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Friday, December 04, 2009

E Is for Evergreen

"Evergreen" in the term publications employ to describe articles that can be used at any time. Such articles aren't limited to only one season, for example ("How to Build a Christmas Tree from Twist-Ties" in April? I think not). They don't rely on current events to make them worth reading (Who would want to read "President Gives Patriotic Speech at Old Folks Home" 10 days after it happened?). Evergreen articles are the kind of articles editors like to have on hand--they can be dropped in whenever there's space to fill.

Creative nonfiction articles are often evergreen because the focus is not on "just the facts, ma'am." Sometimes the article has a "news hook"--some bit of information that connects it to current events. (Practical aside: Having a news hook can increase your chances of getting the article published. Once I sent a piece to the New York Times' back-page-essay editor; she loved it, but chose not to run it because it didn't link to anything making headlines at the time.) But even when there is a hook, it's enjoyable to read the story years later.

Case in point: At a Nieman conference on narrative nonfiction years ago, I went to a session on narrative in spot news. One of the examples was a story about a building contest (tallest tower made of Oreos). The story mentioned the winner--some white-bread boy who got a $20,000 scholarship--but focused on the runner-up who, because of the contest, got what she really wanted, a room of her own at home. You can read the entire story at Bob Baker's Newsthinking; it's item No. 8 (it's worth your time to read the Baker's whole article).

As in this instance, many narratives spring from news items. It's just that, even if you know how the story ends, the unfolding of the story is what captures the reader.


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