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Monday, April 06, 2009

Brits Don't Do Narrative?

Interview with Henry Porter, British editor of Vanity Fair:

"We [Vanity Fair] survive in the internet age because we have still got something that other people can't do, which is to tell a really good narrative. It makes you understand a story in a way that no other medium does," Porter explains of a magazine that in its most recent edition offers detailed insights into the economic meltdown in Iceland, the changing notion of the American Dream and the Bernard Madoff scandal. These are given treatments over nine, 12 and 16 pages respectively.
Porter says finding regular work with Vanity Fair is "very simple, to absolutely put all your effort into reporting, no short cuts, do the 40 calls, because you always pick up stuff. Transcribe your notes – don't think you remember them – then work on the art of narrative." Composition is an important part of a Vanity Fair piece, which might run to 7,000 words.

Another of my hobby horses comes up in the interview: Writers need to get out and do stuff besides write. A regular contributor, Langewiesche (inane aside: a name that poor guy has been having to spell his whole entire life, I'm sure), who writes in the current edition of Vanity Fair about Somali pirates hijacking yachts in the Gulf of Aden, got the assignment in part because Langewiesche has been an airline pilot and sails his own boat. As Porter puts it, "He understands stuff like navigation. . . . He understands the technical stuff and he can talk to pilots and radar operators--that's a really rare thing in journalism, to have someone who has had a practical life."


Anonymous Richard said...

Great post. I think he's just saying narrative isn't common, not that Brits are particularly anti-narrative. How could they be after their literary history?

7:04 AM  

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