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Old Friday, April 14, 2006
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Narrative journalism

This is the interpretation of a story and the way in which the journalist portrays it, be it fictional or non-fictional.Narrative journalism is also commonly referred to as literary journalism, which is defined as creative nonfiction that, if well written, contains accurate and well-researched information and also holds the interest of the reader. It is also related to immersion journalism, a term used to describe a situation when a writer follows a subject or theme for a long period of time (weeks or months) and details an individual's experiences from a deeply personal perspective.

Basics of Narrative Journalism

In 2003, The Poynter Institute, a school for journalists, hosted a virtual roundtable about the craft to see what writers, editors and readers considered to be the key definition of narrative journalism.
Chip Scanlan, a senior faculty member at Poynter, offers this definition of narrative journalism: "A story that features characters rather than sources; communicates experience through the five senses and a few others: a sense of people, sense of place, sense of time, and, most important, a sense of drama; has a beginning that grabs a reader's attention; a middle that keeps the reader engaged, and an ending that lingers in the reader's mind like the reverberations of a gong."

Other contributors to Poynter's roundtable discussion, entitled What is Narrative Anyway? also offered the following elaborations on the subject:
"Narrative" means any technique that produces the visceral desire in a reader to want to know what happened next. - Bob Baker, Los Angeles Times
According to Suzy Fleming Narrative is writing rather than just reporting. A reporter gathers information and regurgitates it — sometimes projectile-vomits it — into the computer. A writer arranges the information in a way that draws pictures, evokes tears, holds the reader's attention. A good writer does this without emotional manipulation and forced phrasing, but like telling a story over a cup of coffee at the kitchen table.


Truman Capote's "In Cold Blood" is a historic example of narrative journalism in novel form. Published in 1965, the book was the first "nonfiction novel" and helped show journalists the possibility of using creative writing techniques while holding to the guidelines of journalism.
Though Capote claims to have invented this new form of journalism, the origin of a movement of creative writing in journalism is often thought to have occurred much earlier. Characteristics of narrative journalism can be found in Daniel Defoe's writing in the 1700s, as well as writings of Mark Twain in the 19th century.
Capote's contemporary Tom Wolfe also wrote "The New Journalism" in 1974 and is credited for popularizing discussion on the appropriateness of narrative in journalism.

Mainstream newspaper publications are still wary of supporting narrative journalism too much due to time and space constraints, and will often print the occasional narrative in a Sunday features or supplemental magazine.

Online Narrative Journalism
One of the earliest and most high profile examples of effective usage of narrative journalism online can be found in the Philadelphia Inquirer's nonfiction serial "Black Hawk Down". The 1997 online newspaper series chronicled the dramatic American raid of Mogadishu and based their stories on interviews with the soldiers who fought in the battle. The story became part illustrated book, part documentary and part radio program and allowed readers to explore the story in depth.
With the availability of free publishing online today, narrative journalism has become a popular form used by writers eager to give their personal perspectives on noteworthy events and public issues.

Issues with Narrative Journalism

Patrick Beach, an Austin American-Statesman says that a narrative does not depart from the cardinal rule: Make nothing up or you'll be out of here and working at the Sunglass Hut so fast it'll make your head spin around. A narrative is a journalistic form that has fallen into considerable disfavor in the wake of our craft's ceaseless, self-flagellating credibility crisis.
Since so much of narrative journalism is based on a writer reconstructing his or her experiences, many professionals in the news industry find themselves wary of using this technique because it is often harder to verify facts within the story.
Narrative journalism has not yet found a definite home in the newsroom due to the nature of news reporting. Long-form writing is something that most journalists are not trained for, and incredible hard-news beat reporters are not necessarily great storytellers.
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