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    What journalists can learn from movies

    At first he was put off by the advice he got from a film executive, John Capouya writes on Nieman Storyboard. But as he worked on his biography of the professional wrestler Gorgeous George, he began to learn what makes movies work: "The way screenwriters understand, exploit and tweak these elements can help us tell compelling true stories that, at least at first, don't appear on-screen. There's real craft, and real craft lessons, in the stories that unfold in the dark.

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    Kurt Vonnegut and story shapes

    What does Arsenic and Old Lace have in common with Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle? They're both examples of Kurt Vonnegut's "Man in Hole" story shape, according to a Nieman Storyboard post. The Slaughterhouse-Five author developed his story-shapes model as a master's thesis at the University of Chicago, but it was rejected. It later found new life in a YouTube video and the Nieman post includes interpretations in both text and graphic form.

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    Robert Caro on the biographer's craft

    He's written one volume about Robert Moses and four (with one to come) about Lyndon Johnson. In this Nieman Foundation Q&A session, Robert Caro talks about how he works: "I never interview by telephone. You learn so much from people's faces … One rule I have is, no matter how late it is, I will type up that interview before I go to sleep because I want to have it in my mind as fresh as possible, what my impressions were, how he acted when he was saying things."

  • Is it a "narrative" or a "news feature?"

    Rebecca Allen points out the differences between the two story forms in an archived Nieman Storyboard post. The ledes may be identical, but after that: "In a news feature, the writer would let the reader know what is new with Hortense, something like: Miller can't go into her garden these days. Since she broke her hip while showing the garden, she uses a wheelchair. But in a narrative, the writer withholds how the story turns out and instead goes back to the beginning."

  • Hemingway in New York, annotated

    Lillian Ross answers some questions about her 1950 New Yorker profile of the man who, she wrote, "may well be the greatest living American writer." Her interrogator, Nieman Storyboard's Elon Green, sets the stage: "Even in a magazine known for the Profile — the magazine that, in fact, has been credited with creating the concept, as an art form — this one stood out … Hemingway loved the profile, and he and Ross remained friends until his death, in 1961."

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    Amy Harmon on science narratives

    A Mizzou graduate student talked to six narrative journalists, including Amy Harmon of the New York Times, who wrote about work on genetically modified oranges: "I like just being an observer in people's lives, and getting them to trust me, and writing stuff that's kind of intimate and trying to understand how these science issues are playing out in people's lives, up close." Also interviewed were Anne Hull, Lane DeGregory, David Finkel, Tom Hallman, and Chris Jones.

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    The methods of Hunter S. Thompson

    Josh Roiland bravely analyzes Hunter S. Thompson's "The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved." When the gonzo master confesses that his notes are a mess, Roiland cheers his transparency: "I am not arguing in favor of exaggeration or fabrication, but I believe Thompson’s inclusion of the whiskey-stained notebook denotes an essential moment of self-accounting … Thompson’s facts may be blurry, but readers understand and recalibrate their expectations accordingly."

  • Marty Robbins' "El Paso" line-by-line

    Tommy Tomlinson analyzes another country music classic, the story of a cowboy, a beautiful woman, and a murder in a west Texas town: "Rhythm and sentence length are key to making this song work. The full sentences imply an epic story; the galloping rhythm (11 syllables followed by 10, sung in ¾ time) makes it feel much shorter. Robbins’ record label, worried that the song was too long for the radio, released an edited version. Fans demanded the long version instead."

  • Analyzing "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold"

    Nieman Storyboard gives the annotation treatment to the legendary 1966 Esquire article. Its writer, Gay Talese, admits to resisting the assignment at first because he believed that nothing new could be written about Sinatra: "Sometimes you do what you have to do. Since it was the only job I had going, and since I had a 1-year-old daughter, and since I had financial obligations — I didn’t have any money saved. In 1966, my net worth was just a few thousand dollars."

  • Sebastian Junger and his storm story

    Nieman Storyboard and The Perfect Storm author Sebastian Junger discuss line-by-line his Outside story that later became a book and movie. Here's Junger on reconstructing an event that none of the participants survived: "And I didn’t want to fictionalize, obviously, because I considered myself a journalist. But I'd read a book called The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, and he'd do this thing where he'd say, 'Maybe he took a walk' or 'Maybe he watched the sunset.'"