Telling True Stories: Part IX:



Jim Collins

Freelancing as a narrative writer hasn’t ever been an easy way to earn a living, and recent changes in the magazine industry have made it even tougher… Magazines that depend on subscriptions can no longer compete with those relying on advertising income… While getting started as a freelancer, you must spend as much time pitching stories (and accepting rejection) as you do writing them…


The idea of being a freelancer, seems to be an exciting idea for a journalist to write about what he wants, take the time he needs to report, and move between different new organizations and publications. I always think of a reporter who travels the world and write as much as he wants, whenever I think about a freelancer. I know this is not what happens in reality, but it sounds like a great life to me. However, I believe that for a great journalist to have such a life, they must work hard first, follow the rules and work for a known organization where he can build his career and name.


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 I

Jacqui Banaszynski holds the Knight Chair in editing at the Missouri School of Journalism and she is an editing fellow at the Poynter Institute. She worked as a news editor and reporter for more than 30 years. She was a senior editor at The Oregonian, and an Associate Managing Editor at The Seattle Times. Some of her significant work are:

  • Her series “AIDS in the Heartland” – won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize in feature writing.
  • Her coverage of the Ethiopian famine – was a finalist for the 1986 Pulitzer in international reporting
  • Her coverage of the 1988 Olympics – won the nation’s top deadline reporting award.
  • 2008: She was named to the Feature Writers Hall of Fame.
Stories Matter:

I enjoyed the way she wrote this article. She wanted to make a point about the important of telling stories and she started her article with a story. The narration of the scenes, characters, sounds and events created a profile of that disaster in Ethiopia which will last forever for yet generations to come.

“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.” Tim O’Brien – The Things They Carried

That is what I aim to do with my journalism study. I want to tell the truth of the events that happen in the world through my stories. I want to tell these stories with different voices and all parties involved to be represented even if I had to travel across the world to get their voices.



Gay Talese: worked for The New York Times for almost a decade and wrote for several publications including Esquire, The New Yorker, Newsweek and the Harper’s Magazine.
He wrote about eleven books. He is currently working on a book about marriage for Knopf.

 “With all of the qualities of the scene-setting, the dialogue, the place and time and the time and place in which your characters move. And I want to move with the characters, move with them and describe the world in which they are living.” – Gay Talese

Some of his famous books:

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“Gay Talese is known for his daring pursuit of “unreportable” stories, for his exhaustive research, and for his formally elegant style.” Barbara Lounsberry –

Delving into Private Lives:

It is exciting to learn about great writers who did what no one else did, and yet they achieved what they wanted and got people’s admiration. Writing about people who no one writes about, or places that no one visits or topics that no one reports; unique branch of journalism. I learned two main points from this story:

  1. Go wherever the story takes you, and make sure that you get it from its original sources even if it took you to the other side of the world
  2. Do not follow the crowd, believe in what you like to write about and persue it even if you are the only person taking that path. Be Unique and Distinctive.



David Halberstam: was an American journalist and historian. He was famous for his coverage of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, as well as other areas including business, media, culture and sports. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 1964. He died in a traffic accident in Menlo Park, California on April 23, 2007.

“Things are changing. Narrative nonfiction is on the rise , and I feel lucky to have spent more than fifty years doing it. I’ve been paid to learn, to ask questions, to think. What could be more enjoyable and more rewarding than that?”- David Halberstam.

The Narrative Idea:

His article had some of the advice that I used to hear since the first year in my journalism study. Nevertheless, his words held different meaning and perspective comparing to the work he did. I have always heard that the story idea is the most important element. A journalist must know what he wants to write about, and understand where he wants to go with the story. However, knowing the books he wrote, his ideas were extraordinary. Or perhaps his enthusiasm and willingness to pursue these ideas was extraordinary.

Some of his good advice:

  • “The writer must get better and better, become a better storyteller.”
  • “The idea is vital. Telling a good story demands a great conception, a great idea for why the story works— for what it is and how it connects to the human condition.”
  • “The more reporting you do, the more authority your voice has.”



Katherine Boo: is a staff writer at The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. She won several awards including:

  1. Pulitzer Prize.
  2. MacArthur “Genius” grant.
  3. National Magazine Award for Feature Writing.

One of her best books is “Behind the Beautiful Forevers” which was published in 2012.It won the following awards:

  • The National Book Award
  • The PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award
  • The Los Angeles Times Book Prize
  • The American Academy of Arts and Letters Award
  • The New York Public Library’s Helen Bernstein Book Award
  • Named one of the Ten Best Books of the year
  • Named of the Best Books of the year
  • New York Times Bestseller
Difficult Journalist That’s Slap-Up Fun:

I have learned from Mr. Halberstam that a journalist is a person who gets paid to learn more, ask more questions and think. Form this article by Katherine Boo, I learn to go around, observe, think and ask questions. Go to where no one else have been to. Ask questions that people and journalists never bother to ask. However, at the same time use narration to “engage the public, almost against its will, in crucial questions of meritocracy and social justice,” as Boo described.

“While reporting, you must lose control so you can accumulate the facts. While writing , you must exert maniacal control over those facts.”

“Listen to the questions people ask after you give them a two-sentence synopsis of your reporting day. In those questions and reactions you get closer to the most important ideas and arguments that you need to show in your scenes.”