Monday, October 25, 2010

The daily miracle at the sausage factory

By David Heinzmann

I’ve been writing in my car a lot, lately. And I’ve been spending most of my time in my car, so I’ve been pretty productive.

Of course, I haven’t been writing crime fiction. We’re a week from Election Day, and I’m on the campaign trail with the Republican nominee for governor in Illinois. Wherever he goes, I go. Friday it was the suburbs across the Mississippi from St. Louis, with Newt Gingrich, no less. Saturday it was the North Shore. Yesterday, the Salem Baptist Church on the Far South Side.

I bring it up because in the fiction world we know writing to be a solitary, somewhat lonesome, experience. (OK, I’m also bringing it up because I’m so buried in this right now that I can’t think about anything else.) Anyway, I know that quiet realm of writing very well, but because I’m a journalist I’ve always had this other experience of writing, as a more dynamic, interactive experience with other writers and multiple editors all huddling—literally or virtually—to put a story together. On a deadline.

Most complicated news reporting is collaborative in this way. But political reporting, on a campaign trail, in the final days before the polling places open, is a special breed. And the 2010 midterms are pretty much this converted cops reporter's maiden voyage.

You stick your recorder in the candidate’s face. Ask uncomfortable questions. Ask more uncomfortable questions. Then play the tape back while sitting in the front seat of your car, scribble the important answers down and craft a “feed” into three or four paragraphs that make sense. Thumb it into a BlackBerry and then send it to a string of other reporters and editors who are all working together. Back at the ranch, an editor or writer puts it all together. A couple hours later, the story evolves, and we do it all over again. Oh, all-powerful Internet, how we worship you.

You might say this is no way to write, but I have a feeling that this is sort of how television shows get written—replacing imagination and creativity for reporting, of course. (Also minus the drivng, fast-food, and ...Newt.) And there’s some pretty great television writing going on, especially in the world of crime drama.

I’m sure as hell not advocating writing a novel by committee like this, but it’s an interesting thought. A) there’s usually not enough money in a novel to support one writer, let along a team of four or five. B) Without the age of images and sound, aren’t novels much more dependent on a consistent vision, and that means one writer’s vision. Thoughts on that, please…

In other news, my own newspaper and its corporate management has been very much in the headlines lately. I’m not going to spout off about it, but if anybody has questions about the craziness in the Tribune Tower, I’ll do my best to answer in a way that’s both informative and not likely to get me taken to the woodshed at the office. Just kidding, my bosses are wonderful people who would never resort to corporal punishment.

21 comments:

Sara Paretsky said...

Dave, I don't want to put you on the spot re the Trib, so let me just say--I've always loved My Weekly Reader. And where is the pension fund at this point?

David Heinzmann said...

Periodically, I get mailed updates from the employment ownership fund to remind me that I'm fully vested and that my share of the company is worth exactly zero dollars.

David Heinzmann said...

Periodically, I get mailed updates from the employment ownership fund to remind me that I'm fully vested and that my share of the company is worth exactly zero dollars.

Sara Paretsky said...

Joking aside, with all the stressors and barriers you and your colleagues face, you're still doing a great job on local politics. I see the Trib endorsed Brady for governor, so maybe they can get the answer to the question he's been ducking in public: when he's criminalized all abortions,as he vows to do, how many years does he expect women who have them to spend in prison?

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