The Temptations Of Narrative Journalism

by Rachel Baker on April 19, 2015

This article below came out at the beginning of the month, but as I sit and watch all the speculation and narration of the candidates who have thrown their hats in the Presidential ring for 2016, I can’t help but think about how important this article is to not just the type of work Rolling Stone does (or in this case didn’t do), but to political journalism as well.

You see, I believe political ads are 99.9% crap, and .1% fact; and sadly, long form articles about politicians during the run up to election season are probably close to the same percentages. They are written for the lowest common denomenator and yet, even really intelligent people fall for the semi-factual reporting.

It would behoove us as a nation to pay attention to what we are reading – demand sources, check the sources, consider who the journalist is and what company they write for, consider where the money comes from (if contemplating the content of an ad) and last but not least, do our own research.

Here’s the Article: Rolling Stone and the Temptations of Narrative Journalism

What Rolling Stone did not say outright last December was how profoundly it had misplaced its trust in itself. With a nearly thirteen-thousand-word investigation by Columbia’s Sheila Coronel, Steve Coll (who is a staff writer at this magazine), and Derek Kravitz, that is now a moot point. The report deals a devastating blow to the magazine’s decision-making, from start to finish, in bringing “A Rape on Campus” to millions of readers. In doing so, the report displays the kind of thorough reporting and careful analysis that was lacking at Rolling Stone. (Commissioned, admirably, by Rolling Stone as an independent review with almost no prior constraints, it went up on the magazine’s Web site in its entirety on Sunday night, and a condensed version will be published in the print edition.)

In a footnote, the authors call their report “a work of journalism about a failure of journalism.” Their investigation, like the original article, takes the form of a roughly chronological narrative. It begins with the exploratory phone call Erdely made last July to Emily Renda, a U.V.A. expert on sexual assault, looking for a campus rape case to write about. Long-form narrative nonfiction might be in dire straits financially, but it’s become the default prose genre of our time, and not just in magazine articles and books. Official publications like the findings of the 9/11 Commission and the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture now borrow its techniques: the use of characters, scenes, description, and dialogue; the creation of tension through pacing, foreshadowing, and recapitulation; the omniscient narrator whose sources are semi-hidden in order to preserve the elegance of storytelling. This tyranny of narrative is not unrelated to the disaster at Rolling Stone.

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter; or you can follow her at The Crafty Veteran on Bloglovin

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