Welcome to News Reporting and Writing

Writing tip #14: Get the name of the dog.

Writing coach Roy Peter Clark recommends reporters dig for concrete, specific details that make the reader sit up and take note — so they can “see” the story. If you are up for the challenge, read a newspaper and identify passages that let you see the story. If you find something great, share the passage in a comment. Be sure and credit the publication and writer.

Steve Hendrix wrote this for The Washington Post.

After living the past seven years in this cabin the size of a hotel bathroom, the Crafton family seems in no hurry to clear out now. On a muggy, sun-drenched morning, all five of them — knees just touching, lives completely entwined– sit cheerfully in the sailboat that has been their home since they pulled away from this Severna Park dock in 2003.


About journalistjan

I am a former daily journalist who has spent nearly 20 years teaching future journalists.
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26 Responses to Welcome to News Reporting and Writing

  1. chrisreinoos says:

    That lead does evoke a real sense of intimacy with the words used. Both the small size of the boat and the warm temperature create a sense of closeness that could be construed as overbearing to some. But their is little doubt that reading that first paragraph would cause the reader to emotionally invest in the story.

  2. kotlarkj says:

    My dad is a sailor himself and has done the Mackinac race several times, and also wants to take his 22-foot boat (or get a new one) in Florida when he retires, so I’m sure he would’ve absolutely loved reading the article written by Steve Hendrix in the Washington Post. It was very well written and overall an interesting read.

  3. scoopie13 says:

    The Crafton family reminds me a lot about my own family. Taking trips and exploring new places is what brings people together and that is obvious what happened with this family. It is amazing to see that the sibling rivalry stopped the day they stepped on the boat. I know that would not happen in my family. I really enjoyed reading about a family that is a lot like mine.

  4. schoencr says:

    Also from, “The Crafton Family Enjoys Rare Closeness after Seven Years Together at Sea,” the exerpt, “It was an adjustment, of course. There were head bumps in the tiny sleeping berths and five hurricanes during the year and a half they spent prepping in Florida. But almost at once, an instinctive choreography emerged, allowing five people to colonize a space not much larger than a minivan,” helps the reader “see” the dialogue. Hendrix gives the appropriate information while descriptively entertaining the reader.

  5. hdaniels13 says:

    After reading Stevie Hendrix’s article in The Washington Post, the Crafton family reminded me alot of my family. We always take trips every other summer to a place that is brand new to all of us (ex. Yellowstone, Maine, Montana, etc.) It does get a little crowded at times, but each of us has a fantastic time. I loved reading this article!

  6. jakebutkovich says:

    As I’m sure is the case with many others, what caught my attention in Steve Hendrix’s piece was the crowded living conditions over such an extended period of time. Having never flown for any of our family excursions across the country, I could associate with the small, minivan-like spaces the Crafton family endured over seven years, but never to that extent. The family’s unity and cooperation over the years and through hardship provided an emotional link to the story as well, and though my sibling rivalry with my brothers never ceased on our long trips, we always seemed to enjoy our time together and dread the trip home. Hendrix’s article was an exciting read.

  7. bealedk says:

    After reading this article it just showed that being with your family more and more each day you become closer with them. I am a family oriented typed of person and this goes to show that traveling with and spending alot of time together can break the rivalry that one may have with there sibling and also enjoying that family love that many people may no have.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I had the same envisions in my head while reading Hendrix’s piece; family unity. Picturing them sitting “knees touching” gives me a sense of closeness and love for one another. No matter what hard times a family goes through, they will always be there for each other- I can picture their faces on the boat from his explanations.

  8. Ellie Hackenmiller says:

    While reading Steve Hendrix’s article in the Washington Post named, “Crafton Family Enjoys Rare Closeness after Seven Years Together at Sea” I was deeply intrigued. The descriptive and colorful words Hendrix uses paints a picture in the readers mind. For example the excerpt, “The close quarters stayed remarkably clear of clutter. They even got rid of the small refrigerator, not wanting to run the smelly engine just to keep beer cool. At sea, they lived on fish and canned goods. Ashore, they delighted in taking jitney buses to the market each day, living a local’s life,” helps the reader really imagine their slow pace and “clear of clutter” lifestyle.

  9. dziedzam says:

    After reading this exerpt from Steve Hendrix’s article, it brings back memories of traveling with my family either in a packed van heading up north or on a cramped plane heading to visit family in a distant state. As uncomfortable as the trips there and back may have been, it was always worth the small tiny quarters for the memories and love from my family.

  10. emfelder says:

    The start of the post is one that draws you in to learn more with its cryptic meaning. It makes you want to find out what the ‘dog’ is you are supposed to find and how it relates to writing. The phrase “sit up and take note” ties in nicely with the lead.
    The passage provided by Steve Hendrix is a great example of getting the name of the dog. I really can “see” the story and his use of detail makes the excerpt more interesting and easier to read while still relaying information.

  11. cadiedrich says:

    These first few sentences that Steve Hendrix uses to describe the lifestyle of the Crafton family are loaded with brilliant uses of imagery. Hendrix gives the reader a clear illustration of the both the setting and emotions tied to it, but still leaves room for the reader to make their own personal connection.

  12. Brian Opper says:

    The writing really does allow one to picture the family in all aspects of their life, even if you have not ever even been in a sail boat. His eloquence addsto the readers visualization.

  13. wenzelmw says:

    The story is made to create a picture and generate awe within the first couple paragraphs, as most like this should. The one that really got me was when it was somewhat “tossed in there” when they described two big events during the trip, which were “the three-day trek into the mountains of Papua New Guinea, or the village festival no white people had seen before.” The general idea of the story of living at sea for so long was impressive enough, but the writing style really caught my interest when the story was then basically written to say, “Oh, we had a bunch of interesting stories… like the time we saw a festival white people had never seen before.” That’s insanely interesting, and if those are mere examples, I feel that the story doesnt’t give justice to the incredible adventure they went on, which is how we are supposed to feel!

  14. neerhoan says:

    This blog accurately reflects what distinguishes good journalism from great journalism. While a good journalist tells a story, a great journalist seeks to connect a story to the reader’s personal life, or ‘To touch the reader’s heart’ as stated in our syllabus. This is a great tip that I will incorporate into the articles I write in the future.

  15. Brita Dallmann says:

    I do agree that using detailed imagery is a wonderful way to pull a reader into a story. Anyone can spit out the facts, but it takes a real journalist to tell the story in a compelling way, placing an image in the reader’s mind that will inspire them to continue reading and to actually care about the subject at hand.

  16. Karen Hansen says:

    What an astonishing story! The Crafton family seems like a modern day Swiss Family Robinson, but at sea. This group witnessed so many beautiful sights and together as a family – a team – learned to work together and fully enjoy one another’s company. I couldn’t possibly imagine my family all hopping on a tiny boat, circling the world, and refraining from arguing.

    This article does a beautiful job of providing great detail to their experience, the boat, their growth, and their experience, allowing the reader to “see” it all. Feel it all. From the mountains of Papa New Guinea to the pure blue-water they crossed. This simply was a lovely and entertaining article.

    This blog inspired me to find another article that follows this bit of journalistic advice. Also taken from The Washington Post, Nancy Trejos wrote an article called “Glamping in style in the North Carolina mountains.” Trejos gets the name of the dog, as she provides great detail in this fun report of glamorous camping (“glamping”). Below is an exerpt.

    “There’d better be a Four Seasons at the end of this road,” said my friend Rebecca as our rented Kia struggled down a steep hill. (Mental note: Don’t take a Kia camping in the mountains.) We’d been going in circles for an hour, taking the wrong exits and searching for signs to our campsite.

    (Not sure how to properly embed a link, but please enjoy this article!)

  17. claircasey says:

    Like other students, I found the fact that the Crafton family lived in such tight conditions to add an emotional level. Throughout the article Hendrix puts emphasis on family values and painted a clearly picture of their family dynamic. This blog does a good job making the viewer see his story, his attention to detail adds depth making us feel more engaged in his writing and connected to the Crafton family.

  18. skay07 says:

    An emotional lead in ties the reader to this family’s story, and while the rest of the article is more factual it maintains a sense of intimacy due to the visualization of the family sitting together in the opening paragraph. A few emotional tie in’s go a long way in this story.

  19. jkayla says:

    In Hendrix’s article “Crafton Family Enjoys Rare Closeness after Seven Years at Sea”, the author made use of several useful details in the story that seemed to be really effective as far as allowing for insight into the Crafton family’s experience. His specific description of the size of the cabin on the boat, as well as his inclusion of how some of the family members reacted after trying to do things others may on any given day (such as journeying to the local Wal-Mart) worked well to allow the reader to put some things about the experiences of the Craftons into terms that are easy to relate to for most.

  20. davisana says:

    In the article, “Crafton Family Enjoys Rare Closeness after Seven Years at Sea” by Steve Hendrix hit home for me and my personal experience. I come from an experience of growing up in a multitude of group homes and foster homes rather than my own family. As Hendrix describes the way the Crafton children grew up, I immediately compared it to the way I grew up. I am just finally starting to build a relationship with my family, and we struggle with not really knowing eachother personally. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have that type of family bond, but it proves that every family is truly different.

  21. andeeliz says:

    As mentioned in many of the other comments for this post, the language Steve Hendrix writes in and the Crafton family are quoted is exceptionally vivid and really brings you into the life the Craftons lived.

    I believe this was accomplished by using the small, everyday experiences the family participated in, such as the trading between themselves and the canoes that surrounded them in one particular island harbor. The details of the trade between them (“Bunches of bananas and mountains of fish could be had for an empty plastic bottle, coveted for storage in places where everything is biodegradable”) show the daily life this family lived in.

    By sharing these very specific examples, readers can place themselves in the Craftons’s lives. Readers are invited inside their lives, whereas generalizations would keep readers on the outside, trying to peer in.

  22. Britta Marquand says:

    I decided to read a different article and in doing so, found a completely different type of imagery. While reading a blog by Global Voices on the disputed area of Kashmir, I was struck by many different types of imagery which made the story come alive and made me care about the people affected by this issue.

    One quote describes the region as “[a] perennially bleeding State”, referring to the conflict which exists not only within that region, but among the nations vying for their own share of it. I found the blog to be overall interesting to read and insightful into an issue of which I had no previous knowledge. The imagery used within the article certainly added to the quality and appeal of the article. To read the full article, follow this link: http://globalvoicesonline.org/2010/09/13/india-kashmir-is-burning-again/

  23. Jonathon McDonnell says:

    The article by Steve Hendrix really paints a picture in the readers mind. After reading this article I felt like I was right on the sail boat with each one of the family members. The wording used like – knees just touching, lives completely entwined – describes the close quarters that they lived in for such a long period of time. Great lede brought together by even better writing.

  24. andreatrungale says:

    I like how Hendrix brought storytelling elements to the table and combined them with the newswriting style. The lead, especially its first sentence, is attention grabbing and made me feel as if I were reading a literary work of fiction. Hendrix utilizes juxtaposition by contrasting the discomfort of the “muggy, sun-drenched morning” with the family members’ happiness as they sit cheerfully in the boat. I thought this technique was very effective.

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