Telling True Stories: Part VI:



Roy Peter Clark

The Line Between Fact and Fiction:

The line between fact and fiction in America, between what is real and made up, is blurring. The move in journalism toward infotainment invites just such confusion, as news becomes entertainment and entertainment becomes news. Deals in which editor Tina Brown joins the forces of a news company, Hearst, with a movie studio, Miramax, to create a magazine that would blend reporting and script writing are only the latest headlines signaling the blending of cultures. . . 

Tom Rosenstiel, of the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Basic principles to help journalists navigate the waters between fact and fiction- by Clark:

  • Don’t add, Don’t Deceive.
  • Be unobtrusive.
  • Avoid using anonymous sources.
  • Never put something in your story that hasn’t been checked out.

Though this is a work of nonfiction, I have taken certain storytelling liberties, particularly having to do with the time of events. Where the narrative strays from strict nonfiction, my intention has been to remain faithful to the characters and to the essential drift of events as they really happened.” John Berendt, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.


Telling True Stories: Part V:

JoN FrAnKliN

Jon Franklin is a well-known pioneer in creative nonfiction. His books include: The Molecules of The Mind, Atheneum, (1987); Writing for Story, Atheneum, (1986); Guinea Pig Doctors, (With J. Sutherland) Morrow, (1984); Not Quite a Miracle, (w/ Alan Doelp), Doubleday, (1983); Shocktrauma, (w/ Alan Doelp), St. Martin’s Press, (1980).



“The Most Powerful Thing in Literature Can Do is Move People to Suspend Disbelief: Readers forget that they are on the train or at the doctor’s office or babysitting, and enter the story.”

Lessons Learned: “Character”…
  • Narrative writers need to tell readers how a character’s inner world stacks up against outside reality he or she faces.
  • If the writer thinks more deeply about character, especially the relationship between plot and character, the story becomes much richer.
  • No writer can capture a whole person; they chose just one facet of a person’s life.
  • A writer chooses what matters.
  • Information that explains motive goes into the piece, everything else stays out.
  • The Writer’s goal is to understand how the character looks at the world and understand the character’s responses to events.

Walt Harrington

Author, professor and a journalist. His books include: Next Wave(2012), The Everlasting Stream: A True Story of Rabbits, Guns, Friendship, and Family (2004), Intimate Journalism (1997), Slices of Life (2013) and At the Heart of It: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives (1996).



Details do hold meaning, but sometimes not the sort we expect. Tom Wolfe defined status details as the items around people that define their social circumstances. Such details make the subject’s interior world clearer to us.”

Freedom With Handcuffs

After listening to Prof. Thomas Bass‘s speech about media and censorship, I wrote this story about my own experience with censorship and the media in Egypt.

My Experience with Censorship and Media in Egypt

Egyptian Newspapers

I always knew that the government was controlling the media in Egypt, because no news or talk shows had ever opposed or attacked the president, the ministers or any other official. Activists who were calling for freedom had ended up in jail. Opposition talk shows had been stopped from airing. And private newspapers were shut down. But I had never cared or was interested in expressing my opinion or condemning these practices.


Then came the revolution, I was in my last year in high school. I was really excited and hoped that the brave actions of the Egyptian youth would succeed in gaining freedom and democracy for the country. However, at this life-changing moment which would determine Egypt’s future, Egyptian media showed their true ugly face.

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They demonized the young protesters, praised the president and his government, who paid their salary, and frightened the citizens with fake and exaggerated stories about the disastrous consequences and the complete destruction of the country if the revolution succeeded and the president had to leave. This was the main strategy the media followed. They even blocked out news about the Tunisian revolution, so Egyptian would not get any ideas of starting their own revolution. They were so ignorant that they did not pay attention to the increasing use and impact of social media and especially Facebook. Egyptians were already following their Tunisian brothers and sisters in their fight for a free and just future.

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So Tunisia succeeded, and Egyptians came to realize that an Arab president could leave without the country falling into inescapable chaos. The youth started sharing invitations on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube calling for the people to gather and march in the streets, not to topple the president, but to demand their basic rights to a decent life, food, and justice. They chose Jan. 25, 2011 to be the day to protest. The significance of the day was that it is the Police day when the president gives a speech and celebrates the great achievements of the policemen. Nevertheless, for the people it was a reminder that policemen are supposed to protect the government and to keep citizens under control. A reminder of the brutality and the unfair treatment citizens get from policemen.

A week before Jan. 25, 2011, media started their reports about how happy people were and that they were preparing for the celebration and the speech. In the first days of the revolution, all media was doing was denying the occurrence of the protests. They were denying the youth’s efforts to urge people to demand change. Nevertheless, when people in their homes realized the contradiction between the news on television and newspapers and the live news on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube, media started promoting rumors accusing protesters of being trained and paid for by foreign agencies to destroy the country.

Although police shot the peaceful protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets and real guns, media did not count the deaths or report them. All they said was that the great Egyptian police had succeeded in killing some terrorists who were disturbing the public. With the never-ending lies and the confusing contradiction of the news, some people, who were observing the situation from their homes, decided to go and see for themselves what was actually happening. Most people stopped watching national media channels and started following the news on social networks, Al- Jazeera, or foreign media channels including CNN and BBC. For 18 days, media continued to lie, trying to decrease the public support to the revolution.

Then on Feb.11, 2011, the vice president at the time announced the resignation of Mubarak and that he was letting the army rule the country. People cheered up and celebrated all night long, for they had finally toppled a dictator who had ruled for more than 30 years. However, media was celebrating too. They changed their aggressive attacks on the protesters and praised their great determination and their brave fight for democracy and a free future. From that moment on, I never trusted national media.

“Be The Change You Want To See In The World.” – Gandhi

When I started college in September 2011, I chose to be a journalist. However, I wanted to study the real ethics, values, and practices of journalism, so I and my classmates in the department can be the new credible beginning of journalism after the revolution. Although, the revolution is not as successful as I thought it would be, and it did not bring the change that I hoped for, I decided never to work for a national media channel. I will try to work hard to report the truth and tell what is actually happening there.


Telling True Stories: Part IV

DeNeen L. Brown:

To Begin The Beginning… The HARDEST THING about the beginning is the


The screen stares and the cursor blinks nothingness, taunting me. It says, “Ready, set, go! What are you going to write this time?” “I summon a voice strong enough to say, Sit down and listen to me.

Source: DeNeen Brown Twitter

Source: DeNeen Brown Twitter

Beginning to read a story should feel like embarking on a journey, starting toward a destination.” “Where would you begin if you were an omniscient narrator?

“Don’t just tell me what so-and-so said and what so-and-so felt. Tell me what so-and-so meant to say and why she said it, and what had brought her to this point in her life that would make her say it. He meant: Create multidimensional stories and characters.

“Go deep.”

“Each one of us has a storytelling voice deep inside. We’ve been listening to stories since we were knee -high, and we know how stories should be told.”

Jack Hart:

We are trained as journalists to describe action secondhand, through quotes and observation. Skilled narrative writers put the reader there and let her witness it, have the experience, feel it. That’s much more powerful than a secondhand version of reality.



Summary Vs. Dramatic Narratives

* The summary:
  • Provides the links between scenes, which are usually written in dramatic narrative.
  • Standard news stories are written in summary narrative.
* The Dramatic:
  • Is required in true storytelling.
  • Traditional journalists, because they have limited experience with dramatic narrative, often have a tough time distinguishing between the two. “

To sum up:

“You’re either in story, or you’re out of story.”


Telling True Stories III

Tomas Alex Tizon:

Is an American author and a Pulitzer Prize winner. He contributed to Newsweek and 60 Minutes. He was also the bureau chief of LA Times.
Writing a profile is documenting someone’s life. As unique as you believe your life is, others think the same way about their lives as well. I found his four points to consider interesting and gave me a new perspective and a new point of view when thinking about profiles.

  1. Your Subject is as COMPLICATED as You Are
  2. Your Subject Carries a BURDEN as Heavy as Yours
  3. Your Subject WANTS Something
  4. Your Subject is Living an EPIC STORY

Malcolm Gladwell:

“One reason I don’t write profiles of people is that I believe we are incapable of truly describing a person’s core… People are more complicated than our profiles of them reflect.” – The Limits of Profiles

“Though we are incapable of getting all of a person’s essence, I do believe we can get at pieces of someone’s personality. That’s enough!”

Melissa Fay Greene:

Has contributed to The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Good Housekeeping, Readers Digest, Life, MS, Newsweek, The Wilson Quarterly, Parade, Redbook, Parenting, HuffingtonPost, Salon, TheDailyBeast, and
She has five books:

“No one asked us to be keepers of the flame of history; we’ve taken it on ourselves. When we choose to write nonfiction, our first commitment is not to be readable or to educate or to curry favor with our readers. It is to be as accurate as possible.”

Telling True Stories Part 3:

There are various genres that journalists can follows to write their stories. It is important to follow the ethics and rules of journalism and to find your own style and your own voice.

Telling True Stories II

I am enjoying every page of this book. It is rich with its tips and advice, yet in a way that I did not find in other journalism books that I read during my study. With these brilliant and different writers, journalists and authors, I get a pleasant surprise of their ideas and writings in every article.



Jan Winburn

is a senior editor for enterprise at CNN digital. She is an award- winning writer who got:

  1. Pulitzer Prize for featuring writing.
  2. Ernie Pyle Award for Human Interest Writing
  3. ASNE Award for Non-Deadline Writing.

The editor’s questions that she emphasized in her article were useful and informative. However, two main questions drew my attention and interest, as I do not see them being used or implemented in many news organizations nowadays which make some stories half- told. Therefore, the truth is missing.

  • What truism is being presented in the news, and does heading in the opposite direction suggest a story?
  • Is there an untold background tale?

I remembered the conflict between the East and the West when I read these specific questions. I get the weirdest questions about how the Arabs thinks or feel about the West. Interestingly, all Western media promote certain stereotypes, which people never stop and think about. They just hear them, believe them and then act accordingly.
Following what I read in the articles, there were tips from different authors that reporters must go wherever the story takes them. This is how you know the truth and report it; by going to both sides and asking questions.
When you do not hear the other voice, you must know that this is not the truth and that you are missing something. Therefore, that is what I am aiming for, to go wherever the story takes me and fully report it. Not to allow biases, or to follow trends, gossips and stereotypes. That is what I owe to my profession, my readers and myself.




Ted Conover:

is an author and a journalist. “He writes about real people by living their own lives,” as he described himself on his blog.



Although it might seem extreme for some journalists, going as far as sending your self to prison might be required to get the truth. Not every reporter would need to do that, but depending on what you are covering, you should go wherever the action is. Get the story from its original sources no matter how long it takes you.