Writing the stories fit for print

Published 8:41 am Monday, June 27, 2011

Newspapering is a funny business. Not funny “ha-ha” but funny weird.

Believe it or not, newspaper reporters in general have feelings. A small fragment of the stories we write are sad or tragic in nature.

We do them anyway.

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Perception is we do so with a zeal and fire driven solely by the sale of newspapers. That’s nowhere close to accurate.

I’ve written my fair share of these stories and not once have I drawn any pleasure from them.

Reporters are generally driven by the hopes to write a good story. Period. The subject matter becomes immaterial most of the time.

Bad facts are still facts and good facts are facts too.

Plane crashes or cooking contest winners, we approach most stories the same.

It’s understandable that sometimes families and friends of our subject matter despise us. It’s the nature of the beast. Sometimes their “private” moments play out on newspaper pages. Few people appreciate it. Some people understand it.

A journalist’s intent isn’t to intrude on someone’s perception of privacy. It’s simply to tell a story.

A series of stories that I have enjoyed covering the most has been the salvation of the labor and delivery unit at our hospital. My news career spans nearly 10 years and four newspapers and that three-month span of stories ranks among my favorite. It was interesting to watch what was an unfortunate story – the unit closing – turn into a good one.

One of the most notable stories I ever wrote came in October of 2005. I was working at the hometown newspaper of the 2000th soldier killed in Iraq. I had to call his former home only hours after the soldier’s family learned that the Army Sergeant had died from injuries suffered by a roadside bomb.

I still remember the conversation I had with his sister now six years later. I could write that story again from my memory. She was very helpful, very polite and extraordinarily emotional. Our conversation lasted about an hour. She loaned me a photo of the young man for my story, frame and all.

I was amazed at this woman’s strength. She answered all my questions; questions I struggled mightily to ask.

It was a hard story to write but my goal in that story was to let Clanton, Alabama – and eventually the world – know that young man was more than a statistic. His image spent approximately two days plastered over every major television news outlet. His picture was the one they used when the talking heads questioned the validity of war in Iraq.

They seldom used his name. Most of the time they called him “the 2000th soldier killed in Iraq.”

I knew his name. And his sister’s name. And his mother’s name. What I don’t know is how many newspapers were sold that day.

My goal was to write a story that told the tale of this young man from beginning to end. That goal was the same with the labor and delivery series.

It’s the goal of every story, regardless of the subject matter or how many typos you may find.

Every story – good and bad – has a beginning and an end. Our goal, my goal, is to simply be the one allowed to write it.

Jason Cannon is the publisher of The Demopolis Times.