Isabelle Roughol – The J junkie

The tribulations of a young journalist and writer looking for work

Writing, schmiting

with 4 comments

The unsteady pile of books atop the dresser in my childhood bedroom, where I write these lines, is an all-too-obvious example of the importance of good writing.
At the bottom of the edifice, the last Goncourt prize – on this rare occasion, won by an American – which will likely remain unopened; it was passed on to me after two family members gave up on it, and I have learned to trust their judgment. Above it, three non-fiction books about the history, the bad stuff and the good stuff – in that particular order – going on in Africa. An old receipt has marked the same page for weeks in the first one; the other two were never opened. Finally, one more much-publicised book that I found so pedantic I couldn’t get past a third of what is a rather thin paperback, and on top a Spanish dictionary, for good measure in my new job.
To the right of the dresser, my nightstand. On it, a 607-page brightly colored hardback whose murder all the other children’s books must be plotting. I read it in the past 24 hours, cover to cover, with short sleeping breaks when my sanity was threatened. Still, Harry Potter, still, you say? Well… yes, she says with an apologetic smile. But only to make a point: write well. Take the reader and don’t let them go. Make an 11 year-old read seven thick hardbacks in under a month.
Not an earth-shattering point, I’ll admit, but a necessary one. I read tons of newspaper stories everyday, and only rarely do I get really taken in by one. When I do, it’s often more for the information it unveils than for its prose. I am hungry for a really good newspaper story, the kind I want to clip and keep in my book of inspiring writing, which at this point only contains quotes and excerpts from fiction books.
Maybe we just got lazy. I don’t exclude myself from this. Just look at this, this and this. A descriptive lede once in a while doesn’t hurt, but in every story? I got lazy, too. I figured out how to write a half-decent lede and started using the same technique every single time. Sure, we all have a style we stick to. Sure, we work on daily deadlines and often have to settle for good enough. We won’t put out a Pulitzer every day. But, come on. At this point, I’d applaud any paper that tries to do something different, even if it turns out lame. Write a sonnet, write a song, a haiku, a riddle. Anything but A.P. style. I see much more inspiration in radio these days with addictive shows such as RadioLab, Wiretap or This American Life. Or am I wrong? Can you think of newspaper equivalents? Any writing you want to point me to?
J.K. Rowling’s writing can be brilliant. It is also at times lengthy and clunky, but we stick with her because of the mind-blowing world she created. Journalists don’t get to create worlds, so we’ll just have to stick to brilliant writing. Good luck everyone.
Nonconstructive rant inspired by another brilliant Roy Peter Clark Poynter column.


Written by Isabelle Roughol

Tuesday, 24 July, 2007 at 08:09

Posted in Random stuff

4 Responses

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  1. Unfortunately, with a daily deadline comes the hard-to-avoid daily formula. In school, I got called out for this regularly by the profs who read every story I wrote:

    lede – quote – nut – angle/quote – angle/quote – angle/quote – background – speculative quote – detail – kicker -30-

    Hard to break out of it.


    Tuesday, 24 July, 2007 at 17:08

  2. That, and… is that our role?

    It’s kind of a Newspaper of record v. Newspaper of the Renaissance man kinda thing, in my book. Ideally, we should prolly do both, but if the only people in the biz were folks who did both, there’d be, like 20 at the annual get-together.

    Tangent: I’ve been doing little else from pushing data online for the past few weeks. It’s data without context. The opposite of Harry Potter, ahem: content without data. I’d argue that’s more our role, though I would caution us against going fully that route.


    Thursday, 26 July, 2007 at 19:29

  3. Agreed, Matt, and yes, I do believe it is our role, though by no means the only one. I’m certainly coming at this from a different perspective than yours, since you’re the king of data and I fancy myself a (aspiring) literary, narrative journalist. That said, good writing brings you in, but if there’s no good content, ‘data’ to use your words, it’s worthless.
    A Poynter columnist the other day (Roy Peter Clark? not sure) suggested newspapers bring back fiction serials to their pages. I like the idea to make a place for inspired writing, which could be non-fiction too.
    In short, my dream newspaper – I should say newsmedium – is New Republic meets Everyblock meets New Yorker meets NPR meets International Herald Tribune. Um, ideas…


    Friday, 27 July, 2007 at 08:23

  4. If you build it, they will come.

    And when you build it, hire me. Heck, just give me a couple couches and some food… I don’t even require pay.


    Friday, 27 July, 2007 at 10:56

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