Business reporting and explanatory journalism (Ch. 5)

Miriam Williamson

Business reporting and explanatory journalism seems to be a very difficult genre. The thing that makes an article of this type powerful is the writer’s ability to turn a seemingly boring topic into an interesting, informative piece. By finding an interesting angle or a unique explanation, a journalist can captivate readers and teach something they might have difficulty understanding.

It was a little difficult for me to determine which articles fit into this “category,” but I was able to find five articles that I think are examples of strong, useful writing. While searching for these articles, I looked for a few important characteristics.

First of all, I looked for articles with a strong lede. If readers are bored by the end of the lede or the nut graf, then regardless of how well-written the rest is they will not continue to read it. Secondly, I looked at the meat, or body, of the story. I made sure that the writer took an interesting angle. Then I looked to see if the writer added facts that readers could gain knowledge from, without any confusing or unnecessary information. Colorful details and informative quotes were another aspect I looked for in the writing.

In 1997, Michael Vitez won a Pulitzer for his article, “Families in agony on when to let go.” It is a five part article that was published in the Philedelphia Inquirer about whether or not patients should be kept alive through means of mechanical equipment or not, and the unique differences associated with each individual condition.

Immediately Vitez captures his audience’s attention, using an emotional scene of Patricia Moore standing at the bedside of her dying husband. When readers reach the nut graf, the story is one many have experienced or will experience at some point in their life: Should they continue keeping a loved one alive by means of machines in a hospital, or should they unplug the machines and say goodbye? It is a fear and question on the minds of so many people in the age of increasing medicinal technology. So readers continue, hoping to learn more about their options if they were to face this situation.

Vitez uses a common, but effective tactic in developing his story: He uses a real-life example for readers to relate to. By introducing his characters, especially the man who is dying, Vitez gives the story more meaning. Readers wonder what will happen to this man, and picture themselves in the same situation. The emotional aspect of this story was another very effective characteristic. When a story is well-written enough to make readers actually care about the characters, it will likely hold the readers interest. He also made connections between the characters that helped segue from one story to the next. But he does not introduce too many characters that readers become confused or are less focused on each. Instead, he uses just enough to make the story as powerful as possible.

Vitez brings up many interesting questions that make readers think more deeply about the ideas presented. For instance, he tells that many question whether the world of medicine focuses too much on curing and not enough on caring. But he does not answer the question for the reader. He simply supplies the facts and details needed for someone to make a decision. He equally presents both sides of the argument, but still makes readers really think.

The quotes often support the facts he supplies, but adds a more human element to it. He also uses quotes that portray the emotions and feelings of the characters in the story, reminding readers of these characters’ struggles. The fact that he uses exact conversations demonstrates the true difficulties people in this situation face.

Overall, Vitez has a very powerful writing style. His sentences all flow smoothly and logically. It is hard to imagine a reader easily becoming disinterested or confused. Everything is written simply enough to communicate with anyone, but eloquently enough to make everyone want to continue reading. His writing has a smooth rhythm that matches the somber tone of the story.

There were a few points I thought could have been stronger for this article. First of all, I think the writer or editors could have created a much more powerful headline. While it summarizes the article, I personally don’t find it captivating enough for the impact this story has.

Secondly, he mentions Jack Kevorkian. While most Americans know who he is, I think it is important to remind them. Also, I think the comparison between situations was too big of a comparison to make without any sort of written link. However, he did mention him later in the fourth part of the series.

Finally, I think the story maybe could have been more well-rounded with an example of the benefits of life support. Without it, it does seem a little one sided. But I do see why Vitez decided to leave it out. He is showcasing what people go through at the point of death, not recovery.

This article can be found at http://www.pulitzer.org/archives/5958.

Other examples of powerful business reporting and explanatory journalism

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