America’s Best Newspaper Writing: Chapter 1, Deadline Writing

The importance of deadlines reach across all news mediums. Whether you write hard news, sports or opinions, the act of thinking and writing quickly is crucial to becoming a great journalist. In this chapter, four different journalists serve as examples for how to accurately and efficiently write while on a deadline.

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Richard Ben Cramer

Richard Ben Cramer won the first award for deadline writing from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1978 for his reporting during the war in the Middle East for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Cramer committed to writing about real people, his editor Jim Naughton said. He wrote about “real flesh and blood human beings instead of nameless, faceless governments.”

Similarly to Cramer, journalist and Pulitzer prize winner Alissa J. Rubin wrote to bring the stories of Afghan women to life. In her award winning piece, “Trial in Afghan Woman’s Public Death Gave an Illusion of Due Process,” Rubin tells the narrative of a Farkhunda Malikzada, a 27-year-old Afghan woman who was brutally beaten after being accused of burning a Quran.

Rubin dug deep into an already very public story to find that Malikzada was not given the due process she deserved. Most of her attackers were given very minimal sentencing, if any at all.

These articles demonstrate how deadline writing is so important, especially in fast-paced, at war environments like Palestine and Afghanistan.

Leonora LaPeter

Leonara LaPeter’s story inspires me greatly because it reminds me of my own. LaPeter did not decide on a career in journalism until her junior year of college, causing her to graduate with little in her portfolio and no internship experience.

Although her beginning was unconventional, she worked her way into a newsroom through initially working at the circulation department of the Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce. After reporting and editing at a few different newspapers, LaPeter won the 2000 Jesse Laventhol Prize for Deadline News Reporting by an Individual for her stories on a local murder trial in the Savannah Morning News.

The use of a strong lead, detailed descriptions and pacing is vital to writing stories about violent crimes like the one LaPeter reported on. Another example of this is the New York Times article, “At Brigham Young, a Cost in Reporting Rape.” In this article, journalist Jack Healy told the story of how a student at Brigham Young University reported and on campus rape, only to be suspended for breaking their Honor Code. He used this story as a frame to tackle the larger issue of the intersection between alcohol and sexual assault on campus.

In this article, he uses narrative elements to convey the emotional torment this student and many others went through.

David Von Drehle

David Von Drehle won the ASNE award for deadline writing in 1985. He is a national political writer for The Washington Post.

Von Drehle also uses narrative elements to tell his story. He created a cast of characters, described the setting, the weather and used a timeline to convey the events. He tells stories of political rallies in creative and different ways, making the reader feel like they were in the room. Most importantly, Von Drehle focuses on finding the theme of the story. He does not just report the news, but also the meaning behind it.

A similar story, “‘This was the worst call by far’: Trump badgered, bragged and abruptly ended phone call with Australian leader,” recently appeared in the Washington Post. In this article, journalists Greg Miller and Phillip Rucker detailed a call made by President Donald Trump to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. During the call, Trump reportedly bragged about his success in the election and accused Australia of trying to export the next “Boston bombers.”

Miller and Rucker give a narrative account of this phone call and then discuss the call’s greater implications. The writers give more than just a report on the call – they dive into the story and see what it could mean for Trump’s other meetings with political figures across the globe.

Francis X. Clines
Francis X. Clines worked for The New York Times for four decades and is known as one of the best and most versatile writers in the business. 

Clines is “old-school” in the sense that he encourages journalists to physically be on the scene of the story. He says that there is no better way to truly get the different senses of a story, find quotes  and bring a story to life. He also encourages journalists not to get too caught up in getting quotes from numerous sources.

“Don’t let a crowd in a story,” Cline said. Interviews are meant to expand on your telling of the story, not allow them to tell the story.

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