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Two Great Post Stories

    The Post brought out some big lumber today with a front-page piece on a grieving father by David Finkel,  and a magazine cover story on Red America by David Von Drehle. I am teaching Finkel and Von Drehle at Georgetown, by which I mean, they're the material. As in, "I am teaching Shakespeare." (And yes, this blog will not only relentlessly promote my own work but also that of my friends and colleagues. What, I'm supposed to link to some article in The New York Times?)

     The students read Finkel's first dispatch from Kosovo some years back. Finkel essentially parachuted in, looked around, started taking notes, and within a few hours had pounded out an amazing story. He beamed it home on a satellite phone. (I will link to it when I figure out how. Help, Meredith! Hal! Jim! It ran April 6, 1999, in Style, and was called "Give and Take on the Road to Somewhere") It's a great lesson for any aspiring journalist: Finkel opens his eyes and tells us what he sees. There are no quotes from government officials to gum up his narrative, no unnecessary wads of data. He simply describes a man on a tractor trying to deliver food and water to starving, filthy, desperate people. The writing is disciplined, the sentences screwed down so tightly you couldn't budge them with a sledgehammer. The story is not just chronological, but confined in time and space, the way real life is lived. How many of us, when we write a story, suddenly jump into hyperspace and describe a scene far away, or drop in a voice from the ether, because we thought it was an Important Quote and needed to appear before the jump?

     The students also read a story that Von Drehle wrote after surviving a direct hit by Hurricane Hugo in 1989 (I don't know if I can figure out how to link to it, unfortunately).  Von Drehle is another writer who makes all the words work for him, and understands the power of a short sentence (the Von Drehle rule that every journalism teacher should quote religiously is, "The bigger the idea, the shorter the sentence").

-- written Jan. 16, 2005

By Joel Achenbach  |  January 17, 2005; 2:22 PM ET
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