Tuesday, 27 March 2012

When Time Is the Essence

After Winnipeg Free Press crime reporter Mike McIntyre visited our lecture hall last Thursday decided—as per our assignment guidelines—to look up some of his stories on the Free Press website.

What I noticed when I was reading through the ones I brought up on my computer was how easy they were to read compared to Journey For Justice: How Project Angel Helped Crack the Candace Derksen Case. When reading McIntyre’s book I was distracted by the grammatical errors and the change in tone/style between the sections. So much so that I started keeping count of the typos. (I eventually stopped. What was the point?)

But the articles, written rapidly and with little patience according to McIntyre, have a kind of fluidity about them. They’re not structured in any blatantly obvious way, they just kind of answer questions as they come to mind.

I understand from listening to McIntyre talk that he’s a bit lacking in the kind of patience usually required to write and publish a book. He even mentioned that he chose a publisher that wouldn’t make him wait a year to properly vet his prose for those annoying spelling mistakes.

And, okay, I get it. He’s a reporter. He’s used to the rapid-fire gratification of seeing his words in print the very next day or within seconds if he’s posting it straight to online. A book takes longer, even with a publisher willing to print a second run of your book (hopefully free of typos).

But even so, there seems to be a weird disconnect between his book writing (so-so) and his article writing (graceful?). Where’s the justification for the difference?

Maybe I should have asked him during our Thursday seminar. Then again, I was really waiting for Wilma Derksen’s chance to speak. McIntyre often “set the stage” for any questions asked of Wilma, but what that meant was he would talk until there was nothing much for her to say.

She was the reason I was interested in the seminar.

But back to Journey For Justice, what I though worked in the book was the first section where McIntyre is telling the story of the days after Candace disappeared. It’s set up like a crime novel with Wilma as the protagonist.

What didn’t work for me was the repetitiveness in the last two sections. I found all the doctor reports and testimonials interesting…but only the first time I read it. It’s like if McIntyre had put away the book for a few more weeks and read it back to himself another time, he could have cut out 50 pages of stuff he already said.

My first reaction to this book was Urg, why do we have to read this? I know what happened. The idea of spending my time reading a book that I knew had an unhappy ending wasn’t appealing to me. That opinion changed some as I read the book—it was interesting to see into Wilma Derksen’s family as all the media coverage swirled around them.

What I think journalists can learn from this book is how important it is to remember that, no matter what you’re writing, you’re telling a story. Only tell your readers what they need to know, nothing more, and only once (maybe twice).

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