The Washington Post’s Gene Weingarten won a Pulitzer for his story about parents who accidentally leave their children shut inside hot cars. Weingarten’s “Fatal Distraction” is one of the most-haunting stories I’ve ever read. It’s also one of the best-told. And it’s a model for how journalism can work online.
When I first read it, I wrote a post here about why I think Web-first newsrooms will look beyond the overly broad advice that Web writing has to be short and be reminded of the value of long-form journalism. The quick version: It can’t be copied or have its full value extracted by an aggregator’s sentence. (And yes, I’m aware of the irony that Weingarten’s article likely wouldn’t have a home in the redesigned Post magazine.)
To that I’d like add a couple of things: Weingarten’s follow-up chat to the original story should be read as well, because it contains an extraordinary personal anecdote that explains what drove him to write the story, and is a perfect example of how disclosing something simply and directly to readers is much more powerful, and ultimately drives much more trust, than an attempted retreat to mealy-mouthed objectivity.
On Tuesday Weingarten discussed his win with Post readers. Amid the self-deprecation, he said something that ought to be front and center in every newsroom and displayed above every writer’s desk. I’ve altered it slightly so it would read better engraved in stone:
Dispassionately search for the truth, and then passionately tell the truth. I have no patience for stories that are quote dumps, obscuring the truth with bogus moral equivalencies, giving equal weight to unequally valid opinions, and doing it all in the name of objectivity.
Those are words to live by, whatever medium you work in.