If only words could help
The Pulitzer Prize is arguably the most prestigious award for journalism. Every year thousands of entrants battle for recognition of their work in one (or more) of 14 categories.
Explanatory Reporting is one such category and looks for “a distinguished example of explanatory reporting that illuminates a significant and complex subject, demonstrating mastery of the subject, lucid writing and clear presentation.”
Last year, the honour was given to a team from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and boy was their submission all of the above.
The writers, Mark Johnson and Kathleen Gallagher draw the reader in immediately by descriptively setting the scene (down to what his children are doing) as a doctor composes an email that may change the life of Nicholas Volker, a 4-year-old boy suffering from – to take the title of the article – “a baffling illness”.
This continues throughout the passage allowing you to personally relate to and connect with the characters whose lives have been touched by Nicholas and his battle to overcome genetic disorder never seen before in medical literature.
This is especially so with Nicholas’ mother. We are given insights into Amylynne’s personality through extracts from her blog and descriptions of the people around her:
“Amylynne likes Kugathasan for his gentleness. She forms a particular bond with Marjorie Arca, the pediatric surgeon who examines Nicholas’ large intestine. Arca fell in love with pediatrics years ago…”
You may have noticed the use of present tense in the citation. It is less common to see articles written in the present tense as it can provide challenges for the writer when describing events that have already taken place.
The authors have expertly used the present tense to convey a sense of immediacy, which leaves you feeling as though you are experiencing the events, in real time.
Johnson and Gallagher give a succinct but powerful summary of genetics and the impact discovering the structure of DNA, decoding its secrets and sequencing the Human genome continues to have on our lives and those of future generations.
The ease at which they explain the milestones in genetic research without jargon makes you forget they are just journalists. They certainly are not just journalists.
The explanatory reporting finalists are also judged on their use of multimedia to aid their presentation of the subject. Having worked with some talented photojournalists in the past, I was a little less convinced with the supporting images. They are very candid images that look as though you or I could have taken them. Perhaps that was what they were looking for.
Nevertheless, the story left me searching through the Internet to find out the latest on Nicholas Volker. I can’t help but wish that the prize for explanatory reporting would help the doctors explain the disorder.
Johnson, M. & Gallagher, K. (2010, Dec 19). A baffling illness