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Personal Relationships and Storytelling in Journalism

by on April 8, 2014

For this post i wanted to hear response on what I wrote about in my free write paper. In my comparative literature class I came across a story of a reporter for the Boston Globe who covered the wars in Iraq. I found that some journalists have used personal storytelling as a mode of journalistic communication in pieces of non-fiction literature. This was the case for this story. When a writer or author can give the reader a personal account of covering a story, the audience is given a different perspective and can imagine the situation and atmosphere through the form of a story, rather than just reading another article in the newspaper. Charles M. Sennott, who has 25 years of experience writing for the Boston Globe and many other news outlets, wrote “Down the Crossroads, An Iraq War Story”. When trying to get his story published, the Globe and many other newspapers gave Sennott a tough time in publishing his piece because of his personal relationship to the story, rather than just writing the story as an article. After working hard to get his story published, Sennott found the Massachusetts Review that agreed to take on his story and publish it. The story obviously did not receive the same amount of attention that it would have in the Globe or in a traditional newspaper. Sennott is a seasoned journalist with experience of covering wars in over 15 different countries. Still, the writer felt that this story would be better told because of his personal relationship to the story. Sennott uses hindsight story telling from covering the war in Iraq to describe to the reader his, his brothers and a character Tariq’s views in this piece. Tariq was a member of the Kurds in Iraq and the Globe and other publications in this country also didn’t want to support the fact that Sennott grew fond of this character and his group of soldiers. Should a story like this have been published in the Boston Globe, or any other traditional newspaper? Or does a story like this belong in a magazine or a different type of publication?

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3 Comments
  1. Christina Gregg permalink

    This is a very interesting topic. One of my favorite pieces the New York Times ever published was the first hand account of reporter (although he didn’t work for the Times, but WaPo) and undocumented immigrant, Jose Antonio Vargas. Read here: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/26/magazine/my-life-as-an-undocumented-immigrant.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 Having said that, I can see how the situations are not the same, but I do think first hand accounts provide insight to a situation/topic/issue that straight reporting can sometimes miss out on. I think if it was accompanied with another piece or maybe in a series of first-hand accounts tagged with a disclaimer about the difference between that and the different articles in the publication, it would have been a great addition.

  2. Peter Cappiello permalink

    I agree that it’s pretty interesting, but I guess when you look at it in a larger context, it does make sense that the Globe in that case wouldn’t allow the conflict of interest. There are other people who have had experiences in Iraq, who could be interviewed as alternate sources with no conflicting ties.

    That’s not to say I don’t believe Sennott’s story isn’t valuable, but within ethical parameters, it’s a conflict that is avoidable. I’m glad it was able to make it out to the public via the Massachusetts Review, but maybe there could have been wiggle room. Who knows.

    The most relevant comparison I can think of is Bob Woodward’s firsthand piece in the Washington Post (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-mark-felt-became-deep-throat/2012/06/04/gJQAlpARIV_story.html) which ran the day after the identity of “Deep Throat” was revealed.

    Woodward’s story is rich and interesting, but it also could have only been told by Woodward. It could also be that Woodward is so high up at WaPo that they threw the rules out the window. Still, I think it’s a case-by-case basis.

    Interesting food for thought though

  3. I’d say that an article like this is better suited for a magazine or maybe even online on a newspapers website but I don’t think it belonged in the Boston Globe. I haven’t read the piece but i assume its a lengthy piece and since it is not about US soldiers I could see why the Globe wouldn’t want to publish the story. I have nothing against the story or the fact that it isn’t about US soldiers and I am happy for Sennott that the Massachusetts Review decided to publish it because it is a rare look into a perspective that wouldn’t normally be seen by somebody from the US.

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