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The color of details

For color, reporters cannot rely on phrases and fancy -- or ready-made -- figures of speech. They rely on hard particulars. They must train themselves to spot those small, specific details that give intimate glimpses into the nature of their subject. (Cappon 80)

Chapter 9 in the AP Guide to News Writing shows how small, colorful details in a news story can make all the difference and really serve to captivate readers.

I think that the chapter highlights one of my weaknesses as a reporter: I have trouble combining my creative writing skills -- those I am most comfortable with -- and my news writing skills. I often find myself observing people and taking note of little details in their appearance or surroundings, but I am not always sure how to work those details into a news story without introducing bias or opinion at the same time.

How does a reporter know what details are okay to include without seeming too editorial?

Take this example of colorful news writing from the book, for instance:

... judiciously weighing the options of having a second drink or not, evaluating all the factors in selecting between fish or beef and, once having made up his mind, never looking back. (Cappon 80)

I agree with the text that this example is made more interesting by the details, but isn't it a little much for the reporter to assume that the subject he is observing is actually so meticulously weighing all of his options and alternatives? I suppose a reporter could always come right out and ask the person he is observing, just to be safe, but I think that would be a little strange. ("Would you say you will 'never look back' after selecting what you want to eat?")

I guess it's probably up to the judgment of the reporter and his editors; if details seem to raise too much controversy or paint an unfavorable or inaccurate picture of someone or something, then it's probably not a good idea to include them in a news or feature article.


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