Journalism: Fact and Fiction

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Fellow journalists/writers, please get yourselves a copy of ‘Telling True Stories’.

There’s a wonderful book I’m reading these days, Telling True Stories, in which writers and teachers share valuable advice. Susan Orlean has an essay on voice. Nora Ephron tells us what narrative writers can learn from writers of screenplays.

I found the section on ethics particularly interesting. There are pieces on footnotes, fact and fiction, attribution, and other issues in the same vein. An essay titled 'The line between fact and nonfiction’, by a writing coach named Roy Peter Clark, got my attention for this:

“If you gather ten facts but wind up using nine, subjectivity sets in. This process of subtraction can lead to distortion. Context or history or nuance or qualification or alternative perspectives can drop out. While subtraction may distort the reality the journalist tries to represent, the result is still nonfiction. The addition of invented material, however, changes the nature of the beast. When we add a scene that did not occur or a quote that was never uttered, we cross the line into fiction.”

The simplicity is appealing.