It is important to establish a collaborative relationship between a writer and an editor to do this kind of work. It’s not the kind of work you can do in a traditional newsroom structure where the reporter comes in in the morning and an assistant city editor assigns a story that is then turned in after that assistant city editor has gone home for the night, and it’s then edited by another assistant city editor and kind of just shoved into the maw of the machine, the way we traditionally produce daily spot news.
Rich [Read] and I, on a regular basis, every week go over and sit at a neighborhood coffee shop and talk about narrative, in general, and what we’ve read and what we think of it. A big narrative has appeared in the Chicago Tribune. We both read it. We sit down, we talk about it. I do the same thing with James Holman and other writers in the newsroom.
Rich has been working on a story on the evolution of the Japanese economy for quite some time. For about a year and a half we have talked about the story, talked about its themes, and talked about the reporting and what the larger points are that we’re trying to make. It’s a very interesting part of those coffee shop conversations that we have. We track the subject of the story. If Rich sees something that he thinks is relevant to the larger points we’re trying to make in that story he shifts it over to me to read.
It’s all the front-end discussion and hard thinking about what’s the universal theme, what’s the context, what are the points we’re trying to make. And then the reporting is focused on producing the telling details and finding the themes that will help make those points. You don’t just go out and stumblebum around in the world, collecting in a willy-nilly way a bunch of details that is somehow going to enthrall and illuminate things for readers. —Jack Hart
Jack’s technique of editing is that you both sit down together at his computer. And he will read it out loud. And the second something sounds off or isn’t going to work, then we either fix it there or we mark it and I go back and redo it. So I think it would be pretty tough to do without an editor you really trust. And you also need an advocate. You have to have somebody who’s able to be in on those newsroom meetings and make the point that no, this really is worth the space that we need to give it. —Richard Read