When my dad was a young reporter, he used to be a stringer for the New York tabloids. He’d work a story, get it down in his notebook and call it in, reading it (including all punctuation and paragraph breaks) to “rewrite” over the phone.
The first time he did this, he started reading his finely crafted magnum opus. Reaching the end of the first paragraph, he said “Period, graf”.
To which rewrite responded, “Period graf? Kid, that’s your whole story.”
I still live by this advice.
In the Freud Archives (New York Review Books Classics)
An early Janet Malcolm book on the infighting among a group of scholars associated with the Freud Archives. This is a classic example of how a great journalist can turn a subject matter I care nothing about into a gripping read by finding the right characters. Here we have the patrician elder, K. R. Eissler, who falls for, and is then betrayed (or is he?) by the mecurial student, Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson. Adding spice is the obsessed amateur scholar (always dear to my heart), Peter Swales, and a score of other eccentrics. Malcolm tells their story of with her usual precision and cutting understatement. Malcolm can cut through someone’s bullshit in a simple four word sentence. It’s a skill I deeply admire. If I could write half as good, I’d be ecstatic – this is journalistic writing in its highest form.
Fascinating, even if you don’t care about Freud.
But Mahmoud’s old doubts came back in the evening. He and his brother were walking along streets that grew more and more empty, past faces deprived of any vitality. Exhausted pedestrians were trudging home or standing silently at bus stops. Some men were sitting against a wall, dozing, their faces on their knees. Mahmoud pointed at them and asked, “Who is going to carry out this revolution of yours? They are all sleeping.” His brother replied, “These very people will do it. One day they will sprout wings.”
– From Shah of Shahs, Ryszard Kapuscinski, Vintage International, 1992.