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Pepper my menu with some more physical description, Johnny!

"Fresh fruits, vegetables and meats organically cultivated by local growers, like the ducks brought from Sonoma County Poultry, pepper a menu as focused as Waters’ passion."
--John W. Cox, Personality/Profile article

This sentence is a good example of the difference in styles between this profile piece and the one by Stockton. Stockton hardly ever seemed to let her own writer's voice guide the story, choosing instead to rely on the quotes of the people she interviewed. Cox uses a lot more of his own rhetorical flourishes, and he uses description a lot more, mentioning that Waters "grimace[s]" when asked a question about redwood trees. Of course, his article does seem to be a bit longer, so he has more room to put in his own writerly invention in addition to the requisite quoted sources. Overall, the way this article was written gave me the impression that the writer is more confident in his voice than Stockton was. I know that as a novice newswriter, I'm more attracted to letting the quotes do most of the talking in my story than try to describe things myself; I don't feel particularly confident enough to know how much of my own voice I can inject into a story while still being tasteful and correct. I think there are pros and cons to each approach; Stockton's story gave me a clear sense of the people in the subject's life because she showcased the way they spoke. Stockton was able to show how much impact the subject has had by directly quoting people who she's helped. The downside was, I couldn't really picture the subject or any of the people interviewed because so little time was spent describing them physically. In Cox's article, I got a much clearer sense of the physical environment of his subject. Then, when he relied more on quotes throughout the second half of the article, I could picture the anecdotes people told a little more vividly because I had more of a sense of the place in which they happened. Would Stockton have spent more time describing what the Delancey Street complex looked like if her article was as long as Cox's? Perhaps. As it is, Cox's article seems to be a bit stronger to me, because it relies on physical description and what people say to tell the story. As a playwright, I'm always drawn more to the dialogue than the physical description, of course. I can see how this kind of description can be helpful, though.

Comments (4)

Michelle Tantlinger:

Nice blog! I agree with your idea of letting the quote talk rather than trying to unbiasedly describe something, especially as a novice newswriter, which I consider myself to be as well. And I also think Cox's profile is more interesting than the Stockton's because of the detail (minus the baby ducks!!!).

Greta Carroll:

I feel the exact same way you do about the quotes, Matt. I don’t feel very confident in my news writing abilities either. I’ve never done it before. I feel very unsure about what words are too opinion-based and which are ok. I don’t know how much is appropriate for me to say and how much not. I think this probably just takes practice. However, I did think that Cox was a better writer than Stockton as well. And as it was obvious to both you and me, that Cox did put more of his voice into it; if we lean too much on quotes it will also be obvious that we are doing that.

Our reading in Clark and Scanlon for this coming Friday kind of deals with voice a little bit, so I will share a quote from it about that, maybe it will help. “The voice of most news stories is neutral and authoritative. Editorials are often written in institutional voices. Columnists, critics, and sportswriters often develop distinctive voices that readers seem out over their breakfast cereal and interact with in an imagined form of conversation” (301). So we can use a voice, we just have to be careful what voice and how far we go with it.

As for Stockton’s nonexistent description of the Delancey Street complex, I’m not big on reading descriptions myself. Generally, I find them boring. But I do think a description would have made the complex more relatable to the reader. Maybe Stockton never saw it herself and that’s why she didn’t include a description?

Aja Hannah:

You made some very interesting points! You could credit Cox's confidence and great detail to the person interviewed. The more of an impression/information the interviewee gives the better an author can write. Also, perhaps Cox was mimicking the confident personality of his subject like the other writer did for Suess.

Matt Henderson:

It is very possible that Stockton never saw the actual Delancey Street complex; in fact that's what I assumed, since she never described it. That still doesn't really change the fact that articles that paint the picture for you tend to be stronger than articles that just list quotes. Just like strong short stories always have clear imagery, news stories (especially profile pieces) are much more effective if they show the reader where events are taking place instead of just telling. You don't always have the luxury when doing research to travel to the places you are writing about yourself, but it's inevitable that you get a better result if you do.

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