Now that Washingtonian‘s September issue has been printed, shipped and released to the wonderful and well-read public of DMV, I can finally share my best lesson of working in the capital region.
I accomplished massive amounts of reading, fact-checking, traveling and thinking in three months.
Sweet, juicy stuff.
But a story idea is the peach pit of my summer, the chunk I can carry with me.
Every news outlet — every one — will publish, in some form, a retrospective for the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001. They might downplay it or skirt narrowly on the side of ignoring it, but media everywhere will acknowledge the attack.
The Washingtonian did in this month’s issue.
When I told potential interviewees the idea for Shane Harris‘ 9/11 reflective, they understood. When I told my parents, they immediately grasped the concept. When I told friends, it clicked.
Shane sold the story to me in one sentence. “It’s a piece about the day before the world changed.”
He asked me to help research. “Yes” was the fastest syllable I’ve spoken. I knew the story had potential to be special.
It was a rare combination, a subtle bear-hug of the subject that thousands of journalists would cover.
Focus is sometimes a story attribute that I struggle with; I wrestle it down with much effort.
Shane’s story focus floated across the mental gap between people as if it were already planted in their brains.
The idea is both obvious and novel, equally compelling because of its familiarity and unaccountability. Everyone remembers 9/11, but 9/10? C’mon. We found plenty who did, in fact, remember that ordinary day.
I hope with more practice, more experience and the not-small gift of time, I’ll reach a point where story focus is less of a struggle: more playful puppy with a chew toy than toothy alligator.
Until then, I continue to learn from writers like Shane, who hold the torch for me with powerful story ideas that lead to great journalism. The article won’t be online right away, but I’ll link to it here when it goes live.