Looking Past the Paper

“You’re only as good as your material.”

Jacobi begins the fourth chapter of “The Magazine Article: How to Think It, Plan It, Write It” with this simple sentence–and those words resonated deep in my brain. To be a journalist, you have to look past the story. In reference to writing for magazines, a good journalist must have the ability take the information she collects on her topic and present it as colorfully and intriguing as if she were telling a fictional story.

SIMG_8660o, when Professor Cumming sent our small groups on our way to different locations on W&L’s campus with the assignment of finding an interesting story, I knew the task would be easier said than done.

Our class groups were sent to places like the library, the Global Learning Center construction site, the Dining Hall, and the museum under Lee Chapel–all of which Professor Cumming hoped would provide enough sensory details to make a story that Jacobi had described in his chapter.

I knew what to look for and I knew the questions to ask the workers at Café 77 (or Co-Op), but multi-tasking proved to be a challenge. As I collected information from talking to workers, I kept my senses open and aware of my surroundings: the sizzling grease from the fryers,IMG_8650 the sweat beads appearing on the workers’ brows, the buzz from the refrigerator, etc.

As I took in the setting, I had words and phrases zooming in and out of my brain as I felt a strong story beginning to form. My partner and I stayed in the Co-Op for approximately 45 minutes, before returning to our classroom on the third floor of Reid Hall.

In the two-hour period, I learned a valuable lesson. Research isn’t all about numbers and data; it also involves a lot of personal experience with the subject, whether it be a person or a place. A good story requires a writer to make the reader care about the subject and feel as if he or she is exactly where the writer was when she did her research.

So, yes, a story goes beyond the numbers and the statements. There is a detailed world around a story and that world must be explored by a writer to display the story’s truest values.

–Parker Butler

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