“Shoe-leather” refers to an old-fashioned form of journalism, where journalist would literally wear out the leather on their shoes and walk around finding stories and connecting to communities. By taking a step away from their offices and technology, journalists have the opportunity to listen to their readers and write stories based on what they are interested in. Journalists can discover powerful and more personal stories this way. In this chapter, we analyze how many journalists have utilized local reporting and beats to find innovative stories worth discussing.
Rick Bragg, who served as a national correspondent for The New York Times, took to the streets in the South to find stories worth sharing. He demonstrated incredible local reporting skills with his ability to narrate her life and let readers see, hear and feel the whole story.
Thomas Boswell, a sports columnist for The Washington Post, won the American Society of News Editors’ (ASNE) award for sports writing in 1981. He won for his ability to pay close attention to details within local stories. He writes in abstractions and within the metaphysical. He urges writers to find and idea within their topic to shame the story around. The point is to tell that concept or idea, not the specific story itself. This is very helpful for people trying to personalize and expand on their writing.
Jonathan Bor won the ASNE award for deadline writing while covering health and medicine for The Post-Standard. He won the award for his poignant and descriptive account of the first Syracuse resident to receive a heart transplant. Bor told this local story after reporting for many hours and having less than two hours to write. This is a great example for young journalists who must learn how to keep a story detailed and compelling while writing on a tight deadline.
Mitch Albom is another sports columnist and was named the No. 1 sports columnist in the nation for nine consecutive years. In one of his award winning pieces, Albom tells the story of Dewon Jones in an eloquent and captivating way. This is an example of great local reporting because it made a local story feel relevant and relatable on a larger scale. He tells this tragic story in a meaningful way and finds the grander concept in it, making it a beautiful example of journalism.
Russell Eshleman Jr.
Russell Eshleman Jr. was honored by ASNE for his excellence in short writing. During his time at The Philadelphia Inquirer, Eshleman wrote brief compelling articles on state government. He showed that local writing can also be entertaining and innovative and that short articles do not need to lack detail.
Dan Neil was working as an automobile critic for the Los Angeles Times when he won an ASNE award and the Pulitzer Prize for criticism. His writing is characterized as being “often outrageous and frequently eloquent.” While his writing was unusual, she exemplifies outstanding local reporting through his use of details and unique word choice.
Other examples of exemplary local reporting:
Sarah Ganim and members of The Patriot-News staff in Harrisburg, PA won the Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting in 2012 for their in-depth reporting on the Jerry Sandusky sex scandal. Ganim’s reporting on this highly sensitive topic was ethical, concise and emotional. Her attentiveness to detail and good relationships with key sources allowed her to write a different, more personal take on the story.
Michael LaForgia, Cara Fitzpatrick and Lisa Gartner of the Tampa Bay Times are the won the Frank A. Blethen Award for Local Accountability Reporting in 2016 for their coverage of failing public schools in Pinella County. This series of investigative journalism won this award for its excellence in keeping these local schools and government accountable for their actions. It was both relevant to the community and
On a personal note, one piece of local reporting that has stuck with me all my life is the article “A grieving mom’s plea: depressed teens, please seek help” from The Record in New Jersey. Journalist Evonne Courtos told the story of Jane Toskovich, mother of Zachary Toskovich, who committed suicide at my town’s high school when I was in fifth grade. In this story, published four years after Zach’s death, Courtos tells about the mother’s life after her son’s passing and conveys the mother’s message to young teens struggling with depression: always seek help.