Just in time for the weekend, here’s a little list of some of the things I’ve been listening to and reading this week, some of it online — Storyboard included, natch — and some of it on vinyl or actual ink and paper.
Two of my biggest loves are narrative journalism and music, and I’m lucky that my days are filled with both. When reading stories, I get inspired by songs I think fit the article’s theme — a soundtrack. To start out, here are a couple of this week’s Storyboard articles, and their soundtracks:
Annotation Tuesday! Adrian Chen and “Unfollow.” In this annotation of Chen’s first piece for the New Yorker, he talks about his story on Megan Phelps-Roper, once a hard-core proselytizer for the reviled Westboro Baptist Church, known for its “God hates fags” picket signs. As Storyboard contributor Katia Savchuk writes in the introduction, “She took to Twitter to spread the message, but ended up striking up online friendships that opened up cracks in her belief system. Social media wasn’t the only thing that pushed her to leave the religion her grandfather had founded, but it opened the door. Amid the bile of online trolls, it was an Internet-based redemption story.”
The soundtrack: “I Will Not Follow,” by the Waterboys. They did this a few years after U2 did “I Will Follow,” and I always wondered if it was a response song (even though the U2 song is about following someone who walks away, not someone joining a crowd). It’s a denunciation of mob mentality and patriot-propaganda: “You’ll be there when the saints roll in/With a bat made of rubber, half made out of tin.”
One Great Sentence:
“What I can hear are occasional coyotes and a constant chorus of ‘Baby the Rain Must Fall’ from the jukebox in the Snake Room next door, and if I were also to hear those dying voices, those Midwestern voices drawn to this lunar country for some unimaginable atavistic rites, ‘rock of ages cleft for me,’ I think I would lose my own reason.”
Joan Didion, “On Morality,” The American Scholar, 1965. Click here to read why we think it’s great.
“I’m here to remind you today that great journalism can also find ordinary, regular people and find the extraordinary in what they do.“ Chicago Tribune reporter (and current Nieman Fellow) Lolly Bowean gave a powerful talk at “The Future of News: Journalism in a Post-Truth Era” event at Harvard this week. Need a boost amid all the despair about covering an administration that has introduced the world to the term “alternative facts”? Listen to Bowean, about a story on one woman who was making a difference on the South Side of Chicago: “When you’re faced with those kind of daily obstacles, it’s really easy to become cynical. You can feel despondent; you may even feel a little powerless as a journalist. But then there are other fantastic and fabulous moments being a journalist.”
Story Craft: Trying to find the dividing line between “travel writing” and “writing about place.” This is the last post from students at the Missouri School of Journalism in our series “Tomorrow’s journalists exploring the masters of today.” We hope to continue it with other journalism students, and in fact have one coming up from a graduate student at the University of Montana. But if you’re a professor, please get in touch! It’s so heartening to see young journalists with a love for literary journalism. In this piece, three journalists who talk to recent graduate Niki Kottmann about storytelling that happens to involve travel. Two-time Pulitzer winner Paul Salopek has this to say: “I don’t find conventional travel writing, as a genre, easy to understand or very interesting. I don’t take holidays to ‘faraway places.’ So travel for travel’s sake… isn’t what I normally write about.”
The soundtrack: “Another Travelin’ Song,” by Bright Eyes. Thought this lyric would resonate with the writers: “Now I’m hunched over a typewriter/I guess you’d call that paintin’ in a cave/And there’s a word I can’t remember/And a feeling I cannot escape.”
What I’m reading online: In the wake of President Trump’s executive order on immigrants, I revisited a moving story about Syrian refugees I worked on back at the Los Angeles Times by the gifted foreign correspondent Patrick McDonnell. It’s about the dangerous journey that hundreds of thousands of Syrians have been forced to make to escape the war in their country. Read the lede about a stunning moment of self-sacrifice and you may want to welcome these migrants not only into your country, but into your home.
What’s on my bedside table: “Far Out isn’t Far Enough: Life in the Back of Beyond,” by Tomi Ungerer. When I bought it on impulse last week, I didn’t know much about this beautiful book by the French-born illustrator about escaping the city for Nova Scotia. Now I know that Ungerer was an enfant terrible of the illustration world in the ’60s and ’70s, and there’s a documentary about him with the same name. The book is unlike most of the genre, and not only because of the wonderful illustrations; it’s much less romanticized, while also lyrical, about rural life. Accompanying sweet drawings of animals are the blow-by-blows of killing them, including this bit on geese, where he actually does get sentimental: “We have a special affection for these birds. They mate for life, and one has to be careful not to break up a marriage.” (I’m assuming that means kill both?)
What’s on my turntable: Although I spend most of my time listening to music on Spotify, sometimes I want to hear the needle touching down on vinyl. This week’s vinyl: “Moscow With Love,” by Jo Basile, his Accordion and Orchestra. OK, so this wasn’t on my turntable long. But the cover was pretty irresistible at a time when Vladimir Putin appears to be, shall we say, heavily invested in this new presidency? (And the Russian on the cute red scooter looks vaguely like him.) The most striking thing, for an album that came out in 1960: In the very lengthy liner notes about the Russian capital, I didn’t see a single mention of the Soviet Union. There’s a lot of talk about painting the town red, but not that kind of red.
If you want to chat about storytelling (or music), you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can find me at @karihow on Twitter. Oh, and this column is now going direct to your inbox in newsletter form! Sign up here.