fast as it can to learn how to after another—from the bookstore find that Politico’s joint venture withbest accommodate what is essentially model to the online retailer and now Random House in publishing e-booksa transformation in the way books are virtual distribution. I don’t expect is a new model of what Newsweek usedread. When we talk with a potential this to stop. But the publisher is to do: they would embed reportersauthor, we have to take into account the obliged to serve the consumer in all with candidates to collect information.various ways in which that book will the ways that the consumer wants to Within days after the election, News-be sold. Will the author be available be served. The good news is that the week would produce what essentiallyto promote the book? Will there be a consumer has more options. We have was a book-length magazine. In the lastnatural constituency for it? Will the the Kindle, the Nook, the iPad, and two election cycles, PublicAffairs tookauthor be willing to do what amounts there’s more coming. And with each of those magazines, which were almostto going door to door? these innovations, we see the reading book-length, augmented them however public making choices. Most e-books we could in the time frame we had,Ludtke: If we were to move four years are now available through multiple and published them. That Newsweekinto the future—to 2015—and take retailers and on several devices so no longer exists. The partnership The gatekeeper role of a publisher is still significant, still essential to the publishing process, with the judgment of an experienced editor and the for th e way e marketing skills of a good publisher. But consumers have much more horism ates thes My ap oper publis days hing is "Goo t them. way yo u wan s. Any d book Now." ter O w s snos power in the choice of format and the means of distribution than they did a – Pe generation ago.what we know today, do you think publishers are doing their best to track between Politico and Random Housethat we’ll have book publishers in the the exact number of copies sold. But is for short e-books to be publishedsense we do now and that journalists some books sell significantly more during the course of the campaign.will go to them and get advances to copies in digital versions than they The assumption is that in today’s worldsupport their reporting? do in a print version because that’s readers want to know what is going what the consumer wants. on in real time rather than waitingOsnos: Oh, yes. I don’t think there’s The gatekeeper role of a publisher for post-election analysis. This is aany question about it. Now we have is still significant, still essential to vivid example of how publishing hasvarious experiments. The concept of the publishing process, with the adapted to demand.the “Let me take repurposed material judgment of an experienced editorand sell it as a book through an online and the marketing skills of a goodretailer” is an experiment. Will it work? publisher. But consumers have much44 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 47. Platform to Audience Telling Political Stories in Closer to Real-Time Books ‘The digital book project is a way of ensuring that these tips and anecdotes and character insights don’t get pushed aside, and instead are developed and given to readers in a format that puts them in the best light.’ BY JOHN F. HARRISA s a once and I hope fu- ing technological change and ture author, I’ll confess trying vigorously to dominate that in certain moods a niche: content aimed ata bleak scenario can cross people who share our intense,my mind. Just my luck, and even obsessive, interest inthat of other journalists of politics. Optimism is partlymy generation, that a good a matter of willpower, but itnearly six-century run in the is partly a rational responsepublishing business might be to a media marketplace thatabout to perish—the victim by our estimate has openedof changes in technology and plentiful new opportunitiesaudience tastes—at the very even as it has narrowed others.moment we are ready to write. These fears—like many Partnering Withanxieties that people comfort- Random Houseable with familiar paths holdabout disruptive technolo- Politico is now in the earlygies—may prove overwrought. stages of a collaboration withWith luck, one hopes, in Random House that reflectsretrospect they will even come the spirit of innovation thatto seem ridiculous. we believe is a signature of And yet there is no deny- the publication. The assign- Politico and Random House are joining forces to publishing that the digital era has ment is to produce short a series of e-books about the 2012 campaign. “The Rightnot on balance been a friend digital books—in the range of Fights Back” is the long-form narrative. The 20,000 words or so—that willhistoric shift has weakened be written in serial fashion.daily newspapers, imperiled some enterprise reporting may never find Mike Allen, our senior reporter andfine magazines, and seems likely to an audience unless it can be cleverly cofounder of Politico, will do thebe in the early stages of launching reduced to 140 characters on Twitter reporting for these books and co-writea similar upheaval in the book pub- in the hope of going viral. them with veteran magazine writerlishing industry. It is not just busi- Now I am starting to sound like Evan Thomas. During his career atness models that are changing. The something I and my colleagues at Newsweek, Thomas was the chief writerproliferation of information—abetted Politico have vowed not to be—pes- for many of the magazine’s specialby the omnipresence of devices to simists. As journalists, the group of issues—some of which were expandedcarry that information to us at all us who joined five years ago to start a into books—that took readers behindtimes and in all settings—at times publication devoted to national politics the scenes of presidential campaignsseems to be affecting the very nature and the workings of Washington made immediately after the election. Our aimof the human mind and its capacity a very purposeful decision that we is to replicate many of the elementsfor the sustained concentration that would not live our journalism careers of those books—the vivid portraits oflengthy articles and books demand. in a defensive crouch, besieged by personality, the crises, and the calcu-One friend adapts with a self-imposed unwanted change, longing nostalgically lations over strategy—and tell theserule about paragraphs in the modern for some rapidly receding golden age. stories in something closer to real time.age: Never longer than can appear in To the contrary, Politico has found edi- The first e-book in the Playbook 2012a single BlackBerry screen. Months of torial and business success by embrac- series, “The Right Fights Back,” was Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 45
  • 48. Writing the Bookpublished at the end of November. rebirth in the digital age. Certainly House partnership is Jon Meacham, a This is unquestionably an experi- Politico has made its contribution senior editor with Random House and,ment. We’ll consider it a success, on to the trend toward brevity, speed of course, a veteran magazine editorthe belief that we’ll learn something and monomania for the story of the and successful nonfiction author. Healong the way, no matter how the day or even the hour. We are proud prodded Politico to join Random Houseexperiment turns out. But we have of this. These traits are exactly right in this e-book experiment.two reasons for suspecting it will for certain kinds of stories. Yet as the Meacham and I are kindred spiritsturn out well. One reason is based Web has matured it is harder to stand in key respects. We both grew up inon concrete knowledge; the other is out through these things alone. The the old order—in which big establishedbased on a hunch. competitive field becomes ever more media brands like Newsweek and The The concrete knowledge is that crowded and intense. Washington Post prospered and hadPolitico reporters, and Allen especially, The way to get noticed is to go formidable power to set the nationallearn more and know more from their deeper—to use our sources and our agenda. And we both feel the samereporting than they can ever possibly expertise to produce news that com- generational imperative to find a goodshare with readers through traditional petitors would be hard-pressed to answer to the critical question “What’sstories on the website. Often the mor- match through hustle alone. There next?” at a time when the old ordersels that are in our heads and in our will be a new premium, not on length is strained in most cases and hasnotebooks are tantalizing—crying out for its own sake, but on the depth crumbled altogether in others.for a little more reporting and context necessary to tell original stories in What do people want in this fre-to be put in usable form—and yet they an arresting fashion. People do not netic digital age? After everything, myget pushed aside in the flood of daily want more bursts of data but more guess is that they want good stories,business. The digital book project is orientation—and a more intimate just as people have always yearneda way of ensuring that these tips and human understanding—of the barrage for them and presumably always will.anecdotes and character insights don’t of news all around them. That prospect seems like grounds forget pushed aside, and instead are The new technologies—iPads and optimism to me.developed and given to readers in a Kindles and other tablet devices—alsoformat that puts them in the best light. make the reading experience more John F. Harris is the editor in chief Our hunch is that the cycle is about absorbing and more congenial for of turn and that long-form nonfic- long-form journalism.tion storytelling is about to have a A key figure in the Politico/Random E-Books as a Business Strategy Owni ‘doesn’t carry advertisements and publishes all of its content under a Creative Commons license. Selling products—including e-books—is its big bet.’ BY FEDERICA COCCOV isit and adjacent to its Move it away, and the logo vanishes. entrepreneur Nicolas Voisin founded logo, among French words and This understated, almost coy adver- Owni in 2009 at a time when bloggers enticing graphics, is its English tising strategy mirrors Owni’s tentative were involved in a massive campaigntagline: News, Augmented. The words e-book sales strategy. Though e-book against France’s passage of the antipi-reflect the website’s ambitious spirit, sales in France are rapidly picking up, racy HADOPI law involving copyrightits dictum, and manifesto: to present especially with the Kindle store open- issues. With Owni, he created a plat-news with an added layer of digital bo- ing this past October, Owni is the first form for the blogging community andnuses—maps and apps and interactive media outlet in France to sell e-books he hired staff to oversee the content, itsinfographics. An intriguing red circle as part of its core editorial output. presentation, and its distribution. Theon a tiny pull string hangs from the The Owni website features aug- website’s editorial focus is promotingtop of our homepage. Scroll over the mented and data-driven stories and freedom of and the OwniShop logo appears. investigations. Blogger and Web Like other websites in France, Owni46 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 49. Platform to Audiencereceives a government subsidy and of a book about WikiLeaks, written bybrings in some money through fund- Owni’s former chief political reporterraising. Voisin’s Web agency 22Mars, Olivier Tesquet, who obtained rights tofounded in 2006, takes in revenue from publish the book in a digital format.the sale of various products related to In April 2011 “La Véritable HistoireOwni, including apps, online platforms, de WikiLeaks” (“WikiLeaks: A Trueinteractive maps, and infographics. Account”) became the first e-book toYet none of these items sells enough be sold in the OwniShop, priced atto make a profit. Will selling e-books a bit less than four euros (or $5.50).make a difference? It’s too soon to know. Finding adequate revenue to sustain Selling E-Bookstheir work is proving difficult for digitaloutlets, especially those with a focus OwniShop has released only fouron news. Owni struggles with this e-books for sale. In December 2010issue; it doesn’t carry advertisements Owni created 10 e-books that wereand publishes all of its content under collections of essays and articlesa Creative Commons license. Selling originally published on the websiteproducts—including e-books—is its and gave them to loyal readers. Whilebig bet. the idea of selling e-books does seem “This strategy has just begun,” says forward-thinking, it is not revealingOwni cofounder, editor and reporter itself as a cash cow. “This is merely our Owni’s first e-book.Guillaume Ledit. It began as a result initial foray,” Ledit is quick to say. Butof two developments. At the start of if a measure of success is OwniShop’s2011, Guillaume Dasquiet was hired social media impact, then it has not What is now an unprofitable short-as the site’s editor in chief. A freelance been an impressive debut. Since April term venture might turn out to beinvestigative reporter with experience the online shop has gained just 95 successful in the long term. Despitein long-form journalism, he had worked followers on Twitter and 85 fans on the low number of e-book sales, con-for the French publisher Flammarion, Facebook. Though the company has fidence in this strategy has led Owniwhere he was in charge of putting not disclosed exact sales figures, Ledit to adjust its editorial work and settogether and publishing collections admits that “so far we are not making new profit targets. The website nowof nonfiction from 2005 to 2007. The any profit. In fact, we’re looking more publishes fewer daily news stories andsecond motivating event was the release at losses.” directs more of its resources toward production of e-books. Owni published two e-books in November—one on the French presidential elections and another on network surveillance. Another outcome of Owni’s editorial shift has been a considerable broaden- ing in its scope of topics. Along with Owni e-books about net neutrality, WikiLeaks, French politics, and an account of the antipiracy law, Owni published an e-book—available in French and English—called “Rugby Stories.” Sylvain Lapoix, Owni’s chief political and environmental reporter, explained the choice of rugby as an e-book: “This was a test. We picked a topic that was trending in the news; we saw it as an opportunity to do a good ‘design’ job. It’s a one-shot tryout,” he said. “We are banking on the fact that the market in France will be ready in a few years, and we want to be seenThe e-books published by Owni, a news website based in France, focus on the site’s core is- as the first digital editor for digitalsues of technology, privacy and piracy, yet experiment with other subjects. cultures,” Dasquiet explained. “Our Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 47
  • 50. Writing the Booknews staff consists of 12 journalists, a distinct look from the beginning. The Huffington Post are also testingall of whom are committed to writing He infused Tesquet’s book about this strategy. However, without thean e-book covering the topic on which WikiLeaks with infographics and financial resources of juggernautsthey have been specializing.” Between beguiling illustrations. Owni plans to such as Condé Nast and AOL, OwniNovember 2011 and July 2012, Owni “include an element of interactivity risks turning its independently fundedexpects to publish 12 e-books, all of to its e-books by fully exploiting new guinea pig into a victim of the digitalthem written in-house. Dasquiet said, Web tools such as HTML5,” Ledit told revolution.“The whole strategy can be seen as a me. What this will mean in a timeway to re-center our objective: we are of DRM-protected, static e-book file Federica Cocco, a freelance journalist,a part of the company, 22Mars, but formats remains to be seen. is the founder and former editor ofwe have a specific expertise.” For now Owni, as a website, plows, Owni’s English language Owni’s e-books are embellished a lone furrow in France’s burgeoning sister the work of French graphic artist digital publishing market. Outside ofLoguy, who has given Owni’s stories France, the likes of Ars Technica and Visual Intensity of Words ‘Does the Kindle allow the visual even more dominance over the other senses in the act of reading?’ BY LEN EDGERLYA Cambridge friend of mine named who seemingly had everything but Ed offered me his paperback ended up taking his own life. A friend copy of “The Namesake” by of mine pressured me into reading theJhumpa Lahiri this summer. I held book, even though it wasn’t availableup my hand to decline and then on the Kindle. He thought I was beingreached for a note card in my pocket stubborn about this e-book write the title down so I could buy Maybe he’s right, I thought. Maybe Ithe Kindle version. “I don’t read that will enjoy a great book just as muchway any more,” I heard myself tell Ed, on paper as I do on the calming,who seemed as surprised as I was that reflective screen of the Kindle. Sothis could be true. I read Trillin’s book cover to cover, Though I have started reading proving to myself that I really didseveral books in print over the four prefer reading on a Kindle.years since I bought my first Kindle I was glad I had taken up myin December 2007, I have only com- friend’s challenge because it made mepleted one of them. By the summer more conscious of how my reading hasof 2008 I’d become so excited about changed, and why. Let’s start with howthe Kindle experience that I started big the type is in print books versusto host a weekly podcast called “The The author uses his Kindle’s fourth- Kindle versions. I am 61 years old,Kindle Chronicles.” Doing this show largest font to read. Photo courtesy of and I’m using the fourth-largest fonthas enabled me to talk e-books with Len Edgerly. on my Kindle. It’s a lot bigger thanclose to 200 guests so far—among them the font in any of the print booksjournalists (James Fallows and Andy loathes technology. that I own. This alone makes readingIhnatko), authors (Steven Pressfield I buy and read more books than I easier for me.and Nicholson Baker), Amazon execu- did before the Kindle. I enjoy reading Beyond this obvious benefit to mytives, kids, technologists and marketing more than ever. That much I know. reading, the changes get more subjec-consultants. One guest has been my The only book that I’ve read on paper tive. In my experience, they add up towife Darlene, who reads many more since December 2007 is Calvin Trillin’s something like a second honeymoonbooks on her Kindle than I do on “Remembering Denny,” a poignant in my lifelong love affair with books.mine and who, except for her Kindle, memoir of his Yale classmate, a man One thing you’ll notice about how48 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 51. Platform to Audiencepeople talk about their Kindle (or work in an e-book.Nook, Sony Reader, or Kobo) is how We are deep into subjective experi-often they use the word “love.” As my ence here, but I can report on at leastwife’s example demonstrates, this is not one test of my impression. I havebecause they are all gadget hounds. alternated between reading McLuhan’sWhen Darlene says she loves her “The Gutenberg Galaxy” on my KindleKindle, it’s not the graphite-colored and his “Understanding Media” onplastic or the e-ink screen she’s talk- paper. On paper, he feels further away,ing about. It’s reading this way that as if he had written a brilliant thesisshe loves. decades ago, and I found a dusty copy of it in my attic. He is no longer inWords on a Screen the room. But on the Kindle, it’s as if he’s passing along his words to meWhat’s more difficult to describe is as he’s writing them, fewer than 100how these new platforms are chang- of them at a time. It feels reading. Authors will benefit from McLuhan is not an easy read, and Ipondering this question because an do a lot better keeping up with hisincreasing share of their readers will puns and swirling insights when I’mread them the way I now do. seeing his words on a Kindle screen. As I mull how my own reading has If what I sense in using the Kindlechanged, I wish Marshall McLuhan was is a shared reading experience, and ifstill around. I believe he would have you are working on a book now, expectseen reading via e-ink technology as Len Edgerly follows Kindle developments. that many of the readers of your booka further intensification of its visual Photo by John Marshall Mantel. will have a more intimate experiencedimension. As he pointed out in “The of your words than was possibleGutenberg Galaxy,” the transition from before. Imagine they are in the roommanuscripts to print strengthened the found that quote from McLuhan’s “The where you are writing because that’svisual experience 500 years ago. “It Gutenberg Galaxy.” On a page of his how it will feel to them. Be careful.was not until the experience of mass better-known work, “Understanding Be personal. And for goodness’ sake,production of exactly hunt and kill everyuniform and repeatable single typo. I find thattype that the fission of they shout at me fromthe senses occurred, and ... follow me one step further in the deveIopment the page of an e-book,the visual dimension whereas on paper theybroke away from the of my theory about how e-books change reading. are merely irritating.other senses,” he wrote. Because of new Is that what’s hap- I feel closer to the author when I read his or her technology, people arepening now? Does the work in an e-book. reading in a new way.Kindle allow the visual It may take anothereven more dominance McLuhan or anotherover the other senses 500 years before wein the act of reading? really understand how Consider how print book lovers Media: The Extensions of Man”—not this change will affect our modes ofmake the case against e-books. What available on Kindle, so a year ago I awareness. Meanwhile, write a bookdo they miss most? The feel of the bought a paper copy that I haven’t as if it will matter more to readersbook, even the smell of the book. Each finished yet—a single page contains than ever. Thanks to e-books, I believephysical book feels and maybe smells approximately 350 words. it will.slightly different. On the Kindle, a This difference intensifies the visualbook is distilled to nothing but the impact of the words. Each word or Len Edgerly created “The Kindlewords that the author chose, in the sentence arrives in my mind through Chronicles” podcast after retiringorder he or she placed them. my eyes with less peripheral distrac- from journalism and as a natural On a Kindle, the font will be exactly tion from other words and sentences. gas company executive. He cofoundedthe same as that of every other book, If you are with me so far, then, a nonprofit thatsubject only to the reader’s preference follow me one step further in the distributes Kindles to U.S. militaryfor serif (Caecilia) or sans serif (Hel- development of my theory about how units on active duty in Afghanistanvetica) type. With the size I use, 87 e-books change reading. I feel closer and Iraq.words appeared on the screen where I to the author when I read his or her Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 49
  • 52. Writing the Book Out of Print, a Book Reappears—And Earns Its Author Money ‘Because of the Internet and some very slick printing technology, “Little People” remains visible and available. It’s even making me money for the first time since 2002 …’ BY DAN KENNEDYT he fate of my first book—a had seen my website and remembered memoir about raising a daughter I was from Middleborough. He and with dwarfism—was not unusual his fellow teachers were consideringfor an obscure title by an equally ob- making “Little People” that year’s sum-scure author. There was the day that mer read, and he wanted to know if Ithe publishing house was convinced was willing to drive down and discussOprah had agreed to book me. She it with students during the followinghadn’t. And there was the day that school year.the publicity folks congratulated me I didn’t have to be asked twice.after they’d heard The New York Times But I quickly discovered there was aBook Review would soon weigh in. problem. Haskell didn’t want peopleTheir good wishes proved premature. to have to read an entire book online, So despite favorable reviews in The and he asked me if there were enoughWall Street Journal and The Boston books available. I scanned Amazon.comGlobe as well as some attention from and other online sources of used books,NPR and elsewhere, “Little People: and I learned that “Little People” wasLearning to See the World Through on the verge of extinction. What to do?My Daughter’s Eyes” soon faded away. I decided to self-publish a new edi-The book was published in 2003. By tion. At first, I considered going with2008, when my publisher, Rodale, an Internet service such as Lulu, as mypulled the plug, it had sold a shade friend Dan Gillmor did with his bookunder 1,600 copies—not terrible, but “Mediactive” [See Gillmor’s “Figuringnothing to make anyone sit up and Out What a 21st Century Book Cantake notice, either. site—to which I attached a Creative Be,” Nieman Reports, Winter 2010]. As I learned, though, there is such Commons license, allowing anyone to But though I’m sure Lulu would havea thing as life after death, at least in redistribute my work as long as they done a fine job, I gravitated to thethe publishing world. Because of the credited me and didn’t try to profit Harvard Book Store in Cambridge’sInternet and some very slick printing from it—went live in the summer of Harvard Square, which had its owntechnology, “Little People” remains vis- 2008. The online version was free self-publishing operation with theible and available. It’s even making me and came with the offer of a signed too-cute name of Paige M. for the first time since 2002, hardcover to anyone who wanted to Being able to drive to the store and talkwhen my agent, Andrew Blauner, sold buy a copy from my own dwindling with people face to face was importantthe book to Rodale in exchange for a supply. I sold maybe two dozen over given that it was all new to me.nice advance. the next two years. Bronwen Blaney, who was then in The comeback of “Little People” charge of the store’s self-publishingbegan with my decision to post it Self-Publishing services, skillfully guided me throughon the Web. Rodale had taken the the process. I wrote a new introduc-essential steps of reassigning the rights In the spring of 2010, I received tion and assembled the book as oneto me and e-mailing me the PDFs, a message from Doug Haskell, the long PDF, with a separate PDF for thewhich I converted to HTML files and head of the English department at cover. I tracked down the photographeruploaded. I was especially pleased to the high school in my hometown of who had shot the original cover image,be able to fix a grammatical error that Middleborough, Massachusetts. He Tsar Fedorsky, who kindly agreed tohad been bugging me for years. The told me that someone at the school let me reuse it in return for a credit50 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 53. Platform to Audience Using Harvard Book Store’s Espresso Book Machine—playfully named “Paige M. Gutenborg”—Dan Kennedy was able to revive his book “Little People.” Photo by Jonathan Seitz.and a link to her website. No special Books. I watched carefully as the pages Apple’s iBooks. But not only wouldsoftware was necessary. I paid my $70 were glued to the cover, made of heavy, that take time, it would also defeatsetup fee, and we were off and running. semi-glossy stock, then cut to size. It my original goal of making “Little Sales from Middleborough that took about seven minutes from start to People” freely available.summer were brisk, but I did not keep finish. The book-making was controlled Last spring I talked about “Littlegood records. So on a recent visit to the by both a Windows and a Macintosh People” to several hundred studentsHarvard Book Store, Linden Marno- computer, though I confess I’m not at Middleborough High School. TheyFerree, the current self-publishing sure which did what. Self-published asked good questions. I tried to answermanager, helped me work through the books by more than 100 authors are them. It was a rewarding experience.numbers. As of this past October, the available through the Harvard Book And it wouldn’t have been possible ifstore had sold 132 copies at $16 each, Store, Marno-Ferree told me. technology hadn’t given me the powerthe cover price I had set. I received A final note: Technology saved “Little to rescue my book from the publisher’s$4.72 per copy. On top of that, I had People,” but recent advances may be scrap heap. I never expected to getpurchased 80 copies at a bulk discount undermining sales. My original idea rich from “Little People.” It’s enoughof 10 percent. Of those, I had sold 60 of giving it away online and selling that the book is still alive eight yearsto a bookstore in Middleborough at a physical copies of the book was based after it stumbled out of the and had kept 20 for myself. on the notion that few people wouldI can’t tell you exactly how much I want to sit in front of a computer and Dan Kennedy is an assistantmade, but I’d say it was somewhere read an 80,000-word book. professor of journalism at North-between $750 and $800. Not long ago, however, I borrowed eastern University. He is a panelist The mechanical process itself is my wife’s iPad and accessed the “Little on “Beat the Press” on WGBH-TV infascinating, but there’s not much to see People” website. As I suspected, the Boston and a contributing writerwhen it’s actually taking place. At my reading experience was pretty comfort- for The Guardian. His book “Littlerequest, Marno-Ferree printed a copy able, and I’m not sure what incentive People: Learning to See the Worldof “Little People.” The pages were spit someone might have to buy a copy. Through My Daughter’s Eyes” isout of a Xerox 4112 photocopier and I could remove the text of the book online at www.littlepeoplethebook.into the back of an Espresso Book from the website and put together paid com.Machine, manufactured by On Demand versions for the Kindle, the Nook, and Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 51
  • 54. Writing the Book Journalist to Marketer—With a Book In-Between ‘... being a great reporter is no guarantee that you can successfully sell your book, even when you’ve done cool stories about books.’ BY ROCHELLE LEFKOWITZI ’ve never met a journalist who often out of reach. Hence, the first Already I hear a grumbling chorus. doesn’t have an idea for a book. But rules of thumb: With your day job as commerce, the I do know many who would rather book is often something else—yourthink up names for lipsticks than say, • Put only a third of your time, sweat dream, your sweet revenge, yourtext and e-mail, again and again, these and smarts into writing your book. word sculpture, perhaps your legacy.words (or ones like them): “There’s • Save, then spend the remaining But to get folks besides your family,this fascinating author of a new book two-thirds of all three to figure out students and Facebook friends to buywhom I know you’d love to interview.” for whom you wrote your book and it requires a key shift in thinking from “Who?” how to reach them. the start. Just as success in business “Me!” • Resist the temptation to ask all your doesn’t lead automatically to effective Yet this—and much more—is what it best-known pals to write blurbs philanthropy, being a great reporter istakes to effectively publicize your book. for your book jacket since she who no guarantee that you can successfully Even after more than 25 years blurbs a book will not be able to sell your book, even when you’ve doneof working hard running a social review it. cool stories about books.issue communications firm, For one thing, most jour-where I prod journalists to nalists I know are buyers,talk, write, blog and tweet, not sellers. Sure, you needamong other things, about to sell stories to your edi-serious nonfiction books, I’d tors or executive producersbe hard-pressed to reduce and get sources to tell youwhat I do to a science, let theirs. But most journalistsalone to 10 tips. But I do I’ve worked with like to askhave some pointers to share. the questions, not answer These days as books them. To promote yourmigrate from paper to book effectively, you mustpixels, as publishing and successfully make that rolejournalism undergo seismic reversal.shifts, as we’re more linked Complex and far frombut less loyal to authors, formulaic, until recentlypublishers, reviewers or your job as a journalistbooksellers, getting your ended when you turned inbook into the right hands, your copy, audio or video.screens, hearts and minds Others worked to get yourdemands as much energy stories to an audience.and creativity as conceiving Now, with social mediaand writing it. Seriously. So and the multiplatform tugpacing is vital—from writ- of podcasts, YouTube anding that first word to selling webcasts, each one of us isevery book you can. expected to be media and Journalists typically message savvy. This turnsreceive a small advance out to be good training(especially on a first book), for successfully promotingand most don’t have a trust There are precious Some journalists believefew grants for authors to Moving from a journalist’s mindset to a promoter’s requires a that being in the business isbuy time to sell their books major shift in thinking. Rebecca Skloot, who is not a client of an advantage for marketingso a promotion budget is Lefkowitz, made the shift on her own, with enormous success. their books. After all, know-52 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 55. Platform to Audienceing the editors, reporters, producers delete key. Clear two to three weeksand bloggers whom publicists spend a few months in advance for a launchhours to reach ought to be a plus, as window, and be sure your boss knowsshould knowing how news organiza- you’ll need two full weeks of vacationtions work. But here’s the catch: Did then. Don’t forget FM radio; sure, it’syou ever try to get your editor to let low tech but many of your potentialyou write a feature story about a book readers listen while commuting oror interview a peer as an expert, only working out. Be sure to say the nameto get shot down with “if it was such of your book once or twice in everya good story, why didn’t you write it interview. Use humor!for us?” Though I love pitching serious Self-publishing is gaining tractionmidlist books by journalists, for just among some journalists. Others believethis reason, it’s often more, not less, that traditional publishers still givechallenging. books distribution and marketing muscle. If you go with a publisher,The Sales Job watch out for who owns first and second serial rights. If you retain them, pickMoving from a journalist’s mindset to two or three strong excerpts from youran author’s to a promoter’s requires Publicist Rochelle Lefkowitz still uses the book and try to get them published.conscious shifts in thinking. As this telephone to pitch books by her clients. Publications online and off crave freehappens, a lot can change—and for the Photo by Felix Kramer. copy. Yes, you are giving away wordsbetter. Usually I break up each book’s you’d otherwise sell, but that’s part ofpublicity campaign that Pro-Media cre- book promotion.ates into three parts: pre-publication, your book’s title and publication date. When your book is out, act on yourbook launch, and post-launch. Don’t stop there. Give op-ed editors mom’s advice; send lots of e-mails Lead time is the key to success. Best exclusive pieces with several weeks with a simple two-word subject line:results happen when the buzz starts of lead time. Create or update your “Thank you.” Offer to write more guestto build three to six months before a author page on Amazon and your bio blogs. Get pals to “review” your bookbook is published. This is the time to on Wikipedia. Have a friend take a on Amazon or to add their commentsstart writing op-eds and blog posts—for new and flattering headshot. when blog posts or articles are writtenyour blog and as a guest writer on oth- Though most major daily book about it. When a piece about yourers. Find news pegs like new films or review sections are long gone, some book is published, send it immediatelyminor holidays. One of my favorites is former editors have websites that fans to broadcast producers. Instead ofAugust 26, the anniversary of women’s still consult; add them (via Google) identifying yourself as a journalist,suffrage in the United States. No, not to your press list. Make and keep identify yourself on e-mails as theeveryone’s away and unplugged before your media lists current, and know author of your book, at least for theLabor Day anymore. Besides, links who prefers voicemail, text, e-mail, year after its publication.can be forwarded and cross-posted Twitter or Facebook. I still call, not So, quick, how many journalists doesfor months. just click, mostly early in the day. it take to effectively promote a book? Run a fine-tooth comb through Though the days of thick, multipart If you can’t afford to pay a seasoned,your book to mine it for stories. Yes, press kits to launch books are long creative publicist, then it takes twoyou want to sell your entire book, but gone, I still send an occasional snail (preferably both of whom are bookshorter stories are there to be found and mail; since all of us receive so little authors) so you can swap contactused to promote the whole. Friends can of it, a handwritten note stands out. lists of peers to whom to pitch eachhelp pick three to five enticing tidbits Write a quick, tight pitch paragraph, other’s books. Oh, and when you nextto highlight. Sometimes the best story let a friend tear it apart, and send hear from a publicist trying to flogis on page 79. Go with it. Your goal it to another colleague to read, cold. a book, please resist the impulse tois to convince potential readers that Practice a three-minute interview with hang up. Instead, hear her out—andthey want to buy your book. a pal who will give honest feedback learn from her. It takes a village (online and off ) and record get traction for your book. Early Do all of this and more before the Rochelle Lefkowitz is founder andon, set up Google Alerts with your book is published. president of Pro-Media Communica-name and the book’s title, and then For your book launch, be sure tions, a 25-year-old social issuehave pals help you track where your the subject line sings on e-mails you communications firm with offices inop-eds, blogs, features and reviews send about your book. Remember New York City and Redwood City,get picked up. Alert the press office that these words are the only thing California. Its website isat your employer and college about between a possible interview and the Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 53
  • 56. Writing the Book Making a Book—Digital and Print—From Scratch ‘By building a book in modules—rather than constructing it as a complete “bible”—I can gain flexibility, respond easily to the rapid pace of changes, and be happier than if I have to rewrite my entire book.’ BY ELIZABETH CASTROW hen Steve Jobs unveiled the ously agreed. When “EPUB Straight book they need instantly regardless of iPad in January 2010, its to the Point: Creating Ebooks for the where they are. Not only that, every iBooks app caught my eye. Apple iPad and Other Ereaders” was time I write a blog post that relatesThe e-book revolution was underway published in July 2010, I opened a to my book, it experiences a jump inbut until that moment I had not been bookstore on my website. sales. Not always a big one, but it’s awilling to spend hundreds of dollars I quickly realized how much I reminder of the invaluable connectionson a device that only displayed books. enjoyed the digital connections I between my online work and my bookYet as an avid reader and longtime was making with my readers. When sales. In addition, Twitter has drawnwriter, I was sold on the iPad. It viv- someone orders my book, I get an me closer to my readers and makes itidly pushed e-books front and center e-mail sharing this news. I look to see easier to find out what interests themin big beautiful flashy packages that where the orders are from and it turns and how I can respond.enveloped the screen. I knew right away out that about half are from outsideit was a game changer and decided I the United States—with almost 30 Divide and Conquermust have one. percent from Europe, about 10 percent My first thought as an author of from Australia and New Zealand, and Last December Apple released ancomputer books was to write a book roughly 5 percent from Canada. important new feature for the iBooksabout how to create e-books for the On the Internet, physical distance app. However, I wasn’t ready to updateiPad. Then I discovered—to my great doesn’t matter. People can get the my entire book. So I wrote—and nowdelight—that iBooks, the iPad e-readerapp, supports the standard EPUBformat that is based on HTML anddeveloped by a consortium of technol-ogy and publishing companies. I’mintimately familiar with HTML—thecode that Web pages are written in—because of the six (soon to be seven)editions of my book “HTML, XHTML,& CSS: Visual QuickStart Guide.” Morethan a million copies of this book havebeen sold in 15 languages. I also practice what I write. For morethan 20 years, I have brainstormed,organized, designed, written, takenthousands of screenshots, and laidout, edited and delivered final files tomy publisher, Peachpit Press, for allof the various editions of my books.The only part of my books that I didn’tdo myself (apart from a final edit byPeachpit) was the cover. Because I was used to creating theentire book myself, it seemed onlyfair that I should be able to sell an Elizabeth Castro, who writes about producing digitalelectronic edition directly from my books, sells e-book versions on her website. Photo bywebsite. Thankfully, Peachpit gener- Andreu Cabré.54 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 57. Platform to Audience Learning the Inner Workings of an E-Book File “EPUB Straight to the Point—Cre- their existing files. However, since ating Ebooks for the Apple iPad neither program can do everything and Other Ereaders” explains how needed to create the final EPUB to make an e-book that takes file, the book also takes a detailed advantage of the advanced fea- look at the inner workings of an tures available in the standard EPUB format file and demon- EPUB format. It starts with strates how to use a text editor to lessons using familiar com- add basic and advanced features puter tools—Microsoft Word which are not yet supported by and Adobe InDesign—so a Word or InDesign. —E.C. writer can generate EPUB- formatted e-books usingsell on my website—a miniguide about miniguides (“Audio and Video in at bookstores in the United States,this more specific topic of fixed layout EPUB,” and “Read Aloud EPUB for the United Kingdom, Europe andEPUBs. I offer it free to anyone who iBooks”), and I sell them on my EPUB Australia. When an order is placed onhas bought my book, “EPUB Straight website for $5 each. I am very encour- Amazon, Lightning Source prints myto the Point.” I also sell the miniguide aged with the results, selling several book, charges Amazon its discountedfor $4 and include a $4 coupon toward of each every day. I have many more price, subtracts the cost of producingthe purchase of my book. This mar- ideas for miniguides, both related to the book, and sends the rest to me.keting strategy keeps readers happy EPUB and to other topics. My initial investment (at least in termswhile it attracts new ones. I have Now I’ve turned back to print. of dollars) is limited to the setup feegiven away more than 1,000 copies I print my miniguides for my use of about $100.of this miniguide but in the process so I wondered if others also would For a non-tech journalist, thereI’ve added 1,000 e-mail addresses to be interested in print editions. And are several tools that can facilitatemy database. Many readers who begin print-on-demand technology makes the creation of an e-book or print-with the free fixed layout miniguide it possible for an individual (with a on-demand book. Apple’s Pages wordgo on to purchase my EPUB book and background in publishing, truth be processor has pretty good EPUBthe rest of the miniguides. told) to create print books and market export, and Adobe InDesign, though The big lesson for me is this: People them efficiently. In the 1990’s I lived costly, can be used to simultaneouslywill spend $4 on a 30-page guide on in Barcelona, Spain and had a com- coordinate the production of printa specific topic. One big challenge any pany that published computer books and e-book versions. At present, somebook author faces—and perhaps jour- in Spanish. Figuring out how many knowledge of the EPUB format andnalists and authors of computer books books to print was never easy. What the underlying HTML and CSS is stillmore often than others—is keeping a I paid for printing was lower for each necessary, and for that my books havebook up to date, especially when only book when I printed more copies, but helped thousands of people quicklya few bits of it have changed. That’s only if I sold them all. get up to speed.why updating only what’s changed Print-on-demand now enables me tois appealing. By building a book in upload my book and set its retail price Elizabeth Castro is the author of themodules—rather than constructing and the discount price for wholesalers “HTML, XHTML, & CSS: Visualit as a complete “bible”—I can gain and retailers. I do this with Lightning QuickStart Guide,” “EPUB Straightflexibility, respond easily to the rapid Source, a print-on-demand company to the Point,” and three miniguidespace of changes, and be happier than associated with Ingram Book Company, about EPUB as well as books aboutif I have to rewrite the entire book. a major international distributor. Once Blogger, iPhoto, Perl and CGI, and After realizing the advantages of uploaded, one of my miniguides sells XML.this approach, I published two more for $7.99 on Amazon and is available Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 55
  • 58. WRITING THE BOOK | Voice to Visual Powerful People and a Book They Almost Stopped When a Philippine investigative journalist revealed the inner workings of her nation’s Supreme Court, the country’s largest book publisher and leading distributor walked away. BY MARITES DAÑGUILAN VITUGW hen I started to report on Supreme Court, is cloaked in this for their loyalty to the president than the Philippine Supreme secretive culture. It is vastly differ- merit, and they serve until they reach Court in 2007 for News- ent from its co-equal branches—the the age of 70. Covering this courtbreak magazine, I was intrigued—and executive department and Congress. In reminded me of my days reportingchallenged—by its culture of secrecy these places, cabinet officials, senators on the armed forces during the wan-and its strong system of hierarchy. I and congressmen freely talk to the ing years of martial law in the earlycouldn’t know then that three years media. Journalists can cover most of 1980’s. Under the authoritarian rulerlater a book I wrote to help chisel their meetings. Public hearings are Ferdinand Marcos, it was hard for theaway at the court’s wall of secrecy sometimes aired live on television. press to penetrate the military. It waswould confirm the court’s formidable Reporters know most of these officials a strictly guarded and fortified camppower and its spheres of influence by face and by name. They are elected and the lips of the men in uniformwhen the publication and distribution every three to six years. were sealed. Their culture was to fol-of my book were halted. The Supreme Court is in a league of low orders, not to speak their minds. The entire judiciary, composed of its own with justices who are unelected. Over time, reporters developed sourcesabout 2,000 judges, thousands of During the past administration (2001- within the military, and then the wallcourt personnel, and headed by the 2010) they’ve been appointed more of silence cracked, especially afterMarites Dañguilan Vitug took an oath before a Manila prosecutor when she filed her rejoinder in a libel case that a Supreme Court justicehad filed against her, related to the publication of her book, “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court.” Photo by Purple Romero.56 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 59. Voice to Visualopposition leader Benigno “Ninoy” country. Anvil was going to publish Though no longer the book’s pub-Aquino, Jr. was assassinated in 1983, and distribute “Shadow of Doubt,” lisher, Anvil had agreed to distributeand a group of soldiers became greatly ensuring that it would be sold through it. Yet even this promise dropped awaydisenchanted with Marcos. its sister company, National Book once buzz about its content apparently The book I wrote, “Shadow of Store, the leading bookstore chain in worried some people at the SupremeDoubt: Probing the Supreme Court,” the country. Our collaboration was on Court. Anvil then decided it wouldopened a window on the Supreme track—until I finished the manuscript. no longer have anything to do withCourt’s inner workings. It was the Then Anvil’s lawyers advised them not getting the book into the hands offirst of its kind in the Philippines. to publish the book. readers. Losing such a big distributorThe investigative reporting I did to They shared this news with me at was like taking away 80 percent of itswrite it revealed the ethical violations a lunch meeting at a Mediterranean potential audience. It was also likeof justices and the book examined restaurant. At that moment, my salad turning down the volume of my publicpoliticized appointments. topped with feta cheese lost its zing microphone so that fewer got to hear What happened next—the story and the grilled chicken suddenly tasted my voice and the stories I have to tell.behind my book’s circuitous journey to flat, bereft of all its spices. This was a Of some consolation was that smallerits eventual publication by a news orga- business decision; Anvil’s owners are bookstores agreed to sell the book.nization—tells much As we were preparingnot only about the way to launch “Shadow ofthe court functions but Doubt” in March 2010,also about Philippine I received calls and textsociety. Those unfamil- As we were preparing to launch ‘Shadow of Doubt’ messages that Supremeiar with the Philippine in March 2010, I received calls and text messages Court Justice Presbiterojudiciary might believe Velasco, Jr. had filed athat the Supreme Court that Supreme Court Justice Presbitero Velasco, 13-count libel lawsuitis the least powerful against me. This maybranch of government Jr. had filed a 13-count libel lawsuit against me. be the first time inbecause it has no hold This may be the first time in the Philippines that a the Philippines that aover the purse or the sitting justice has suedsword. Yet my experi- sitting justice has sued a journalist for libel. a journalist for libel.ences with my book His lawsuit had to doconfirm that the court with a story publishedwields a strong, yet on the magazine’s web-quieter power derived site, www.newsbreak.from its mystique, a certain aura of among the wealthiest people in the ph, about how Velasco was gettingmystery which comes out of its silence. country and own businesses outside involved in local politics in the pro-There is power from being the least of publishing. Part of doing business cess of helping his son, who was thenknown branch of government, the in the Philippines means keeping good running for Congress. This news hadleast scrutinized, the least transparent. relations with the courts—in the event become part of the book’s epilogue.There is power from being at the top that business owners get embroiled in Almost a year later Velasco againof an exclusive club, where the public legal troubles. sued me; this time, my book was hishas little access and is given only a My disappointment, however, was target. Libel is a criminal offense in therare glimpse. short-lived. Newsbreak, where I was Philippines, and my case is now pend- Another lesson I learned along the editor in chief, agreed to publish it. ing in a Manila court. I was scheduledway is more about journalism than This magazine remains one of the to be arraigned in September, but myabout the court. Neither independent few news outlets in the Philippines lawyers asked for a deferment so thatpublishing nor independent journalism that nurtures and fearlessly supports the Justice Department, which is nothas yet taken firm root in Philippine independent journalism. (I dedicated under the Supreme Court’s supervi-society. We have a free and raucous my book to the team of colleagues and sion, can review the case. While wepress—until powerful vested interests friends there who stood behind this wait, I’ve posted bail so that I don’tare endangered or hurt. Then, only project.) Since publishing “Shadow of get arrested.a few of those roots turn out to be Doubt,” Newsbreak has published two After my book was launched,very strong. more books about corruption—one threatening text messages were sent on the Philippine military and the my way. Whoever was sending themMy Book’s Journey other on infrastructure contracts dur- clearly wanted to upset me. In essence ing the presidency of Gloria Arroyo. they implied that I should have beenI approached Anvil Publishing, Inc., Until recently, book publishing is not one of those killed in the Ampatuanthe largest publishing house in the something our magazine did. massacre—but who knows, I may be Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 57
  • 60. Writing the Booknext. (In 2009, 57 people, including 32 we seem not to understand the meaning have lost its moral rudder.journalists, were brazenly killed in the of independence, the value of research, A son of a judge in a province wrotesouthern province of Maguindanao.) and the role of journalists.” Only to me, saying that his father, after 28 The Supreme Court spokesman the presence of Newsbreak—and its years of serving in the judiciary, stilldismissed these threats as “funny” and independence—enabled my book to be lives in a rented house and drives a“ridiculous.” He insinuated that the published. For others who lack access jeep to work. His only luxury in life,threats were a gimmick to “generate to such an alternative, the expanding the son wrote, is the printed word.sales for the book.” His reaction and that presence of digital self-publishing The dutiful son said he was going toof others were also due to this being platforms offers possibilities that didn’t give the book to his father.the first time that a book pierced the exist only a few years ago. His letter has helped me get overcocoon of the Supreme Court. When On the positive side, I was surprised the initially bruising experience. I’mpeople, such as these justices, aren’t when my book became a bestseller, now starting to work on a sequel.accustomed to being held accountable, by Philippine standards. The Kindlethey expect that when they do things version was, at one time, among Marites Dañguilan Vitug, a 1987that might not look good, such acts Amazon’s top 10 bestselling books Nieman Fellow, is the author ofwon’t be made public. In turn, nothing about the courts. Readers told me “Shadow of Doubt: Probing thewill happen to them. that my words touched a soft spot in Supreme Court” and chairwoman of When the book was finally launched, their hearts, reaching the place that a the advisory board of Newsbreak, theI remember saying that “if there is story honestly told can. Clearly there independent magazine where she wasany sadness I feel, it’s a tiny core of is a longing for honesty and a desire editor in chief for almost 10 years.profound sadness that, in our society, for change in a judiciary perceived to Books Take Over Where Daily Journalism Can’t Go ‘It is difficult to do justice to the complexities of Zimbabwe’s story while still grabbing and sustaining readers’ interest when so much of what reporters hear is depressing.’ BY ANDREW MELDRUMA ll that has happened in Zim- fiction books as it is in daily journalism. babwe—including President But writing a book about Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe’s brutal oppres- becomes a perplexing task: It is dif-sion and the spirited challenge to his ficult to do justice to the complexitiesiron-fisted rule—provides compelling of Zimbabwe’s story while still grab-stories of suffering and success, torture bing and sustaining readers’ interestand kindness, cowardice and bravery. when so much of what reporters hear For years Mugabe has waged a is depressing.relentless campaign to silence the press Authors who take on this taskyet many journalists still manage to face another obstacle constructed byreport the news. But the epic nature Mugabe. He has always depicted theof Zimbabwe’s struggle for democracy country in stark terms of race—blackhas compelled many journalists to write vs. white. He asserts that Western,at greater length in books. white journalists cannot tell Zimba- Reporting can be tough, if not bwe’s story. They will, he contends,impossible, in Zimbabwe. To convey distort it to support the white minor-events with accuracy, fairness and ity who once ruled the country whenenough background and analysis so it was Rhodesia. This is, of course,that readers understand the country’s nonsense, but it is something thatsituation is as essential in writing non- lingers nonetheless in the minds of58 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 61. Voice to Visualmany authors—as it did in mine—when Mugabe and the Martyrdom of Zim- challenge, Mugabe returned to hiswriting about Zimbabwe. babwe,” Peter Godwin tackles similar tried and true strategy of unleashing When I wrote my book, “Where We challenges to mine—and the result is fearsome waves of torture and violenceHave Hope: A Memoir of Zimbabwe,” gripping and, at times, enthralling. across the country in which hundredsI solved these conundrums by telling Godwin, a white Zimbabwean, is an died and thousands of citizens havestories of the lives and circumstances accomplished writer and with a valid been horrifically abused.of Zimbabweans. Although a memoir, vision of his country. His first memoir, In “The Fear,” Godwin tells withmy book was actually more about “Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa,” is clarity the story of opposition leaderthe Zimbabweans I came to know in a rattling great read about growing Morgan Tsvangirai’s boycott of hismy 23 years of reporting from their up in Rhodesia and coming of age scheduled runoff election againstcountry. My time there stretched in Zimbabwe. In his second, “When a Mugabe. Godwin shows us why Tsvan-from it achieving independence in Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of girai had the understandable fear that1980 to 2003 when the government Africa,” Godwin told more of his family’s many of his supporters would be killedexpelled me. So in my book, I was history in Zimbabwe, especially about in the to describe both the time when how his father, a Jew who escaped from Godwin enables us to meet Deniasthe country offered a beacon of hope Poland, succeeded in passing himself Dombo, a rural organizing secretary foras it moved from racial war to racial off as British and raising his family Tsvangirai’s MDC party, who describesreconciliation and then the period in southern Africa, only to see it all how Mugabe’s militia surrounded hiswhen it descended into the steely turn to ashes as Zimbabwe crumbled. family’s hut. To save his wife and chil-grip of Mugabe and his ruling party, “The Fear” is less about Godwin dren he ran outside and was beatenZANU-PF. and more about Zimbabwe. As he unconscious. The violent gang left for Relying on my journalistic style of travels through the country with his a brief spell, giving a neighbor enoughstorytelling, I focused on those I’d irrepressible sister, Georgina, it is sto- time to drag Dombo into the nearbyencountered. Though their stories often ries of Zimbabweans, black and white, woods and cover him with branches.told of terrible violence and repres- that form the backbone of this book. When the thugs returned, they couldn’tsion, I worked to include compelling Godwin, who now lives in New York find him, and later he was taken to amoments of the inspiring bravery, City, returned to Zimbabwe in 2008 at hospital in Harare, where his brokendetermination and humor that are a time when it appeared that Mugabe arms and legs were put in casts. Atso much a part of the Zimbabwean had lost the presidential election and the time Godwin speaks with him,story—and leave the reader feeling was about to be forced from office. But Dombo is tormented by not knowingsome sense of hope about the future. the sly, master politician, now in his how his wife and children are surviving 80’s, still outmaneuvered everyone— without him.‘The Fear’ domestically and internationally—to “The Fear” ends with a chilling stay in power. story about Chenjerai Mangezo, anIn his recent book, “The Fear: Robert To respond to the 2008 electoral MDC member in rural Bindura who Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 59
  • 62. Writing the Bookstood in elections for a post in the to. Yes, there are church elders,Bindura Rural District Council, which but at times you need somebodyis a hardline ZANU-PF stronghold. very close.Mangezo won, and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF When I call, my son asks me,officials were so enraged they went to “Mom can you please buy mehis hut where they chanted that they clothes?” Some of his friends,would kill him. To save his family he their mothers are also here inleft his hut to meet the gang. He was South Africa, so he also likesbeaten with rocks and logs and iron asking for the same things theybars. He shouted to his assailants “You get from their parents: “Can youhad better be sure to kill me, because please buy me such and suchif you don’t, I am going to come after a thing?” Every time, I makeyou, all of you. I know who you are.” sure I buy it for him, so that he Miraculously, Mangezo survives. As doesn’t feel that he is a lonelyhe did with Dombo, Godwin takes us child without a Mangezo’s hospital room in Harare,where he was similarly immobilized A few years ago, I heard a jokewith casts on his arms and legs. When making the rounds in Zimbabwe. “HowMangezo heard that the swearing-in do you define an optimist?” the jokeceremony for Bindura’s rural councilors goes. The answer: “A Zimbabweanwas being held, he defied doctors’ 24 oral histories that she and Peter who thinks the country has hit rockorders to be there. He did not fit in Orner compiled in “Hope Deferred: bottom.” Its grim humor pokes funa car because of his casts so he rode Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives.” Their at the situation where even as theirin the open back of a pickup truck. book is part of the “Voice of Witness” country tumbles from crisis to crisis,His appearance confounded Mugabe’s series published by McSweeney’s the people remain full of hope.councilors who had assumed he was Books. These narrated histories are The challenge in writing about Zim-either dead or too terrified to return. bleak and full of suffering, yet those babwe is first to be able to talk withHe had festooned his plaster casts who tell them are brimming with life people freely—with them feeling safewith MDC slogans and, as God- and tenacity and courage. about the encounter—and then to dowin writes, took the kind of report-“great delight in ing that digs intotelling the local the complexitiesjournalists there The challenge in writing about Zimbabwe is first to be able of people’s lives.for the opening Their depth ofhow ZANU had to talk with people freely—with them feeling safe about the suffering will beattempted to apparent. T heeliminate him.” encounter—and then to do the kind of reporting that digs challenge is to M a n g e z o into the complexities of people’s lives. convey the spiritrecovered and and sense of cour-returned to his age, the humor,rural home, where and the acts ofhe lives among heroism that thethe people who tried to kill him. He Here is an excerpt from an oral Zimbabwean people engage in everyquickly began helping others who had history of a Zimbabwean woman who day, against all odds, as they continue tobeen beaten, finding medical treatment works as a house servant in Cape fight for democracy in their governmentfor them. In Godwin’s capable hands, Town, 1,000 miles from her family and prosperity in their economy.Mangezo’s buoyant, gleefully defiant in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe:personality shines through. It is his Andrew Meldrum, a 2008 Niemanpersonal story and other harrowing I wish things could really change Fellow, is senior editor at GlobalPost.ones that become the strong spine of and I could go home. That would From 1980 to 2007 he worked in“The Fear.” be best for me. Here it’s okay, Zimbabwe and South Africa, writing but there are times when you for The Guardian, The Economist,‘Hope Deferred’ need your family around, like and several other publications. when you get sick and there’sAuthor Annie Holmes, raised in Zimba- no one to look after you, whenbwe, deftly enables her fellow citizens’ you miss your family, and whenvoices to be heard in a collection of you need somebody close to talk60 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 63. Voice to Visual A N E SSAY IN WORDS AND P HOTOGR APHS Transit: An Assignment and an Idea— Now a Book, Exhibit and Website BY ESPEN RASMUSSENS even years in the making, my they manage to survive and portray It started in 2004 when I made my book “Transit” is now on the the myriad challenges they confront. first trip to Chad, on the border with table in front of me. Its pages Their faces—sometimes their bodies the warring Darfur region of Sudan.tell stories about people on the run, of alone—convey fears they endure, joy- Working as a freelance photojournalist,those who are displaced in their own ful moments they embrace, and hopes I sent reports about refugees to thecountry and those who are forced to they hold inside. Norwegian newspaper VG.leave it. My photographs show how “Transit” did not begin as a book. My own interest in people’s expe- A poster for his exhibition shows displaced people who sought refuge in a church in Rubare, Democratic Republic of the Congo. They fled their village of Ntamugenga after rebels attacked and burned their houses. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 61
  • 64. Writing the BookA boy practices gymnastics on the floor of a hut in a slum outside Quibdo in western Colombia.More than 11,000 internally displaced people live in this area.riences with displacement, already correspondent in Paris, then as a A Visual Bookkeen when I arrived in Chad, only picture editor on staff in Norway. Istrengthened during my time there. I took some trips for VG and produced After four trips I knew I wanted tosaw few stories about the journeys that major feature articles about people on create a book. So when I applied torefugees like these make to resettle in the run. While on these assignments, the Freedom of Expression Foundationunfamiliar places. I wanted to show I always asked to stay longer in the in Oslo for support, I let them knowwhat it is like to flee one’s home and field—relying on my holiday and per- that I would convey these journeys notarrive somewhere else, often in times sonal leave—so I could go more deeply only in a book, but in an exhibitionof conflict and despair, and then live into the story. Still, the vast majority and a website since I believe all ofin a foreign place and feel forgotten. of the trips I took for “Transit” lasted these vehicles are necessary to make Since my first trip to Chad, I have two or three weeks and were taken on a book successful. I received $60,000been closely associated with VG, my own initiative when I was on an from the foundation; this meant I couldfirst as a freelance photographer and unpaid leave. intensify my efforts. To finance myPhoto and text by Espen Rasmussen.62 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 65. Voice to VisualA Janjaweed militia soldier in Darfur, Sudan where the rebel group has terrorized the localpopulation since 2003.trips, I sold parts of these stories to my about how portraits and short feature way, many of them because of workingnewspaper. With my background as a stories might work. Along the way I simultaneously as a staff picture editorreporter and a photographer, I usually abandoned some of these ideas, such as at a newspaper while producing my owntravel by myself; this is beneficial in featuring close-up portraits of refugees. project as a photojournalist. Carvingkeeping costs low and enabling me to Making such decisions is critical out the time to work on “Transit” hasget as close as possible to the people in being sure that the book becomes been problematic. I tried to plan myI photograph. something greater than a collection trips well in advance so I could let VG Once I had this grant, I began to of individual reports. I had to figure know my travel schedule and therefocus on the elements I’d need for out how to tie images together and was time to find a temporary replace-the people’s journeys to be visualized weave words with photographs, all in ment for me. At times I’ve traveled oncoherently on the pages of a book. I ways that worked well with the book’s short notice, such as when I coveredconsidered using repetitive images or overall design. the war in Georgia. Then there weredoing a series of images, and I thought I encountered challenges along the times I was not able to travel to areas Photo and text by Espen Rasmussen. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 63
  • 66. Writing the BookI wanted to visit because I could not when I was at VG. I had also used a video camera in theleave my job at the paper. A year later my plans for a book field so I edited that work down to four These days a photography book and an exhibition turned more serious films that became part of the exhibitionis usually paired with an exhibition. when I presented part of the project and now appear on the interactiveWhen I shot for VG, I’d look for solid at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo. website ( thatstories that stood well on their own. In The center decided to host a large a design agency developed at a low cost.thinking about “Transit,” my perspec- exhibition—and offered the financial Having a website is important sincetive would broaden and I’d look for resources to make it happen—so this I want as many people as possible todifferent ways to see the projecttell these stories. and absorb itsThis additional stories. I decidedwork demanded to post more pic-a lot of time as I’d I encountered challenges along the way, many of them tures (181) onsearch for more because of working simultaneously as a staff picture editor the website thanpersonal stories are in the bookas well as ones at a newspaper while producing my own project as a or exhibition. Iabout communi- also created aties that widened photojournalist. Carving out the time to work on ‘Transit’ has Facebook pageand deepened been problematic. for the “Transit”my p o r t ray a l project that I useof refugees and to post updatestheir circum- about it.stances, past, For the mostpresent and future. meant that publishing my book became part, my newspaper gave me the room The ability to concentrate for several more realistic, especially since I still had I needed to work on this project. Thereweeks on the same story was crucial some money saved from the Freedom were times when I had to fight for thefor the production of the book and of Expression Foundation. By 2010, room, but those times were counterbal-exhibition. But with my job at the I put together dummies of the book anced by the ways that the “Transit”newspaper and my family—my wife to demonstrate what I wanted it to project became a natural part of myand two young children—I had to limit look like, and Dewi Lewis Publishing work for the newspaper. Producing thisthe time for each reporting trip to a agreed to release it. book while simultaneously creating anmaximum of three weeks. This has Still, editing the book and the exhibition, designing a website, andforced me to work intensively. I figured exhibition required an enormous launching a Facebook page—all ofout how to dig deeply into stories in amount of time. During the past four which are essential to having a pho-a relatively short period. What makes years I made a number of book dum- tography book be noticed—requiredthis work is the preparation I do in mies using material I had collected. an excessive amount of work.advance of my departure. Doing this gave me ways to see what What made this book a reality were In 2008 I took a year’s leave from was missing and the opportunity to unpaid holidays and personal leaves,my newspaper job to devote time to my test out different narrative devices, benevolent bosses, and, of course,“Transit” project. During this period, I which was useful in determining unwavering dedication.worked as a freelance photographer for the shape of stories. As my deadlinenewspapers and magazines, but I had approached, I had to use whatever Espen Rasmussen is a picture editorthe opportunity to focus on “Transit” time I could find outside of my day at VG, Norway’s largest newspaper.for extended periods, whether it was job at VG to look through thousandsin my home office or in the field. I of photographs, make selections, edittraveled more than I normally did and write captions.64 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 67. Voice to VisualWhat had been one of Baghdad’s most popular restaurants was reopened in Damascus, Syria.The owner and all of the staff are Iraqi refugees. Photo and text by Espen Rasmussen. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 65
  • 68. Writing the BookIn a Roma camp in Serbia, homes are made from plastic, tarpaulins and containers. When itrains, the houses and streets fill with water.Photo and text by Espen Rasmussen.66 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 69. Voice to VisualIn Yemen, 3-year-old twins Hassan and Hossin and their 2-year-old sister Hannan are tied upfor six hours a day while their mother is at work. “I have to tie them up,” says Selma AhmedAdem, their mother. “There is nobody here to look after them and I am afraid they will crawlout of the window while I’m away.” Photo and text by Espen Rasmussen. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 67
  • 70. Writing the Book A Photography Book—Absorbed in Print and On the iPad ‘In “Capitolio,” a book and an iPad app, Magnum photographer Christopher Anderson connects circumstances of Caracas’s common folk with the failure of the country’s urban modernization.’ BY BORIS MUÑOZD uring the last decade Details as Context Venezuela’s “Bolivar- ian Revolution,” led Caracas is often shrouded inby President Hugo Chávez, heavy rain clouds. Behind, andhas generated a plethora of sometimes above, the clouds,photographic images. It is not the city’s poor neighborhoodspossible to think of my country perch on hills. Here, Andersonwithout conjuring up images portrays the residents who liveof mass protests and marches in shadows and struggle withor, conversely, emblematic ones violence. In his panoramas, theof its strongman, the still un- light is not transparent; it hascontested protagonist Chávez. a grainy quality—a metaphorThen there is also the violence for Caracas’s reality, since itand chaos inhabiting sections is not easy to determine theof Caracas, Venezuela’s capital. city’s exact shape because of In “Capitolio,” a book and the murky light. His black andan iPad app, Magnum photog- white images have a porousrapher Christopher Anderson, quality like pages of an oldconnects the circumstances of newspaper, and this gives theCaracas’s common folk with the failure and badly maintained highways and photographs a certain pulp, and aof the country’s urban modernization. with the Capitolio, the domed build- sensationalist tone.It is in an almost religious sense that ing that houses the national govern- In Anderson’s images, details pro-he portrays Caracas as a battlefield ment, a radiant symbol of Venezuela’s vide context, as parts explain the whole.between the forces of good and evil. dysfunctional political system. All are At least this happens when viewed byImages he uses to tell these stories emblematic of the betrayal of the a Venezuelan who is quite familiarexist in the difficult crossroads between promise of an abundant future fueled with Caracas. To reflect the high levelphotojournalism and art photography, by petro-dollars. of violence, for example, he displaysbetween critique and propaganda: all Anderson portrays the collapse a wall with dozens of handprints, butof this is located somewhere in the of modernity by showing the jungle does so without explanation. Followingmiddle between a critical vision and atmosphere and barbarism that has that a man with a pistol is seen stand-mystification. emerged in its place. As a visual meta- ing guard on a street corner. Next is To open the hardcover book is to phor, his photographs depict misery a two-page image of a face with eyesconfront a wall of images of poor and human depravity now found in shining through a profound darkness,Caracas neighborhoods, the barrios. the cracks of building facades and reflecting the light from a televisionThe convoluted architecture of these beneath the concrete park benches. As screen. At the same time, these samedisheveled dwellings speaks to the if to emphasize his point with irony, eyes appear to be watching us frommiserable existence of so many people Anderson cites a stanza of the Ven- behind the on the margins. Anderson ezuelan national anthem: “If tyranny Three young men, probably delin-contrasts such scenes of poverty with raises its voice, follow the example of quents, appear on the next pages. Dothe skyscrapers of Caracas’s Parque Caracas.” Caracas epitomizes to him the handprints belong to them? Then,Central, which once were the tallest the place where the manifest destiny we peer into a holding cell in a policebuildings in Latin America. He also of freedom and revolution meet failed station. On the wall hang chains andcompares them with the congested modernity and corruption. handcuffs that presumably restrained68 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 71. Voice to Visualthe youths’ hands. Later, we see a stainon the sidewalk, then feet of indiffer-ent onlookers. We suppose the stainis fresh blood. Urban imprints of violence areeverywhere, but the rhythm of theseimages leaves the viewer with ambigu-ous impulses. First, one has a senseof being repulsed, then a feeling ofbeing fascinated with the portrayalsof danger and brutality. Until almosthalfway through the book, all a readerfinds is a cinematic succession of suchstorytelling. To those without personalacquaintance with these places andpeople, the absence of explicit contextcould be problematic. It could lead toa false conclusion that all of Venezuelais an enormous violent barrio withchaotic streets and walls defaced by Hugo Chávez and his entourage, 2006. Photo by Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos.graffiti. Soon, Anderson’s portraits appearand usher in a sense of intimacy. His of opulence and poverty. Later, he Digital Enhancementphotograph of a boy standing on a wall assumes an ironic distance in the facesymbolically separating the barrio from of the dysfunctional political process he Today’s digital enhancement of booksthe city is among the best in “Capitolio.” has observed. His final images provide enables us to discover different dimen-Splendid, too, is one of a couple whose commentary about the morality of sions of this project—and find answersbodies interlock in an intense dance the “new man”—the revolutionary. In to what might have puzzled us in thewith overtones of street fighting and what seems the oddest section of his print edition. Does the face belong toerotic choreography. Later, we arrive book, Anderson quotes José Martí, the Chávez? Because a companion app forat images of Venezuela’s important hero-martyr of the Cuban revolution: “Capitolio” was created for the iPad,mining centers. These serve as an we can find out in an interview withallegory for a society accustomed to Men are like stars Anderson that while the picture is notliving off the riches of its underground Some generate of Chávez, it is, in his words, “someoneresources. With a dramatic use of light Their own light who could be Chávez, or could beand contrast, Anderson pays tribute to While others reflect many Latin American leaders.” TheSebastião Salgado, who is the master The brilliance idea he is conveying is that dictatorsepic photographer of migration and They receive. and supreme leaders govern from thelaborers. “other world.” And though he doesn’t Anderson challenges us to think He then shows Chávez in a Carib- say so, Anderson seems to suggest thatabout what binds these supersized bean version of German director this is the vital essence of their power.images to his central message. In Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda film While satisfactory, the iPad experi-this case, they depict a nation with “Triumph of the Will,” speaking as ence of “Capitolio” lacked for me theabundant natural resources that has commander and president from the same striking visual impact that thelost its way and identity in the face “people’s balcony.” photographs had in the oversizedof modernization as Venezuelans The final photograph in the book hardcover book. Yet, the digital “read-experience revolutionary delirium in shows a grotesque close-up of a face ing” experience provided invaluablea time of consumerism and global that looks like Chávez. This face conveys information about Anderson’s visioncapitalism. Anderson weaves this a sense of satanic majesty with its that I didn’t get from the printed book.theme through “Capitolio,” though exaggerated features, and it looks over On the iPad, for example, Andersonhe is not entirely successful, in part the world from a close yet paradoxi- displayed his favorite photos in abecause of the absence of a sequential cally inaccessible vantage point. But “Director’s Cut,” and while this collec-narrative needed to guide readers to the image is neither a portrait nor is tion is less ambitious, it’s also moresuch a conclusion. it journalistic. Filled with pathos and concentrated and clear. Anderson appears transformed by black magic, this photograph creates Then there is the interview withwhat he has seen. At first he seems an almost surreal archetype as the Anderson, done by photojournalist Timbewildered by the stark contrasts embodiment of evil. Hetherington, who was killed while Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 69
  • 72. Writing the Bookworking in Libya in April. “I’m notsure I can call this book journalism,”Anderson tells him. “I do comment onthe nature of journalism. I didn’t setout to tell the story of Venezuela orto report something about Venezuela.This book is about an experience ofVenezuela, and there are truths in thatexperience, but they are my truths.”This seems strange for Anderson tosay since many of the images on thepages of “Capitolio” are part of the bodyof journalistic work he did between2004 and 2008 that was publishedin magazines such as Newsweek.Anderson also explains that he wantedto present a cinematic experience asa continuum of his photographs. Hewas not looking for an iconic image,he tells us, but one wonders about thiswhen staring at the book’s haunting The “Capitolio” iPad app includes an interview with photographer Christopher Andersonfinal image. as well as photos not included in the book. Photo by Jonathan Seitz. Exploring his book and its iPadapp leads to a fuller and clearersense of Anderson’s intentions with ishment. In leaving the impression of taught literature and culture at thethis project. His images embed the deep polarization and the vision of evil Universidad Central de Venezuela.message he wanted to deliver about triumphing over good, Anderson does He is a freelance journalist in thethe wasteful direction of Venezuela’s not do justice to a society as complex United States. June Carolyn Erlick,political course. He shows us a nation as Venezuela’s. editor in chief of ReVista: Harvardshrouded in the limbo of violence Review of Latin America, translatedand the backward progress of decay Boris Muñoz, a 2010 Nieman this article.with Chávez seen as almost a natural Fellow, was editor in chief of Nuevaoutcome and the people’s divine pun- Sociedad, editor of Exceso, and Caracas, 2004. Photo by Christopher Anderson/Magnum Photos.70 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 73. N IEMAN N OTES Trying to Make a Difference A series that points the way to preventing deaths when police respond to 911 calls involving the mentally ill elicits praise, but not change or even a public conversation. BY ANNMARIE TIMMINS I n the first six months of this families, no one was sounding had fired only to save their own year, New Hampshire police an alarm. lives. I couldn’t disagree after officers shot four mentally ill Not the mental health provid- reading the state’s investigative people as they suffered suicidal ers. Not the police. Not even the reports. The officers would have breakdowns. Three died and the media. been stabbed or shot had they fourth lost his left leg. It was a It was enough, apparently, that not fired. tally without precedent in the the state had justified each shoot- But I believed these shootings state, and save for the victims’ ing, concluding that the officers raised much bigger questionsFamily and friends gather to mourn a man who was fatally shot by police. His killing was part of a Concord (N.H.) Monitor investigationinto police shootings of mentally ill people. Photo by Alexander Cohn/Concord Monitor. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 71
  • 74. Nieman Notesthat weren’t being asked. Could these cies: They will always respond to a more likely months earlier when thefatal encounters have been avoided? distraught caller, no matter the time victims stopped taking their medica-Would better access to mental health or the person’s ability to pay. tions, decided not to seek professionalcounseling have made a difference? Our four-part series, “Desper- help, or found themselves unable toWhy had the police become the first ate Acts, Violent Endings,” ran in afford mental health care. Add shrink-responders to the mentally ill? And September. The feedback from our ing budgets for mental health servicesdid they have training for these calls? subjects was encouraging. They felt and an unpromising economy, and the My editors and I decided to start we had avoided assigning blame and situation grows more complicated.that conversation. Over two months had made a complex problem easier Hanna and I talked about the seriesthis summer, my colleague Maddie to understand. on two popular shows at the local radioHanna and I interviewed police officers, I thought my biggest disappoint- station. We got a few calls and kudoscommunity mental health providers, ment was going to be the story we for a job well done but not what westate officials, and victims’ families in couldn’t land. Hanna had done exten- hoped for: Someone with authorityan effort to answer those questions. Two sive interviews with a police officer and to make this a public conversation.months of reporting time is a generous the relatives of a suicidal man he’d When the host asked me what Igift at the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, a shot a few years ago. With help from a thought the series had accomplished, Idaily community newspaper with only priest, the officer and the relatives had was honest. I told her I’ve seen storiesnine reporters. That’s how important reconciled with each other. That story about abused animals generate morethe paper viewed its responsibility to was going to end our series until the attention and reaction.break this near silence. officer’s wife decided their kids were Our interviews gave us more insight too young to learn that their father Getting Resultsthan we could have hoped for. Police had killed a man.officers shared their fear of responding Unfortunately, there were bigger I have experienced this frustrationto suicidal 911 calls, especially when disappointments. Despite our report- once before, when I covered the clergythe caller is armed as these victims ing and the fact that our stories had abuse scandal in New Hampshire.were. We learned that only two police been widely read in print and online, Our then attorney general had forceddepartments in the state provided the series has not made the differ- our Catholic diocese to make publicofficers in-depth training on handling ence we hoped. It didn’t generate the nearly 10,000 pages of internal churchcalls involving the mentally ill. Those conversation our state needs to have. records that showed how fiercely thedepartments believed the training had Local mental health providers church had protected its abusive priestsdramatically reduced the number of praised the series for asking hard instead of the children being raped.injuries to both the mentally ill in questions but have not publicly asked I was certain the church’s owncrisis and the responding officers. those questions themselves. A retired records—as opposed to just allegations Meanwhile, none of the depart- police chief who teaches police tactics from victims—would persuade Newments involved in the shootings had told us the stories prompted him to Hampshire Catholics to demand morepursued this extra training, mainly offer more mental health expertise accountability and transparency frombecause they couldn’t afford to pay to his pupils. But no one in the law their priests and bishop. What moreofficers overtime to attend. And our enforcement community has called for could they need than their church’sstate’s attorney general, the highest law a review of police training. own meticulous records of illegal andenforcement officer in New Hampshire, The two departments that offer destructive behavior?had no intention of requiring or even in-depth training on responding to The revolution I hoped for didn’tsuggesting that all police departments mental health calls offered to share happen. The Catholics already agitat-expand officer training. their training with other departments ing for safer churches agitated more We were able to show how state in ways they might find affordable. fiercely. But there were too many peoplebudget cuts and insurance limits had They haven’t had any takers. who called my reporting a witch-huntreduced the availability of mental The fear of lawsuits filed by the and an unfair attack on the services. One victim had been families of victims is undoubtedly one Their leaders had sinned, they said,hospitalized twice for psychiatric ill- reason law enforcement officials have and deserved forgiveness, not suchnesses but was released before she was remained silent. One of this year’s intense scrutiny.well because her insurance capped shooting victims is planning to sue For a long time afterward, I ques-her hospital stays to 11 days. Another his shooters. Families of the other tioned my role as a community reporter.victim had stopped taking one of his victims still have three years to decide It’s supposed to work like this: Theschizophrenia medications after he lost whether to do the same. upside of not having a worldwide audi-his job and couldn’t afford the pills. There is no easy answer here. Where ence is the opportunity to see up close It became easier to see why the did these final encounters really begin? how your work can make a difference.police were increasingly being called It wasn’t with the 911 calls that brought You give readers what they need toto respond to mental health emergen- the police to the victims’ homes. It was know and then report how they use72 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 75. Nieman Notesthat information to demand change lar park that had become a place for about deadly encounters between theor create better public policy or get public, anonymous sex, the city took mentally ill and the police will stillattention from their elected leaders. action and the park is now a safe, happen. In these moments, I remind myself comfortable place.of all those stories that did resonate I think about the domestic and Annmarie Timmins, a 2011 Niemanand persuade people to make change. sexual assault victims who’ve let me Fellow, has been a reporter with the Gay couples could not jointly adopt tell their stories in hopes of educat- Concord (N.H.) Monitor in Concordchildren in all 10 counties within ing the public. One of those stories for 19 years. She has won state andNew Hampshire until I reported how prompted the creation of a state policy regional reporting awards, includingdifferently probate court judges were on handling such calls. the first Donald M. Murrayreading the adoption law. I’ve still got a winning record, I Outstanding Journalism Award from After I wrote stories about a popu- realize. And maybe this conversation the New Hampshire Writers Project. 1966 health journalism and health commu- H. Brandt Ayers received the nication curricula and training needs Carr Van Anda Award from Ohio in Mozambique. The evaluation was University’s E.W. Scripps School of Robert A. Caro has been named done for the Johns Hopkins University Journalism in late September.the 2011 Janet Weis Fellow in Contem- Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Ayers has served as the editor andporary Letters at Bucknell University. Center for Communication Programs, publisher of The Anniston Star in his The Weis fellowship is an annual which has a major grant from the native Alabama since 1969. During thataward recognizing “an individual who United States Agency for International time, the newspaper has become wellrepresents the very highest level of Development (USAID) to combat known for its courageous reportingachievement in the craft of writing communicable diseases with a focus and editorial independence, and Timewithin the realms of fiction, nonfiction, on HIV/AIDS. He was part of a team magazine twice named it the “bestor biography,” according to the school’s from Empowering Communications, small newspaper in the United States.”website. Previous winners include John which is assisting with journalism “Brandt Ayers is a bit of a livingUpdike, Joyce Carol Oates, and Toni and media initiatives in Mozambique. legend in the American newspaperMorrison. Caro will deliver a lecture He met with administrators, faculty industry, and is perhaps the best-knownat Bucknell in February. and students at Polytechnic University publisher/editor of what we often refer “Robert Caro is a standard-setter in the capital city of Maputo, which to as ‘community newspapers,’ ” saidfor other political historians,” Bucknell is the site of a new health journalism professor Bill Reader, who nominatedpresident John Bravman said. “As the and health communication initiative. Ayers. “The Anniston Star has been apresidential election year begins, we The university is establishing a new paper to watch for me for my entirewill look forward to hearing from a health communication center and career, both as a full-time workingwriter with Mr. Caro’s extraordinary life radio station and will create curricula journalist and later as a journalist-of insights into the presidency, govern- at the undergraduate level and in a scholar and journalism professor.”ment and American decision-making.” new master’s degree program that is At the awards ceremony, Ayers Caro is a historian and biographer being designed with support from the delivered a speech, entitled “Thebest known for his works on New USAID grant to Johns Hopkins. News Stops Here,” about the value ofYork’s master builder Robert Moses “Mozambique is a vibrant, devel- community newspapers in the modernand President Lyndon B. Johnson. “The oping nation emerging from its Por- news environment.Passage of Power,” the fourth volume tuguese colonial history and facing “The Wall Street Journal isn’t goingin Caro’s series about Johnson, will serious health challenges when one of to cover your mayor’s race and Thebe published by Knopf in May. Over six of its people have contracted HIV/ New York Times will not follow thethe past three decades, Caro’s Johnson AIDS and the government has launched rising football fortunes of two rival highbooks have received two National Book a nationwide campaign to fight it,” schools,” he said. “Only our printedCritics Circle awards, a National Book Aumente said. “A new generation of papers or websites will do that.”Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. trained health journalists and health “Regardless of whether the paper is communicators is urgently needed and delivered on paper or by pixels, human 1968 my recommendations deal with new nature is a constant,” he concluded. programs the university can launch “It is a centripetal force, constantly and practical continuing education drawing us to a center. Call it the town Jerome Aumente, professor emeri- programs for journalists already in square or the back porch. Y’all come!”tus at Rutgers University, evaluated the field.” Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 73
  • 76. Nieman Notes A Posthumous Tribute to a Journalist’s Career The family of the late Ameen a prominent figure in the country Akhalwaya, NF ’82, has published after the end of apartheid, joining “Comrades and Memsahibs,” a col- the South African Broadcasting lection of his writings. Corporation as executive editor of Before he died of cancer in 1998, current affairs in 1993 and working Akhalwaya had been working on as media director in 1996 for Cape a memoir. His wife Farida and Town’s 2004 Olympic bid. son Zaytoon—along with friends “Ameen’s columns, news reports, Joseph Thloloe, NF ’89, and and general analysis provide us Quraysh Patel—have brought his with a fascinating perspective on vision into print. our society from the 1970’s to the From his earliest writing with recent ’90’s,” wrote Thloloe, South the Rand Daily Mail, where he Africa’s press ombudsman, in the worked in the ’70’s, to his ground- book’s foreword. “His lens is con- breaking work as the founder of stantly adjusted from the intensely the alternative newspaper The personal to the wider view of the Indicator in 1985, Akhalwaya was world. This collection provides us a leading voice for press freedom with insights into Ameen’s world in South Africa. He continued to be and into Ameen.” 1969 love of adventure—and how they all the longest distance across the island. came together with cars. “I could not have done this without “Larry was all about the future,” being managed from home by my wife, Marvin “Larry” Allison, a reporter wrote columnist Tim Grobarty. “He Anna, who was with me and son Nickand editor who spent more than 50 loved fast cars—he had the fastest car on our Nieman year, or without Henryyears at the Press-Telegram of Long we’ve ever been in, a Mercedes S600, being such a gosh-darn loveable pooch,”Beach, California, died on October 30th and it was like being shot into space Almond wrote in an e-mail to Niemanof complications from pneumonia. when he took us for a spin in it. And Reports. “He opened doors and wal-He was 77. he kept on top of every Apple product. lets from hundreds of well-wishers to In 1957 Allison joined the Indepen- He had all of them.” donate to our chosen charity—Houndsdent Press-Telegram, as the paper was Allison also served at one time for Heroes, which trains assistancethen known, as a reporter. He went as president of the Associated Press dogs for injured British service andon to hold nearly every position at the Managing Editors and was involved emergency service personnel.”paper and became editor in 1978 after with several philanthropic groups, Almond chronicled the experiencetwo years working for Knight Ridder including the United Way and the in a blog at www.henryandpetesveryat the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader Museum of Latin-American Art. the Detroit Free Press. He became He is survived by his wife, Patricia, Currently a freelance writer livingeditorial page editor in 1990 and held and their son. in the United Kingdom, Almond hasthat position until his death. worked as a reporter at the Cleveland “He was a consummate newspaper- 1981 Press, The Washington Times, and Theman who loved coming to work every Daily Telegraph. His book “Aviation:day,” said Rich Archbold, a former The Early Years” was published ineditor hired by Allison, in one of the Peter Almond and his springer 1997; he is looking for a publisher formany tributes on the Press-Telegram spaniel Henry completed a five-month, two more aviation books and a “He had ink in his veins and 1,237-mile walk across the length ofwill leave an unforgettable legacy.” Great Britain in October. The pair Rose Economou, a broadcast Many of the tributes spoke to raised more than $15,000 for charity journalist turned professor, died onAllison’s interest in new technology while following the “Land’s End to October 2nd at her home in Oak Park,and gadgets, his active lifestyle and John O’Groats” route, considered to be Illinois. She was 65.74 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 77. Nieman Notes The Arab Press: Exploring Challenges and Possibilities Egyptian journalist has a long way to go Sabah Hamamou, in moving out from speaking from under Mubarak’s Cairo via Skype, shadow. brought a sense Hamamou and of immediacy to Khouri agreed that a panel discussion the news media’s about the Arab lack of credibility press when she in the Arab world shared news of an presents a major initiative to launch challenge for jour- an independent TV nalists. Hamamou channel. said the state-run A group of activ- media repor ted ists, journalists and that Tahrir Square intellectuals plan to was empty at a Columnist Rami G. Khouri, NF ’02, Tufts University anthropology profes- raise money for the sor Amahl Bishara, and Egyptian journalist Sabah Hamamou (speaking time that other channel through an via Skype) discuss the future of the Arab press. Photo By Jonathan Seitz. broadcasters were initial public offer- covering the pro- ing, Hamamou, tests there. Khouri deputy business said the media’s editor at Al-Ahram newspaper in ally syndicated column, and Amahl “massive loss of credibility” is acute Cairo, told the audience gathered Bishara, an anthropology professor among people under age 29 who at the Lippmann House in late at Tufts University who studies news make up half of the population in October. coverage of Palestine. the Arab world. Hamamou was one of three Hamamou said the fall of Presi- He singled out Al-Jazeera, based panelists at a forum, “The Arab dent Hosni Mubarak’s regime in in Doha, Qatar, for the quality and Press: Can It Keep Up With Political February fueled hopes for rapid relevance of its reporting and said Transformations?”, moderated by change. Yet the storming in October that it is crucial for journalists to Melissa Ludtke, NF ’92, editor of of a television station by the Supreme be a party to the writing of new Nieman Reports. Joining Hamamou Council of the Armed Forces to constitutions in Arab countries so were Rami G. Khouri, NF ’02, a prevent a well-known columnist they can advocate for provisions veteran observer of the Arab news from appearing on a popular show that stipulate protections for the media who writes an internation- demonstrated that the country still media. A native of Chicago’s South Side, returned to Chicago with CBS affiliate produced documentaries about gangEconomou had her first brush with WBBM as a field and documentary violence and social welfare, launchedthe national spotlight as a 25-year-old producer and worked on the Emmy a documentary company called With“advance man” for presidential candi- Award-winning 1978 report “Agent Heart Productions, and had beendate Ed Muskie’s primary campaign in Orange: The Human Harvest.” Fol- working on a film about food safety1972. It was such an unusual position lowing her Nieman year, she moved for several years.for a woman in those days that she to CBS News and became a producer, “She was a person more passionateand a female colleague were profiled working with Charles Kuralt on “CBS about social justice, more passionatein Time magazine. News Sunday Morning.” about honest journalism, more pas- After that foray into political Economou also worked on a number sionate about the belief that everycampaigns ended unsuccessfully, she of documentaries for PBS’s “Frontline,” individual should be totally involvedmoved into broadcasting with jobs at producing an episode called “Not One in the world around them than anyonelocal stations in Richmond, Virginia of the Boys” in 1984 about the growing else,” said Hodding Carter III, NFand Washington, D.C. In 1977 she number of women in politics. She also ’66, a longtime friend. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 75
  • 78. Nieman Notes A.C. Thompson of ProPublica Named Winner of 2011 I.F. Stone Award By Jonathan Seitz A.C. Thompson, whose reporting from life, when he was shot, beaten and post-Katrina New Orleans revealed left to die in the back of a car that hate crimes and police brutality, is was set on fire to destroy his remains. the winner of the 2011 I.F. Stone That the burned-out car was still Medal for Journalistic Independence. sitting on the levee three years later A reporter with ProPublica, was just one of the many signs that Thompson spent a year and a half Thompson was entering a differ- investigating two cases involving ent world when he arrived in New racially charged attacks that occurred Orleans. He admitted that when he in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina arrived, he “was like Bambi … just made landfall in 2005. As a result a naïve child.” of his reporting in 2007 and 2008, “This is a crazy place,” he recalled federal prosecutors opened cases thinking. “You kill people, burn up against a private citizen and five their bodies, and just leave it there. police officers. … In other places, you at least try In his acceptance speech at to hide the evidence.” Boston University (BU) in October, His other major investigation Thompson said the prominent story involved Donnell Herrington, a black line in the media after Katrina was man who survived two close-range that poor blacks were wreaking havoc shotgun blasts while he and two in the already ravaged city. He did companions were walking through a not find this to be the case when he A.C. Thompson, a reporter at ProPublica, white neighborhood to reach a Coast went there. talks about his post-Katrina investiga- Guard evacuation site. “Some of the worst criminals were tions. Photo by Lisa Abitbol. Thompson tracked down the wearing uniforms,” he said. “The shooter, a white man named Roland police force was the biggest gang Bourgeois, Jr., and uncovered a in town.” with only a vague report alleging general air of impunity for white- This became most apparent in police misconduct, Thompson recon- on-black violence. the case of Henry Glover. Beginning structed the final hours of Glover’s These stories are emblematic of In 1990, she joined Columbia Col- something that she had championed The two met in 1980 when theylege Chicago as artist in residence during her career. both worked at The Sacramentoand became a journalism faculty Bee—Maharidge as a newly hiredmember two years later. A well-known 1988 cops reporter and Williamson as aand beloved figure for students, she staff photographer, recently promotedremained with the school until her from copyboy.death. Dale Maharidge’s Two years later they started on “We had students sobbing in the latest book in his their first book, “Journey to Nowhere:hallways,” said Nancy Day, NF ’79, long-running col- The Saga of the New Underclass,”chairwoman of the Columbia Journal- laboration with pho- documenting a declining steel townism Department. “She had an impact tographer Michael and hobos traveling the country onbecause she really went out of her way S. Williamson is freight trains. “It’s not a story we setto be nice to the students. She would “Someplace Like out to do. It found us,” writes Maha-always go the extra mile for them.” A m e r i c a : Ta l e s ridge, now an associate professor in The school has designated a schol- From the New Great the Graduate School of Journalism atarship in her honor to help students Depression,” published by University Columbia for international travel programs, of California Press in June. They continued chronicling the state76 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 79. Nieman NotesThompson’s interest in marginal- dation and its Nieman Watchdog date for an I.F. Stone Medal.”ized figures suffering at the hands Project, is presented annually to a Documentation was a driving forceof authority, an interest rooted in journalist whose work captures the for Thompson in New Orleans. Hehis time teaching writing to juve- spirit of independence, integrity, and waded through almost a thousandnile offenders before he became a courage that characterized I.F. Stone’s autopsy reports from the weeks afterjournalist. Weekly, published from 1953 to 1971. Katrina, reports that he had to sue “I saw kids who seemed deeply This year’s selection committee, the state to obtain. Being awash intraumatized, many of them nearly chaired by John R. (Rick) MacArthur, so much death did have an effect onilliterate,” he said. “Their parents president and publisher of Harper’s him, Thompson acknowledged duringhad failed them, their schools had Magazine, also included Robert a question and answer session moder-failed them, and now the correctional Kaiser, associate editor and senior ated by Maggie Mulvihill, NF ’05,facility was failing them.” correspondent for The Washington director of the New England Center That experience followed him to Post, and Patricia O’Brien, NF ’74, for Investigative Reporting at BU.the San Francisco Bay Guardian, the a journalist, novelist and author. “Journalism in America is not aalternative weekly that hired him in The group made their selection dangerous profession,” he said. “But1998. There, editor Tim Redmond, from recommendations presented when you do stories about life andone of his most important mentors, by distinguished journalists who, by death … the emotional toll is moretaught him the skills of investiga- design, remain anonymous and serve dangerous than anything else.”tive journalism. Redmond told him for just one year. Speaking to that toll, he shared onethat understanding how government The person who nominated of the most gruesome aspects of theworks would “open up nodes of infor- Thompson for the award wrote Glover case: While his charred skullmation or data or facts,” Thompson that Thompson is “intelligent, mea- was visible in crime scene photos, itsaid. “It’s buried in a dusty file cabinet sured, courageous and resourceful, was never cataloged with the rest ofin some government office … it’s not displaying a skepticism of authority his remains and has yet to be, and you can’t Google it.” and a non-sentimental concern for “I’m still wondering about Glover’s Established in 2008, the I.F. Stone the underdog and a readiness to skull and where it went,” he said.Medal honors the life of investigative dig deeply into public records and “Whether anyone will ever return itjournalism I.F. Stone. The award, interviews to uncover instances of to his family.”administered by the Nieman Foun- injustice—in short, a perfect candi-of the working class, traveling 500,000 the book’s foreword that “Journey to ana during the spring 2012 semestermiles and following some families for Nowhere” inspired part of his album as one of four inaugural Reynoldsnearly 30 years, a project that led to “The Ghost of Tom Joad.” Foundation visiting business journal-“Someplace Like America.” Maharidge and Williamson have ism professors. The book gained a sense of urgency now collaborated on a total of six Sutton is a former deputy managingin the economic downturn of 2008 books, including the Pulitzer Prize- editor at The (Raleigh, N.C.) Newswhen, even though officials bragged winning “And Their Children After & Observer and he served as a pastabout avoiding another Great Depres- Them: The Legacy of ‘Let Us Now president of the National Association ofsion, unemployment and foreclosures Praise Famous Men’—James Agee, Black Journalists. He previously taughtwere on the rise. “My Great Recession Walker Evans, and the Rise and Fall journalism at Hampton University inis your Great Depression if you lose of Cotton in the South,” in which they Virginia.your job and your home,” Maharidge revisited the families profiled in thewrites. “The oxymoronic term ‘jobless 1941 classic. Each has also had two 1992recovery’ is an insult to those who books of his own published.have been laid off.” Their work gained attention from Will Sutton will be teaching at Melissa Ludtke is now the executiveBruce Springsteen, who writes in Grambling State University in Louisi- editor of the Schuster Institute for Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 77
  • 80. Nieman Notes Examining the Latin American Press The state of press freedom in Latin officials or media moguls, and the editor of El Periódico in Guatemala; America was the subject of a con- absence of legal protection and Carlos Eduardo Huertas, NF ’12, ference at Harvard University on press freedom laws. There was also investigations editor at Revista November 18. discussion of innovative solutions to Semana in Colombia; Rosental Cosponsored by the Nieman some of those problems, including Alves, NF ’88, director of the Foundation, the Harvard Kennedy how blogs and other online media Knight Center for Journalism in the School’s Carr Center for Human can make a difference. Americas; Graciela Mochkofsky, Rights Policy, and the David Rock- Nieman Fellows spoke at the con- NF ’09, editor of El Puercoespín efeller Center for Latin American ference, including Mónica Almeida, in Argentina; and Juanita León, Studies, the conference brought NF ’09, editor at El Universo in NF ’07, editor of La Silla Vacía in together leading Latin American Ecuador; Fernando Berguido, Colombia. The event was coordi- journalists and scholars to discuss NF ’12, publisher of La Prensa in nated by Stefanie Friedhoff, NF the challenges of reporting in the Panama; Boris Muñoz, NF ’10, ’01, special projects manager at the region. Venezuelan journalist and fellow Nieman Foundation. Topics ranged from the threats at the Carr Center; Pablo Corral The conference was live-streamed faced by reporters—abduction, Vega, NF ’11, a constitutional lawyer on the foundation website. Archived intimidation and death chief among and photojournalist from Ecuador; video is available at http://nieman. them—to pressure from government Claudia Méndez Arriaza, NF ’12, Journalism at Brandeis CBS News and Time magazine, as 1995University, after stepping down as a researcher in New York, and as aeditor of Nieman Reports at the end Time News Service correspondent inof November. Los Angeles and Boston. She covered L o u U r e n e c k ’s She had been the magazine’s edi- the Summer Olympic games and second nonfictiontor since 1998, and in those 13 years presidential campaign in 1984, and book, “Cabin: Twoproduced 54 issues, expanding its scope then took on the social policy beat Brothers, a Dream,and global reach in print, bringing with stories revolving around children and Five Acres inforward-looking topics to its pages in and family issues. Maine,” was pub-stories told and shown by experienced After her Nieman year, she was a lished this fall byjournalists. She transitioned Nieman visiting scholar at Radcliffe College and Viking. In it, heReports to a vibrant digital presence, a Prudential Fellow at Columbia Uni- chronicles the trialsadvanced such initiatives as Professor’s versity’s Graduate School of Journalism. and tribulations ofCorner, and worked with her colleagues There, she worked on her book, “On building a vacation home in Maineon social media outreach through Our Own: Unmarried Motherhood in with the help of his brother. Ureneck,Facebook, Twitter and a weekly e-mail America,” published by Random House who teaches journalism at Bostonnewsletter. in 1997 and University of California University, explains, “I was looking for Ludtke started in journalism in the Press in 1999. She remains engaged a project that would return me to a1970’s, after graduating from Wellesley in community service, as a board better frame of mind following a seriesCollege. She freelanced as a “go-for” member for Families With Children of personal setbacks. The work ofat ABC Sports, then was hired as a From China, New England and as cabin-building turned out to be thereporter for Sports Illustrated, where mentor to a Cambridge-based youth medicine I needed. It was mentallyin five years there she worked on the group that is part of the Jane Goodall absorbing and at times physicallyTV/radio, professional basketball and Institute’s Roots and Shoots program. demanding. I liked the feel of a ham-baseball beats. In 1977 she became the In 2010, she received the Yankee mer and wood chisel in my hands.lead plaintiff in a lawsuit against Major Quill Award from the Academy of The clean fir-scented air was a tonic.”League Baseball that gained women the New England Journalists, recognizing The memoir tells three stories, Ure-same access that their male colleagues her lifetime contribution to excellence neck writes, “the cabin’s construction,had to interview baseball players in in journalism. [See her editor’s note the relationship I have with my youngerlocker rooms. She then worked for on page 3.] brother Paul, and the important place78 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 81. Nieman Notesthat nature has played in my life since producer to work in an area that to 2008. During her final three yearsmy childhood. The stories mingle, reflects Rey’s broad interests. Martin there, she wrote extensively about thecross and diverge—the pages are partly wrote that he views the recognition growth of risky new kinds of mortgagesmemoir and partly a reported essay “as an affirmation of the work that that threatened homeowners and theabout carpentry, New England history, the WGBH Radio news team has nation’s economic system. In 2008, sheand the people of rural Maine.” been doing collectively in reporting shared in the Pulitzer Prize awarded on social justice and innovation in to the Post’s staff for its coverage of 1997 New England. We are a small news the shootings at Virginia Tech. department that is growing, both in She left the Post to finish “The terms of influence and actual size.” Woman Behind the New Deal: The Robert Blau has been elected to His work incorporates what he Life of Frances Perkins, FDR’s Secretarythe Pulitzer Prize Board. Blau has learned in Michael Sandel’s courses of Labor and His Moral Conscience,”been the managing editor for special about justice during his Nieman year. which was inspired by work she didprojects and investigations at Bloom- during her Nieman year and publishedberg News since 2008 when he left 1999 in 2009 by Doubleday. It was namedThe (Baltimore) Sun where he was one of the best nonfiction books ofmanaging editor for four years. Before 2009 by the Library of Congress, thethat, he spent nearly 20 years at the Malou Mangahas won two Philip- American Library Association, the LosChicago Tribune as a reporter and pine National Statistics Month Media Angeles Times, and NPR.editor. He led the team that won the Awards in October. In 2010, Downey was a writer and2001 Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory She won the Outstanding Award for interviewer for the bipartisan FinancialReporting for “Gateway to Gridlock,” Print and Broadcast for her work with Crisis Inquiry Commission, whichan investigation into the failings of the Philippine Center for Investigative investigated the causes and repercus-the airline industry. Journalism (PCIJ) and as the host of sions of the mortgage meltdown. He served as a Pulitzer juror in GMA TV’s “Investigative Documen- In addition to her work at2010 and 2011, judging the investi- taries,” which won in the broadcast FTC:Watch, Downey is writing agative reporting prize and serving as TV category. biography of Queen Isabella of Castile,chairman of the public service jury, The award citation highlighted a a controversial ruler who transformedrespectively. Other Nieman Fellows on number of reports Mangahas produced Spain from a poor and fractured nationthe board include Eugene Robinson, for the PCIJ, where she is executive into a global powerhouse and who,NF ’88, and co-chairwoman Ann director. Those included an investiga- as Christopher Columbus’s sponsor,Marie Lipinski, NF ’90, curator of tion into President Benigno S. Aquino forged the first links between Europethe Nieman Foundation. III’s campaign funds for the 2010 and the Americas. The book is to be elections and an explainer on how to published by Doubleday. 1998 report cases of tax fraud. The awards are part of the National 2008 Statistics Coordination Board’s effort Phillip Martin, a senior investiga- to promote the value of statistics.tive reporter for a Boston public radio Iason Athanasiadis was one ofstation, has been named the 2011-2012 2001 six journalists honored at the 2011Margret and Hans Rey/Curious George Anna Lindh Mediterranean Journalistproducer. Awards in Monaco this October. Since joining WGBH Radio in 2010, Kirstin Downey is the new editor He received one of two SpecialMartin has done several in-depth series of FTC:Watch, a bimonthly publica- Awards on Documentary and Socialon critical issues affecting Greater tion that tracks the Federal Trade Change for an article called “Revolu-Boston. Among them is “Sexual and Commission and other government tion Game Over?” published by TheHuman Trafficking in the Boston Area,” regulatory agencies. Majalla in February. In the piece, hea four-part series in which Martin In a message about the new position, compared the revolution in Egypt toreported on the smuggling of people Downey wrote that it offered “topics earlier revolutions in Greece, Spainfor forced labor or sexual exploitation. I find fascinating, a paid subscription and Portugal and cast suspicions onIt was recognized with an Edward R. base that is not dependent on advertis- the Army’s role in the protests thatMurrow Award in the Audio Investiga- ing, [and it] comes out twice a month eventually forced President Hosnitive Reporting category. so that I have time to reflect, and not Mubarak to resign. Made possible through a bequest just react. It’s got a small staff but “Did it [the Army] carry out a coupfrom the late Margret Rey, co-author we’re growing.” d’etat? Hijack a legitimate revolu-of the “Curious George” children’s Downey was a business reporter tion?” writes Athanasiadis, a freelancebooks, the award enables a WGBH at The Washington Post from 1988 journalist and photographer. “Or did Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 79
  • 82. Nieman Notes Namibian Niemans Forge a New Connection After spending the past the government and 26 years as editor of for managing to find The Namibian, Gwen financial stability with Lister, NF ’96, has a business model that stepped down from was unprecedented the newspaper she in Namibia. Now the founded. For a suc- nation’s biggest-sell- cessor, she selected ing daily paper, it is Namibia’s only other owned by Free Press Nieman Fellow, Tan- of Namibia Ltd., the geni Amupadhi, NF sole shareholder of ’07, who took over on which is the nonprofit October 1. Namibia Media Trust. “I would be lying This structure frees the if I said that the past paper from the dictates 26 years have always At a ceremony announcing Tangeni Amupadi, NF ’07, as the new of government, politi- been easy, because they editor of the Namibian, outgoing editor Gwen Lister, NF ’96, cal parties, or corporate haven’t,” Lister said in handed over a symbolic set of keys. Photo by Henry van Rooi. ownership. her farewell speech. Looking forward, “Now is not the time Lister warned against for historical introspection, but the development and media. “other contenders and pretenders in long and short of it is that I have Before taking the reins, Amupa- the newspaper industry” and said loved every minute of leading this dhi worked alongside Lister for six that the paper would continue to newspaper for nearly three decades.” months as editor-designate. He had face challenges to its survival. Lister founded the paper in worked for the paper from 1999 “To Tangeni, you are inheriting 1985 while the country was still until 2004 when he left to found the best and the worst of worlds,” she under apartheid rule. As editor, she the magazine Insight Namibia. He said. “This is a huge responsibility was the sole director of the paper. has also worked for the Namibia not for the fainthearted, and I know Though she has stepped down from Press Agency as well as the Mail & [you] are willing, eager and able to the editorship, Lister will remain Guardian in Johannesburg, South shoulder it and take The Namibian with the company as chairwoman Africa. to greater heights.” of the new board of trustees and In her farewell, Lister praised executive director for new business the staff for surviving a ban bywe witness a psychological operation administration at the Harvard Kennedy posted documents and press coveragewhereby what appeared to be a pro- School. In her first job since returning from the era to educate people aboutdemocracy movement was used as a to her native country, Matus worked the real crimes.Trojan Horse by a military anxious with researchers at University Diego Matus has covered human rightsto safeguard its business interests?” Portales School of Journalism and abuses in Chile for most of her career. The awards, given by the Anna Lindh the investigative journalism project She had to leave the country fromEuro-Mediterranean Foundation for CiperChile to produce a website that 1999 to 2001 after the governmentthe Dialogue Between Cultures, honor tells the real-life stories that inspired issued an order for her arrest andreporting that crosses cultural lines. a TV miniseries. After each episode banned “The Black Book of Chilean of TVN’s “Los Archivos del Cardenal” Justice,” her book about corruption 2010 (“The Archives of the Cardinal”), a in the courts. fictionalized account of the Catholic “It has been exciting as well as hor- Church’s efforts to protect the rights rifying,” Matus wrote in an e-mail to Alejandra Matus is back in Chile of victims of human rights abuses dur- Nieman Reports about the job. “I knowafter completing a master’s in public ing the Pinochet regime, the website the subject of human rights violations80 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 83. Nieman Notesquite well, because I worked many An essay about Wafa’s work wasyears reporting on that, but goingback to the archives and interviewing posted on the Times’s “At War” blog. In it, reporter Adam B. Ellick recounts Submissions Soughtpeople still in deep pain has impacted Wafa’s path to journalism after his for Journalismme as if it was the first time I heardthese stories.” old job—removing landmines—ended abruptly with the U.S.-led invasion Awards in 2001. 2011 That October he traveled across the The Worth Bingham Prize for frontlines and met several journalists, Investigative Journalism hon- eventually being hired by The New ors investigative reporting on Waheed Abdul Wafa became execu- York Times as an interpreter. During stories of national significancetive director of the Afghanistan Centre his tenure at the Times, he served the where the public interest is notat Kabul University in October after paper in many roles, including transla- being served. The applicationworking for The New York Times in tor, fixer, security consultant, cultural deadline is January 13. The Nie-its Afghanistan bureau for 10 years. interpreter, and bookkeeper, as well man Foundation will present the The mission of the center is “to as reporter on more than 300 stories. Bingham Prize, which includesenhance nation building by providing Ellick also writes about a particularly a cash award of $20,000, inreliable information to policy planners, memorable encounter from Wafa’s April. For more information,strategy makers, program implement- Nieman year when he met a CIA agent visit and future leaders of Afghanistan,” who told him, “We can’t do anything worth-bingham-prize/.according to its website. The center more in your country.” The Taylor Family Awardwas established in Peshawar, Pakistan “That was my biggest lesson in 10 for Fairness in Newspapersin 1989 and moved to Kabul in 2006. years,” Wafa said. “No one else can encourages fairness in newsIt also maintains a mobile lending give us peace. Afghans should do coverage by daily newspapers inlibrary that brings books to 32 of the something.” the United States. The applica-country’s 34 provinces. tion deadline is January 20. The cash prize is $10,000 for the award recipient and $1,000 for each of the top two finalists. The Annual Report Chronicles Foundation’s Growth application can be downloaded at taylor-family-award/. The past year has been a time of topics related to the future of transition and new beginnings journalism. Nieman Storyboard for the Nieman Foundation. Bob established Editors’ Roundtable, Giles, NF ’66, retired as Nieman which comments on craft and the curator, wrapping up more than storytelling aspects of current nar- Fellowship Application a decade at the helm, while Ann rative projects, and “Why’s this so Marie Lipinski, NF ’90, came good?”, a weekly feature in which a aboard with fresh ideas on ways guest writer chooses a classic nar- Deadline to expand the scope and reach of rative and explains what makes it Nieman programs and serve the extraordinary. Nieman Watchdog needs of journalists worldwide. increased its social media presence Nieman fellowships are awarded Nieman Reports expanded its to better share the site’s many to journalists of accomplish- online presence with a redesign thought-provoking articles, and ment and promise who come to that spotlights news about jour- hosted an online petition calling Harvard University for a year of nalism and the work of Nieman for accurate infographics. study. The application deadline Fellows and contributors and Read the 2011 Annual Report for U.S. and global health jour- highlights the latest issue as online to learn more about the nalists for the 2012-2013 aca- well as its archive. The Nieman many exciting developments at demic year is January 31. More Journalism Lab also redesigned the Nieman Foundation, includ- information about the Nieman its site and launched Encyclo, ing news about Nieman Fel- Fellowship program is available an encyclopedia of the future of lows, conferences and journalism at news, and Fuego, a Twitter bot awards: www.nieman.harvard. nieman-fellowships/. that tracks the most-discussed edu/2011annual-report/. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 81
  • 84. E ND N OTE AN ESSAY IN WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHS BY ELI REED A Way to Understand the WorldThis image became the opening spread of a photo essay in Life magazine about the Million ManMarch in 1995. I wanted to show how large the crowd was, and the three men of varying agesand taste in hats worked for me, too.I always have a camera on me or found difficult if not for the camera than sitting down with the elements very near so I can keep up a visual in my hands. of truth that transport me to places diary of my life. Long before my When I embark on creating a pho- that I have not visited before. Thefirst photographs were published, I tographic essay, all of my energies are legendary documentary photographerexplored my surroundings through my propelled in the direction of finding W. Eugene Smith, once stated, “Letphotography. It has helped enlarge my the core of what is happening inside truth be the prejudice!” I believe thatunderstanding of the external world the story and the heart of my subjects. is still a good way of doing work thatin ways that I perhaps would have Nothing is more important to me is important to me.82 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 85. End NoteAn hour after President Obama took the oath of office in Washington, D.C., I looked at thewoman standing next to the poster and I felt that she was thinking what I was thinking: Thenew president was not going to have an easy time. Photo and text by Eli Reed. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 83
  • 86. End NoteAlong with three other photographers and our driver, I was caught in a rocket attack in 1983.We had to make a run for it under heavy shelling in Tripoli, Lebanon.Photo and text by Eli Reed.84 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 87. End NoteA friend in the military took me to Ground Zero on September 12, 2001. Walking through therubble, we met an undercover police officer who had lost 11 of his friends. Photo and text by Eli Reed. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 85
  • 88. End NoteAfter making a portrait of this Guatemalan soldier under tense conditions, I entered a villagewhere a mass funeral was taking place. I was informed that he and his men were responsiblefor having eight people taken out of a funeral wake and killed. The word was that the peoplehad voted the wrong way in the last election.Photo and text by Eli Reed.86 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 89. End NoteThe three-day Atlanta Pop rock festival that took place in Byron,Georgia in 1970 attracted as big a crowd as Woodstock had theprevious year. Photo and text by Eli Reed. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 87
  • 90. End NoteA mother with her children, sleeping in the car to escape her violent husband, subsequentlyfound help at a shelter for battered women and their children. Eli Reed, a 1983 Nieman Fellow, has been a photojournalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin since 2005. His photography career started in 1970. Over the years, Reed, a member of Magnum Photo since 1988, photo- graphed around the world for numerous publications, including The New York Times, National Geographic, Time and Life magazines. He has produced two photography books, “Beirut: City of Regrets” and “Black in America.” The text for this photo essay was adapted from what Reed wrote upon hearing that he was the recipient of the Lucie Foundation’s 2011 award for Outstanding Achievement in Documentary Photography.Photo and text by Eli Reed.88 Nieman Reports | Winter 2011
  • 91. Tom Wicker, Political Columnist for The New York Times, Dies at 85Tom Wicker, NF ’58, a colum- In a video tribute, Dannynist and Washington bureau Schechter, NF ’78, whochief during 31 years at The interviewed Wicker for aNew York Times, died of a documentary about the JFKheart attack on November 25th, assassination, praised him forat his home near Rochester, showing “that you could moveVermont. He was 85. from this so-called neutrality/ As a White House correspon- objectivity of being a Timesdent for the Times, he came into man to a concerned citizen,prominence for his coverage of where he actually spoke outthe assassination of President on a lot of important issues.”John F. Kennedy in 1963. He Before joining the Times inwas the paper’s only reporter 1960, Wicker was the associ-in the presidential motorcade Tom Wicker, shown here at Attica prison in 1971, spoke ate editor of The (Nashville)through Dallas. and wrote with force and conviction. Photo by Michael Tennessean and had worked The following year, Wicker Evans/The New York Times as a reporter and editor forsucceeded James B. “Scotty” newspapers in North Carolina,Reston as chief of the Wash- including nearly a decade atington bureau. In 1966 Wicker started politicians from both sides of the The Winston-Salem Journal.writing the “In the Nation” column, aisle. He had his own detractors in He wrote some 20 books, includingwhich was syndicated to scores of politics—with a spot on one of Nixon’s political thrillers and murder mysteriesnewspapers. It appeared two to three “enemies lists”—and in journalism. under the pen name Paul Connolly astimes a week until he retired in 1991. Some thought he was too outspoken. well as nonfiction. He examined race In a remembrance published in the Born and raised in North Carolina, relations in America, the legacies ofTimes, Anthony Lewis, NF ’57, called Wicker rooted for the underdog. Dur- former presidents, the shortcomingshim a “first-class” political columnist: ing an uprising at the Attica prison in of the press, and, in “A Time to Die,”“shrewd, well-informed, with a sure upstate New York in 1971, prisoners the Attica prison riot.sense of Washington.” invited him in as an observer and He is survived by his wife, Pamela, From his perch on editorial and mediator. They had been impressed a son and daughter from his firstop-ed pages, Wicker, a Southern liberal by a sympathetic column he wrote marriage, two stepdaughters, and awith a streak of civil libertarianism, about the death of a black militant stepson.passed judgment on presidents and in San Quentin prison.Grateful for Well-Timed Words From WickerBy Alvin Schuster, NF ’67Tom and I worked together in the doubt that the copy to come would be (a copy of which I have filed away)Washington bureau of The New York remarkable and so it was. I remember endorsed me for the opening, notingTimes for some six years—I was there all that, of course, but I also remember that I was “just back from a Niemanwhen he arrived in 1960 from Nashville a conversation with him of far lesser fellowship” and eager to shift fromand he was there when I left in 1966 global significance. It was the day when editing to writing.for the Nieman. And in between we Tom, then Washington bureau chief, Two months later, thanks to thehad that historic day in 1963 when Tom suggested that I apply for a Nieman, Nieman, and to Tom and other sup-was in Dallas covering the Kennedy an honor he himself had enjoyed a porters, including another Nieman,assassination and I was running the few years before. Tony Lewis, then London bureaunews desk operation in Washington in And so I applied, joined the class chief, I was on my way there to beginthe absence of our two bosses, Scotty of 1967, and when I returned with a 12-year journey on the Times foreignReston and Fendall Yerxa. visions of reporting from overseas, staff. What more could one ask of a Tom’s voice on the phone with Tom went to bat for me with New York talented, wonderful colleague—hisme that day was what one would editors with an opening in London on support for a Nieman and his supportexpect—calm, professional, leaving no their hands. Tom’s letter to New York for a job in London. Not bad, Tom. Nieman Reports | Winter 2011 89
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