Putting a face on the story

Meeting colorful characters with compelling stories is among my favorite aspects of being a reporter. And it is among the qualities I cherish most as a reader.

All too often, the hyperventilating world of 24-hour news cycles, social-media echo chambers and red-faced punditry leaches the human touch out of good stories.

It shouldn’t. News is nothing if not the serialized story of human change. Journalists should honor that by seasoning their stories with a sprinkling of literature.

The hot issues of the day –- immigration, climate change, wealth inequality, discrimination — affect each of us. We are all sensitive people, as the song goes, with quirky habits, myriad motives, unique talents, distorted world views and contradictory beliefs. Stories that include at least a sample of that humanity — often this is referred to as ‘color’ — are usually the better for it.

Of the dozens of stories I’ve read about the Hillary Clinton email scandal, the one I remember most highlighted the messages she sent to aides fine-tooth-combing the stories of reporters covering her campaign.

“I saw an article (Travis Smiley) wrote in USA Weekend claiming we had FOX on our airplane screens. What is he talking about? He makes a big deal about it.”

This is a compelling detail because it gives a glimpse into the real Hillary Clinton, behind the scenes and unscripted.

Regarding my own work, after the passage of time, it is often the colorful characters I remember most, rather than the fact-heavy narratives.

To name a few off the top of my head, there was the billionaire who opened up about his speech impediment, and explained why he chooses not to correct his stutter.

There was the high school chemistry teacher and National Guardsman who was sent to Afghanistan, where he experienced combat for the first time – at age 47.

And there was the famous actor who excitedly explained his decision to install artificial turf in his front yard. (Hint: Dog pee and the California drought were factors in equal measure.)

I’d like to think that their inclusion in the rapid river of headlines and soundbites was a welcome and entertaining reminder to readers that the news of the day is all about people.

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