Doing narrative stories on the heels of breaking news generally precludes the kind of lyricism often associated with the best examples of the form. Yet it can be a good way to get a framework established on a confusing story – such as the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords over the weekend.
Building a story from social media, NPR senior strategist Andy Carvin started a Storify timeline just two hours after the shooting began. Early on, NPR and several other outlets mistakenly posted that Giffords had been killed, which is reflected and then corrected in Carvin’s Storify account. (There has been a lot of discussion of the error since, including criticism of NPR and the station’s apology.)
The next day, The New York Times and The Washington Post sites posted text narratives of that deceptively sunny morning outside a Safeway in Tucson. In “Tucson shootings: How Gabrielle Giffords’s event for constituents turned to tragedy,” the Post’s Philip Rucker and Marc Fisher give readers some background on Giffords and her normal schedule, recapturing the feel of what started as a mundane event. When the shooting begins, readers feel the shock and horror of the moment. “A Single, Terrifying Moment: Shots Fired, a Scuffle and Some Luck,” Adam Nagourney’s piece in The New York Times, focuses more tightly on the chaos and violence, opening with a dramatic struggle between bystanders and the gunman as he attempted to reload.
And hours before the Post and the Times had posted their narratives, The Arizona Republic’s Jaimee Rose and Mary Jo Pitzl had turned on a dime to get their own angle by following Daniel Hernandez, Giffords’ brand-new intern, who may have saved her life. “Daniel Hernandez, intern, stays by Gabrielle Giffords’ side,” the brief story of events from Hernandez’s view, added a new perspective on not only the shooting but our understanding of Giffords’ condition in the moments just afterward.[Update: Here are some comments from Jaimee Rose of the Arizona Republic on getting Hernandez’s story just hours after the shooting:
We got lucky. Reporter Mary Jo Pitzl was working her sources in Phoenix and got tipped that there was a young man who helped Gabrielle Giffords immediately after she was shot. I was at the hospital in Tucson, and my editor texted me to look for “someone young named Daniel.” While I was interviewing Giffords staffer Mark Kimble at about 7 p.m., Daniel Hernandez was mentioned and happened to be standing a few feet away. He agreed to speak with me. I sat with Daniel Hernandez in the hospital cafeteria while he told his story to his fellow staff members for the first time. It was so early that no one had heard his full tale.
The narrative style was a natural outcome of the way Daniel told his own story that night, with myself and Giffords’ staff members huddled around that cafeteria table. We were riveted, asking “and then what, and then what,” which of course is the narrative base. Chronology is also the fastest way to tell a story, and we were on deadline. I circled back for a few details to help readers see, such as the image of him checking the pulse first on the neck, and then the wrist. He also recalled that great detail about squeezing her hand, and feeling her squeeze his back.
At that point, Daniel’s account was the first we’d heard of Giffords’ condition on the way to the hospital, and we wanted it out there as soon as possible. Next, I called my editor, Laura Trujillo, and we wrote it together on the phone: I talked, she typed, and it probably took 20 minutes. I think it was online by 9 p.m. The next day, we had the exclusive, and Daniel’s media circus began.]
We’ll continue to compile storytelling approaches to the tragic events of this weekend. Please send us links to any related narratives you see.