“Snow Fall”

“Snow Fall” from the New York Times was a very interactive read. Not only did the writing put you right in the place of an avalanche (and terrify you, so good job at the descriptions, NYT) but the multimedia and research helped heighten the article as well.

Three moments of effectively delivered research:

  1. I’m a big fan of using historical research (duh, who isn’t?) but really, I think it adds a unique and timeless element to writings. Basically, history repeats itself. So discussing the wreckage from an avalanche in 1910 aided this article well. It helped give some backstory to the mountain.
  2. It’s easy to write about something you love, but you have to understand that not everybody loves it/even knows about it. So there’s explaining it, and then there’s explaining it for the common person to understand. I could go on about the things I love with so many details and just get so into it…however, that doesn’t mean other people will catch on and fall into that same state of mind. So you need to explain in a way that’s easy to understand, yet you won’t bore the reader. I’m not into skiing, but the description of what it is, how it works, and the do’s and don’ts was a great addition to aid in understanding the appeal (and dangers) of skiing.
  3. Facts. Facts always help. I don’t really hear of avalanches happening too much and if I do, I probably picture half of the terror and chaos that it actually is. So when the article went on to say how before 1980 it was unusual to have more than 10 avalanche deaths in the country, it started to give me a bigger idea about avalanches and their power. The comparison between the generations of skiiers also helped.

Three moments of using media to achieve a storytelling effect:

  1. Probably the most obvious, but it’s really cool so I gotta mention it. “Saugstad was mummified”. Right there, you can click play (as that sentence is highlighted) and immediately a video on the side begins playing of Saugstad recalling the events. She’s talking about what was exactly happening at that moment in the article. A lot of people will just slap on a video of like an interview with the person the article is about or maybe a featurette of it on some TV show or something…but no, this was just about that sentence and the events in the paragraph prior. You didn’t need to skip. As I was already drawn in by the sheer chaos of the events described in the paragraphed, this just kept it going. Everybody loves stories, and having the storyteller right there was quite a nice addition to the piece.
  2. I don’t ski, I’ve never been on a mountain with snow on it. So yeah, getting the picture in my head from other pictures of other mountains and videos is nice, but actually seeing what it truly is definitely helped.
  3. When I read “hippie pow run” I had no clue what that meant. And thankfully, the writer anticipated that. So, having a video to play alongside this “hippie pow run” sentence really helped me figure out what’s so special and great about this certainly dangerous, but apparently amazing, part of the mountain.
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The Case for Reparations

I guess I would stand with a whole lot of people on the fact they have/had NO CLUE (whether by purposeful ignorance or actual ignorance) about the whole “Case for Reparations” as discussed in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ article. Now that I do know, I’m pissed at America (again). I want to find out more about this. Why isn’t this discussed more? Why hasn’t the government done something about this? Why can’t we change the system?

Not everybody probably had that reaction however. Cut to people reading the Atlantic. White people. Old people. Now…they may not have the same reaction of outrage as me to this article. I take that back…they may be outraged…but I don’t think for the  same reasons. Now I’m not saying everybody, but come on. To write this gigantic article literally showing people “HEY THIS SYSTEM OUR COUNTRY HAS IS SUPER RACIST AT ITS CORE NO MATTER WHAT YOU SAY, HERE’S THE PROOF” is gutsy. But, it is NEEDED.

Thankfully, Coates anticipated that his readers may not be so “let me read! Let me read!” when it came to his article. So what did he do? He handled this article in a very intelligent way that seemed to predict anything that any naysayers would shout about. As he worked 2 years on this piece, he obviously did a good amount of research. Therefore, putting all that work into this made him close to an expert on the case. So when somebody takes that breath to start “well…what about…?”, he’s already got the points to prove them wrong. There is so much proof and research through ALL spans of time (not just Jim Crow-era). That’s how you shut up ignorance. You throw the facts right in their face. However, Coates doesn’t do it in a defensive, argumentative way. Rather, he just calmly and peacefully is handing you the information, “you should take a look at this” rather than “HERE IS WHY YOU HAVE BEEN WRONG”. Because how are you going to get your point across when the person already has their mind up? When you get accusatory (which I mean, grant it, Coates has 100% the right to do, I mean come on!), it just invites people unable to hold a decent debate to just scream their opinions at you. So Coates research backed EVERYTHING in this article really helped him to have the upperhand, educated argument here (without an argument, because he doesn’t need an argument to prove his point!)

This could apply to my writings because nothing ever hurt from doing too much research. Plus, it aids you to have a more educated and serious article, rather than something that is just filled with opinions and “guesses”.

“The Remains of the Night” and Medium

First off, amazing title.

But really, Elizabeth Royte’s use of the medium platform perfected her already well-written article. Since her article draws on a lot of description of places most readers may not have been, photos are definitely needed. However, they aren’t simply scattered here and there throughout the article—rather, they are a part of the article. The idea to scroll down and you see this beautiful picture of nature is one thing. But as you scroll, the contents to which the picture relates are revealed. Her evidence is backed up all in photographs. If you were to read about her findings of condoms and other sex paraphernalia, it would just be like “ok yeah, got it, used condoms on the ground”. But you need to see her evidence to understand what her writings truly mean—they are everywhere. 

So this article could’ve very well just been written only using words, nothing else. But the organization of it is so eye-pleasing and way more interesting when you see maps and pictures directly next to what she talks about. And yet it never gets repetitive. Some pictures are in sets of 4, some just single pictures, some in sets of 6, some in the middle, some on the side. It doesn’t get boring and you don’t just get used to it. However, it is not a mess of information. It is well balanced and organized, flowing perfectly from one statement to the next. Her statistics on the sidelines allowed this to look like something that’s part of a presentation…but it doesn’t look like it’s on PowerPoint.

She took what easily could’ve been written as an average article and made it really creative and intriguing. It adds you into the story. You don’t have to do so much visualizing of your own, as it is right in front of you. And yes, while it is good to always leave a bit of mystery to your writing, in this case the evidence needed to be clear. The pictures needed to help move the writing forward. Not everybody frequently visits a city park, let alone one that has such a busy nightlife. The eye-pleasing beauty of how this article is set up just helps somebody like me, who is used to not so populous, little league dominated parks get a better understanding of her perspective, what she is used to, and her findings. It helps draw the reader in, get a better idea of what she means. I’ve never been to a park (or have any near me that I know of) that are well-known for sex meetups. So how am I supposed to get an idea of what a park that IS looks like? Royte’s creativity and organization in making this article into something mesmerizing and informative to look at definitely helped.

Best of the “Best Of”

From Longhorn’s selection of the Best of 2014, I chose to read the article “The Ballad of Geeshie and Elvie” by John Jeremiah Sullivan from the New York Times Magazine.

I’m a big fan of music. It’s a big thing within my family, so it’s only natural that whenever I have the opportunity to choose something…I’ll most likely try and revolve it around music (if I can). And when I read the description “on the trail of the phantom women who changed American music and then vanished without a trace”, I was hooked.

I had no clue who this was going to be about, but I knew that it would have something to do with African American women due to the picture preview given for the article. Immediately, my mind clicked on “what did they invent? And what white guy stole it from them and claimed it as his own idea?”. Instead, I was given a complete mystery about these women whose real names we actually don’t even know and how they basically created all these pre-war American classics and just didn’t get any credit, fame, or money for that!

So here are three things about the article that made it interesting, noteworthy, and valuable:

  1. Syncing the audio to the words. Now, there’s problem a name for this or a WAY better way of explaining this…the idea just cannot come to my mind and google isn’t helping me out. So, basically, a lot of times in this article, Sullivan will discuss a particular song or lyric from Geeshie and Elvie and will sync up the music right along with the typed out lyrics. And what follows is his explanation of what you just heard. “AAAA, no variation, just moaning the words, each time with achingly subtle microvariations, notes blue enough to flirt with tonal chaos”. Like…HOW PERFECT is that explanation? It’s like you just listen to the music, think about it, and then read the following sentence and go “ah ha! THAT’S IT!”. It was a very interactive way to discuss the genius and uniqueness of the music.
  2. The background. The background of everything was not some cliche “here’s the history so I sound smart, now back to the cool mystery stuff which you came here for”. No, the history just ADDS to this story and makes it completely understandable as to why we don’t know who these two women are! Sullivan discusses the history of how “race records” became a thing, the early singers who were noticed and taken on by Paramount to get an idea of what America wanted for music, all the way to jazz in New Orleans.
  3. Personal journey. So yeah, Sullivan went out and talked to these 1930s jazz and blues musicians who are severely underappreciated. His stories of going to wheelchair-bound Mack McCormick’s house as 12am since he “regularly stays up till 4am” and just drinks screwdrivers and talk. McCormick helped him find some pretty credible information about these women and getting to read how they got such information right as it all played out just adds such liveliness and excitement to the article. The whole idea that McCormick has had all this information, yet did nothing with it…is he laughing behind their backs? Is he playing them? This article just keeps adding more mysteries into the mystery itself.

I can tell exactly what Longform appreciated about this essay. It started with a question “who are these two women?” and didn’t just find out who they were and call it a day. This was a journey, a quest. We were led through bad times, good times, and sad times throughout it all. It was written as if we were right there behind Sullivan watching him conduct these interviews, receive emails that changed everything, and even were at the mini-family reunion he organized for L.V.’s family. Yes, we did figure out who Geeshie and Elvie are…however, we found out so much more about their secrets, their journeys, and their mysteries. It was such a continuous read…there was always more questions being answered, more things to know.

 

The Brilliance of “Consider the Lobster”

As a vegetarian, I was very fond of this piece about considering the lobster. The fact is was so in your face, truth we don’t want to admit, sarcastic humor that made it so captivating, rather than ordinary. When you see a piece in some fancy food magazine that apparently will be “reviewing” this Maine Lobster Festival thing, you’re expecting some cheesy “what a wonderful festival with lots of great people and great food!” attitude about the whole thing, right? I mean, nobody reviews a festival and says it was stupid.

But, Wallace did just that. And he did a good job of that, as not many people were pleased with his review (well, Gourmet readers, that is). Wallace went above and beyond for this article (history, details, humor). He added in everything that makes a story entertaining, rather than just some boring review.

I am not a fan of reviews, but this type was just so entertaining to read. It was like spitting in all the faces of 2 types of people: the Gourmet readers AND people who find fun in a lobster festival). So, yeah, as a vegetarian, this was pleasant to read. Grant it, the gory details and description of the painful death of a lobster wasn’t pretty to read, but I love that people were forced to read that. Because yeah, it is a terrifying thing to just have this enormous festival with people crazily into killing lobsters and then eating the poor things. And that ISN’T normal, no matter what anybody tries to say.

So I really found it captivating, not just as a vegetarian, but as a reader. To have such gruesome, but truthful, words detailing how lobsters are cooked made it even a more interesting read. And I don’t mean interesting in the type of read that a psychopath would be interested in reading about animals suffering, but rather, it is something that makes you think. After all, I became vegetarian after watching like .2 seconds of one of those videos where they show the insides of slaughterhouses. I couldn’t handle it and immediately was like “yep, not eating meat anymore”. These reads are the ones that can change peoples minds and get them thinking. If you were to just have read an article about “oh yeah there was this amazing lobster festival with great people and food”, it would just be so generic, so bland, and so anticipated that nothing would ever come of it. To get an article in some trendy Gourmet magazine and detail the wrongful and unethical killing of a sea creature? That is captivating, that is new, and that is interesting.

Cunningham’s Argument

When it comes to Vinson Cunningham’s style of argument in his article “What Makes an Essay American?”, he seems to be a big fan of using conflict as a form of art. He even goes on to say that “a well-crafted argument is art”. Therefore, I take his style as straight to the point, down to the nitty-grittiness of it all. Rather than write some essay about an argument and then make it beautiful and wonderful, polish it up so that it just looks pleasing, he wants the opposite. You have to be fierce in your writing. You cannot just state the facts over and over, playing it safe. If it’s not going to get people thinking, don’t include it. As he sees argument essays as art, most of his evidence he takes from art and literature about art (such as discussing types of movements in art like cubism and impressionism or writing about a poem about Picasso called “If I Told Him: A Completed Portrait of Picasso” by Gertrude Stein).

By using those forms of evidence, Cunningham is going outside the box. Rather than dealing with the classic scholarly sources or textbooks, he’s drawing on other forms of art that have equal as meaningful substance. This takes a position of reading deeper into things that society has deemed “entertainment”, as opposed to the scholarly research it could actually be.

As opposed to Crossfire, there is no “argument to dominate”. There is no sense of “you are wrong no matter what you say”. Rather, a new form of using resources to research is unveiled. This is, rather, a “here’s what I got from this article (or poem, or what have you)”. And to be able to have a conversation about that, about interpretation rather than simply facts that are deemed true and relevant, is what can bring forth a whole new type of essay. Rather than a constant stream of facts, facts, facts, you can read a constant stream of new ideas and takes on certain things.

“Everything about Something”

In the article “When starting from zero in journalism go for a niche site serving a narrow news interest well” (what a title), my first impression was that this guy really cares about that point. He wants us to know so badly that we should create little sites of our own based upon a specific interest that he just decided to make that the title. However, there is a better point underneath it all and that is as a journalist, you must know “everything about something”.

In my podcast group, we are very alike in certain ways. We all like to get things done ASAP, we like to be organized, and we like to have everything down in writing if possible. But, we each have our own skills we bring to the table. Myself, being a video communications major, is able to edit. Having made a documentary, I also am skilled in conducting interviews. Aside from that, we have a person who likes to do graphic design. We have a person who likes to do creative writing. We have a person who loves to research all things psychological. Therefore, I’m pretty confident in saying we can handle whatever comes our way.

That being said, the point of this article is that even if you are an amateur, even if you are just *thinking* about being a journalist…the possibility of success is always there. You just have to know SOMETHING and stick to it. You can build a whole entire career around what you love, if you are passionate and knowledgeable enough.

So where does knowing “everything about something” and group work combine? Well, it helps to create something that isn’t just based upon one thing. Sure, as a video communications major, I could make a video about something I love. I could interview all the people I want about the topic. However, I’m not a graphic designer. I don’t think I’d be able to come up with a webpage and have it look outstanding…I would do it and it would just look meh. I don’t think I’d be able to balance extensive research writing with having to edit a video. Therefore, it’s important that each individual person is able to have knowledge on one particular thing. That is what you can offer to group work. That is what your individual job can be. That is “your part” in the project. Interviews are wonderful, but what is the point of interviews when there is nothing else behind it? Who cares if you have a podcast where you just share people’s opinions on things? I think you need a bit of research to back all of it, give the podcast a point or relevance. Interviews handle the personal side of things. This is where personal opinions, stories, entertainment comes from. But there needs to be a balance. There needs to be research, formats, and designs done on top of that if the podcast is aiming to be great.