Short and Sweet: Storytelling in 300 Words

Michael Weinstein / The Poynter Institute

[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is an edited version of an article that ran in The Write Stuff, the monthly newsletter of The Charlotte Observer‘s writing group.Observer features editor Michael Weinstein, along with assistant metro editor Michael Gordon, is co-editor of the newsletter.]

Brady Dennis was a night cops reporter in the Tampa bureau of Poynter’s St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times when he started writing “300 Words,” a series of short stories about ordinary people, in 2004. This year, he won the Ernie Pyle Award for human interest writing for his series. The “300 Words” stories have been running, alongside pictures by Times photographer Chris Zuppa, on the front page of the paper’s local-news section, about once a month. To find their stories, Zuppa and Dennis think of a moment they want to capture, then find the subject who best defines that moment. Dennis is now a general-assignment reporter in the Times‘ Tampa bureau. I interviewed him, via e-mail, to find out what he’s learned about storytelling in small doses.

MICHAEL WEINSTEIN: How did you come up with the idea of writing 300-word stories?

 BRADY DENNIS: I first dreamed up “300 Words” while working as a night cops reporter in Tampa. For starters, I wanted a project that offered a break from the usual murder and mayhem that I typically covered (and enjoyed covering). But more importantly, I wanted to take a chance and offer something in the metro section that readers weren’t used to seeing, something different that would make them slow down and take a breath and view the people they passed each day a little differently. I knew I wanted the pieces to be short — they never jump from 1B — and to highlight people that otherwise never would make the newspaper. Luckily, I [worked with] a photographer who shared this vision and a brave editor willing to try new approaches and fend off the skeptics.A big inspiration for the series, by the way, were the “People” columns that Charles Kuralt had written for the Charlotte News back in the early 1950s [seewww.charleskuraltspeople.com].

 


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