Because why not a list of lists? Ten* worth the storyteller’s time:
1) “130 years of must-read stories for digital journalists: five lessons from 1851-1981,” by Abraham Hyatt, editor of the data-driven investigative project Oakland Police Beat. His top three (we agree, so much, with Ben Hecht’s “The Pig”):
1: You can report on technology in a way that it remains compelling — and relevant — for decades afterward. “The Soul of a New Machine,” Tracy Kidder, 1981: In the late 1970s, Kidder followed a team of engineers at a company called Data General Corporation as they frantically tried to design a new computer model. It’s a topic that could easily be confusing and dry. And 30 years later it seems like ancient history. But it’s not. The story is still a great read. Kidder took great pains to keep the technology understandable. And while the equipment is now quaintly archaic, the story around it — a crushing race to build a product that appears doomed to fail — is fascinating. “Soul” went on to win the Pulitzer Prize.
2: Don’t be afraid to get close to the action, whether you’re recording with a notepad, recorder or camera. “When Man Falls, a Crowd Gathers,” Stephen Crane, 1894, “Can’t Get Their Minds Ashore,” Abraham Cahan, circa 1898: “When Man Falls” is slice-of-life reporting, not hard news. A man walking on the street falls over in what looks like an epileptic fit; a leering crowd gathers and waits for police and an ambulance. “Ashore” has a similar feel. Cahan is the invisible scribe as he follows a series of conversations at a receiving station for new immigrants in Manhattan. We’re no strangers to up-close journalism these days, whether on a battlefield or a crime scene. But Crane and Cahan are two great examples of reporting that gets close enough to see the smallest details, but not so close as to overshadow the story as it unfolds.
3: If you play with language, with storytelling, never forget the journalism at the core of the story. ”The Pig,” Ben Hecht, 1921: “The Pig” is a brilliant example of voice done right. In the last forty years, there have been a few dozen print journalists who fall into that same category of “voice done right”: Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Susan Orlean. The examples of voice done poorly feel countless. If you allow a strong voice in your work, remember this: Journalists have been trying and failing miserably at it for more than 100 years. Do your homework. Learn how the masters got it right.
2) “Ten of the greatest essays on writing ever written,” by Emily Temple, Flavorwire. From Henry Miller:
“I had to grow foul with knowledge, realize the futility of everything; smash everything, grow desperate, then humble, then sponge myself off the slate, as it were, in order to recover my authenticity. I had to arrive at the brink and then take a leap in the dark.”
3) Three how-to pieces on narrative journalism that you might’ve missed:
“Writing Narratives about Science: Advice from People Who Do it Well,” by Maryn McKenna, Wired: “A narrative might span the life of a particular research project or it might be just 2h of a meeting.”
“Ten Hurdles to Narrative Journalism,” from Bob Baker’s Newsthinking.com: Employ narrative in the lead of a breaking news story. Look for a story where you can hold back the news in the service of telling the story more deeply…
“Lessons in narrative journalism” by Steve Buttry, with elaborations on tips such as “write as you report” and “identify your key moments.”
4) Mark Berkey-Gerard’s recommended reads on multimedia storytelling. Berkey-Gerard is an award-winning professor of multimedia narrative at Rowan University, in New Jersey. His Campfire Journalism website is a terrific source of online-storytelling tips and ideas. Excerpts from three picks:
Videojournalism: Multimedia Storytelling by Kenneth Kobre
In addition to techniques for shooting still images and video, gathering audio, and writing scripts, it provides strategies for identifying, evaluating and structuring various kinds of stories. Unlike many text-heavy textbooks, this book is visual and uses stunning photos, graphics and illustrations. And unlike some textbooks that charge extra for online resources or require that you adopt the book for access, this one has an open website with dozens of multimedia examples and resources.
The Data Journalism Handbook by Liliana Bounegru, Lucy Chambers and Jonathan Gray
This open-source book is a collaboration of 50 journalists and programmers and offers data journalism case studies from news organizations likeThe New York Times, Financial Times, Guardian, andChicago Tribune. The print version ($24.99) is scheduled to come out in July 2012, but there is a free beta version online.
Inside the Story: A Masterclass in Digital Storytelling by the People Who Do It Best by Adam Westbrook
In this book, 20 successful digital storytellers like Brian Storm, Amy O’Leary, Bob Sacha, Andrew DeVigal and Richard Koci Hernandez share the secrets of their craft in 200 words entries. (Berkey-Gerard reports that the book was sold online briefly and was slated for reissue, with updates to come from Adam Westbrookandinsidethestory.org.)
5) The Millions’ “Year in Reading” series, with picks by Caleb Crain, Kelly Link, Adelle Waldman, Sam Lipsyte, Teddy Wayne, Roxane Gay, Paul Harding and more. Reading good fiction improves your writing and can teach empathy — a prerequisite for narrative journalists. Pair with Thin Reads’ The Top 10 E-Book Singles of 2013 — their tagline is “weighty content that’s not too long.”
6) The top 10 Google returns for “best writing advice” (a lot of it applies across genres):
The Best Writing Tips from William Faulkner, from Huffington Post
The American Scholar: The Best Writing Advice, by Pico Iyer
Mark Twain’s Top Ten Writing Tips, from about.com
Fifteen Successful Authors Share Their Best Writing Tips, from TimeOut
Nicholson Baker’s best advice: Writers must write every day, from Salon.com
Advice on Writing and the Writing Life, by Po Bronson, pobronson.com
6 of the Best Pieces of Advice from Successful Writers, from bufferapp.com
Neil Gaiman’s Advice to Aspiring Writers, by Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org
The 22 Best Writing Tips Ever, from writingforward.com
Best Business Advice for Writers, by Jane Friedman
7) An eclectic guide to reading/listening/watching for storytellers:
—“On the Desire to be Well-Read: A Review of the Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction,” by Timothy Aubry, The Millions
—How to Write Short: Word Craft for Fast Times, by Roy Peter Clark
—Janet Malcolm’s Forty-One False Starts, a collection of profiles and criticism
—“The 10 Best Books about Writing,” according to Paste
—John McPhee’s New Yorker pieces on writing: “Structure,” “Checkpoints,” “Progression,” “Editors & Publisher”
—The Paris Review’s interviews on the art of nonfiction, with Joan Didion, Peter Matthiessen and others
—“The Best Books on Writing…” via Brainpicker, in collaboration with the New York Public Library
8) BuzzFeed’s list of the year’s most harrowing feature stories — mentioned here because it includes stories by Sarah Stillman, Eli Saslow, Jeanne Marie Laskas and others we’ve featured, or will be featuring, on Storyboard.
9) Should journalists learn how to code? That’s been a big topic recently (though it’s not particularly new). The Atlantic‘s Olga Khazan thinks no, and Digital First Media’s Steve Buttry thinks yes, and ProPublica’s Scott Klein, writing for our sister publication, Nieman Lab, says if you don’t learn to code you might find yourself scooped in the very near future. (“You may feel like leaving programming to the professionals. But your next great story is locked away inside a data set,” he writes. “Why let somebody else get it first?”) The Society of Professional Journalists’ Toolbox page offers a wide-ranging list of resources, including a few that’ll get you closer to the coding life, if that’s what you want. A snippet:
Code for Journalists: Life and Code features dozens of great code for journalists tutorials from Lisa Williams.
Public Records: Five Great Tools for Mining Public Records is a must-bookmark for quick reference to some key sites, including Recovery.org and FOIAonline. Also, FOIA Shaming is a fantastic Tumblr blog that shines a spotlight on universities that stonewall FOIA requests. Share it on social media. And here are a couple of tools that can help with requesting public records and managing those requests: The FOIA Machine allows you to automate your FOIA requests. MuckRock is an open government tool powered by state and federal Freedom of Information laws and a Sunlight Foundation grant.
Fact-Checking Social Media: Josh Stearns has built this great resource called Verifying Social Media Content that offers links, case studies and best practices for using information from social media. A must-bookmark.
10) Upcoming opportunities to immerse yourself in the craft:
—Applications are due Jan. 3 for the spring radio workshops in public-radio storytelling at Transom.org, in Woods Hole, Mass., on Cape Cod. Go here for details on the eight-week course, led by founder Jay Allison and lead instructor Rob Rosenthal, with special guests Robert Krulwich of Radiolab and This American Life‘s Nancy Updike.
—Boston University’s annual Power of Narrative conference is scheduled for April 4-6. This year’s theme: Storytelling Journalism Goes Digital. Scheduled speakers include former Nieman Fellows Borja Echevarría, Amy Ellis Nutt, Jeb Sharp and Beauregard Tromp.
—The Mayborn Literary Journalism Conference takes place at the University of North Texas every July. Here’s a slice of last year’s coverage, with Texas Monthly‘s Skip Hollandsworth. Registration usually opens early in the year. Check here for updates.
BONUS: “Predictions for Journalism 2014,” by the Nieman Journalism Lab. The Lab’s predictions roundup is one of our favorite things. Editorially’s Mandy Brown, using the ubiquitous “Snow Fall” example, beautifully captures a core Storyboard belief: For a storytelling experience to be rich and complete, the writing must equal, if not surpass, the inter actives. Here’s Brown:
Lovingly designed and crafted stories are wonderful to experience, of course. But no story should depend upon the presence of videos and other interactive elements; stripped of all styles and embeds, a story should remain readable and compelling on its own. Put another way: While our designs are more sophisticated, they are, as ever, progressive enhancements on top of a story that must be able to survive without them. Responsive web design is one component of that discipline, but it isn’t enough. We have to assume that most of our readers are just as likely to arrive via an older Android device on an Edge network as they are via the latest Macbook Air connected to Google Fiber. Page weight and loading time matter. (Want a better metric for attention-short mobile readers? To hell with reading time: Tell them how much money it will cost to download.)
And from Maria Bustillos’ “News as a Dynamic, Living Conversation:”
Twitter: It’s a combination newsroom, water cooler, stock ticker, and gossip mill, and still utterly addictive to journalists. Among its many other benefits, Twitter has crystallized a certain realization for me about the future of news: the increasing tendency of a set group of talented writers to coalesce around a given topic.
The same is true of storytelling. May we recommend some of the narrative journalists and the storytelling scholars and enthusiasts you’ll often find tweeting about reporting and craft: @joshroiland @Open_Notebook @David_Dobbs @tommytomlinson @amy_harmon @pamelacolloff @mysecondempire @byagoda @edyong209 @jimsheeler @gangrey @matthew_power @ChuckSalter @jfagone @elongreen @JeffSharlet @KVanValkenburg @joshbearman @exlarson @matthewshaer @marynmck @RonRosenbaum1 @WrightThompson.
*Quoting Lillian Ross, “Why be so literal?” Some of these lists have fewer than 10 elements.