Tricks of the trade

Subscribe to Tricks of the trade

From Rachel Carson's writing on pesticides to documentary filmmakers focusing on climate change and fracking, covering what Rob Nixon calls "slow violence" environmental stories has always been challenging. Writing on Nieman Storyboard, Nixon reviews recent efforts to meet that challenge. "Fast is faster than it used to be and story units have become ever shorter," Nixon writes. "So to render slow violence visible requires, among other things, redefining speed."

"Style matters," Ben Yagoda writes in "The Sound on the Page: Style and Voice in Writing." This post from Chip Scanlan at the Poynter Institute excerpts some practical advice for writers trying to develop their voices. They range from "Read aloud," to "Copy other writers — literally." From the latter: "Simply copying a passage is a great way — much better than mere reading — of internalizing an author’s sensibility and cadences."

Anyone can post news to Twitter, so distinguishing good information from bad is a huge challenge. Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Craig Silverman (editor of the RegretTheError.com web site), consults a half-dozen practitioners of social media verification and conveys their advice. Some of their suggestions: Examine the poster's history; find independent verification; and make direct contact with the poster.

Biographer Robert Caro talks about the importance of place in his Lyndon Johnson biographies. Receiving a lifetime achievement award, Caro said that to understand Johnson's roots in the Texas hill country, he spent the night in those hills alone in a sleeping bag. To see Washington as Johnson did, he studied the Capitol in the brilliant morning sun. "The greatest of books are books with places you can see in your mind’s eye," he said in an excerpt on Nieman Storyboard.

Two new Poynter Institute articles examine Steve Kroft's interview with President Obama about the bin Laden raid, and suggest six questions that can help writers find the focus in their stories. Al Tompkins discusses the three basic types of interview questions: objective, subjective, and "the non-question question," while Tom Huang poses queries like "What’s the glimpse of wisdom we can offer?" and "How would you tell this story to a friend?"