In journalism education we often preach that brevity and economy are critical tools of the trade. But when do those need to be cast aside in favor of long-form presentation?
My argument is that those tools are still part of the enterprise storyteller’s utility belt. Even if the story is a print monster of 2,000 words. Or the story is a video 11 minutes long. Sentences and scenes should still be just long enough to accomplish their goals and paragraphs should not include unnecessary sentences.
But it is my argument that it is the enterprise and long form and the willingness to take on these stories that separate great college newspapers from good ones.
I love to browse the Hearst Journalism Awards’ website and see some of the incredible work being done by young people. According to the awards’ website, they were “founded in 1960, to provide support, encouragement, and assistance to journalism education at the college and university level. The program awards scholarships to students for outstanding performance in college-level journalism, with matching grants to the students’ schools.”
One of my favorites is a piece done by Nina Earnest for The Daily Iowan in 2010. It is more than 2,000 words and every one of them, in my opinion, is necessary. I won’t go into the subject. Go ahead and click and see if you don’t read to the end. For her efforts, Earnest took a second-place award from Hearst and earned a $2,000 scholarship.
I can imagine at some newspapers, an enterprising young writer/reporter might present such an effort in a pitch meeting with lukewarm response. And when they file it, the editor has a fit because all they see at the bottom of the document is the word count. “We don’t have space,” they scream.
Make the space. Add a couple of pages. It will make your paper better. Earnest’s editor listened and made the space. As you can see from the photo above, it was the front-page centerpiece. And then it jumps, of course. And her editor made the space.
Check out what they did. They gave her all of 8A, too.
“But I don’t want to do all that work,” you might tell me. That’s short-sighted, too.
These stories are the ones that get noticed and get you jobs. Earnest interviewed an entire family. She probably conducted an initial interview and multiple follow-up interviews. It was a lot of work. And what did it get her? A scholarship that probably covered just a small portion of the tuition at a university like Iowa.
Not just that, though. Earnest’s Twitter account says she is an Arts Intern at National Public Radio after getting her degree from Iowa in journalism and international studies.
She joined the college paper, she says on LinkedIn, to improve her reporting skills. She did. Her college editors noticed and gave her the space to tell a great story with great skill. And it landed her at NPR.
And that is The Importance of Being (like) Earnest.