Thus far in my young life as a journalist, I’ve been privileged enough to cover a variety of “events” — from sweat-drenched punk concerts in the damp basements of old Victorian houses, to stuffy, high-profile art openings at the Portland Art Museum. Last summer alone, I covered up to three events a week, continuing my growth as a writer with each stage dive, street fair or striptease (I worked for an alt-weekly) I witnessed.
This whole experience has not come without some growing pains, however. When I was first thrown into the mix, I would take my note pad and just write about the artist, act or happening that was being featured. For example, if I was attending a concert, I would describe the artist’s set—the song he/she chose to perform, how he/she interacted with the crowd, etc.
While this is an important aspect of writing any review or spotlight piece, there’s much more to it. Of course it’s important to explain the issue at hand, but you have to remember to turn your head and soak in what’s going on around you. Yes, people go to a concert to see the artist perform, but they also go for the experience — the dancing, the venue, the funny bartender who will serve you extra drinks if you talk about Sam Adam’s political incompetence with him. These are the types of details that get readers excited and really give them a visual image of how the event went down.
I learned this the hard way when I submitted a piece on an afternoon dance party hosted by a couple of well-known DJs early last summer to my editor. I had a blast at it, and I really thought I captured the excitement of it well with my writing. It was shocking to me when my editor asked, “Reed, do you have fun at these type of things?” As if he was questioning my interest in covering such an event (a sinking feeling for any journalist). He went on to explain that my lack of details outside of the DJs performing really made it seem like I didn’t have that great of a time, which was not true and not an accurate deception of the overall feeling felt by the crowd that day.
So, I went back and rewrote the piece, concentrating not only on the music being played, but also how a large-rear-ended girl kept hitting the turntable with her behind because she was dancing so hard, how the floors of the venue were soaked with the cheap sangria they served in dirty glass jars and how everyone — black, white, young and old — came together to dance on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It gave the piece color, but more importantly it helped the reader understand the significance of what was really going on that day.
Last week — my first week with the Portland Experience program — I covered some events for a different publication. Although it has a different writing style than the publication I worked at previously, I still made sure to look beyond the blatant facts of the events I was covering and concentrate on the little details that made them unique. I recommend any journalist do the same — it’s more fun for you as well as the reader.