A Reporter Striking Universal Chords

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Behind the Byline • Dan Barry

A Reporter Striking Universal Chords

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Reporter Dan Barry talks about finding the stories, their central purpose, and how to end the work day.


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Dan Barry has worked as a reporter since 1995. He has written for Metro, Sports and National Desk; His longest run here was This Land, an 11-year search for stories across America. Prior to joining The Times, he was a reporter at The Providence Journal in Rhode Island, where he shared the Pulitzer Prize for his investigation of the state’s court system.

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Most recently, he has written about the inner life of a cabaret singer who died in the early days of the pandemic, a final reporter for a local newspaper, a former deputy police chief avoiding certain memories, and a baseball team. The mayor of the small town was heartbroken by him. moved away. His diverse subjects do not follow the rhythm of traditional journalism like transportation. Although he has also written about it.

What about Mr. Barry’s own inner life? “I would say transportation is much more interesting than my inner life,” he wrote in an email exchange. Here he talks about the themes explored in his work, his approach to storytelling, and an average workday during the pandemic. The following interview has been edited.

How would you describe the beat you’ve been on since this land ended?

I would call my beat “open to anything”. It has been a mix of narrative projects, general essays, photo essays, deadline reporting and writing, and the occasional crackdown in sports and the arts. I also spent a year as a senior editor and writer for The Times’ documentary unit.

Looking at your recent articles, you can see some of the topics that get repeated attention: little league baseballhandjob Crime And Law enforcementhandjob remembering 9/11handjob Irish And Irish American life, moments Medical Difficulty And this Local News. Do you see a consistent theme between these stories?

I know about Ireland because my mother was from Galway, and I know about 9/11 because I helped with the Times’ coverage of that day. If I see a story – whether it’s as a feature or as an essay or as an investigative piece – I go after it. And for the past two years, I’ve been focused on the coronavirus and the turmoil in Washington, specifically the January 6 riots.

Even outside of your journalism, to what extent do these topics represent what you feel most passionate about?

My main aim is to tell stories that resonate; Those that please you or make you angry or allow you to hear things that are often unheard of. Usually, the narrator is the invisible guide. But even on the few occasions when I use the first person – such as when I wrote about 9/11, or about adding my mother’s name to a tomb in Ireland – I stand for all of us. -I’m trying to be in. Strike universal chords.

Whatever connections your stories may have, they are in some ways unexpected, as are your Article About a police officer who helped save a man who had a heart attack. How did you like this story, and how do you find your thoughts in general?

One of the benefits of living longer is that you get to know a lot of people. An acquaintance of mine in the York Police Department told me about a sharp-witted officer who was saving the life of a man who had collapsed on the sidewalk after suffering a massive heart attack.

I didn’t see the “story” initially, but I did ask a few questions, including the frequency of these types of events. When I heard that the city’s first responders answer more than 3,500 emergency calls every day, I only saw an opportunity to take an event and slow it down, allowing us to fully appreciate these everyday city wonders. .

I think this story is an example of how I find stories. Very basic stuff. I listen, watch, ask questions and try to escape from the tiredness of the world. I always want to be curious.

Can you think of tricks you’ve learned about storytelling?

I don’t know if they make up tricks or not, but I aim for the reader to see and feel everything that the protagonist sees and feels. I try to do this through intimate interviews and well-chosen descriptions that involve all the senses.

Then I try to produce a few first paragraphs that dare the reader to stop reading. Now, of course, I have to honor the promise of those first paragraphs while maintaining a narrative topspin through the end. This means that I am always alert to where the reader’s interest may end – where difficult searches or unnecessary details disrupt the rhythm. So I rewrite and rewrite, trim and tighten, work with an editor to make the story the best I can — begging the editor to flag any purple prose — and Then I pray that the reader stays with the story till the end.

Is there anything you do in particular that helps you notice and detail vivid scenes?

I hated writer’s workshops the way Lou Grant hated spunk, so I don’t want it to sound like a writers’ workshop. But I take a lot of notes. Most notes won’t make it into the story, but I’m also free-associative, writing quick impressions and metaphors when I record what I see and hear. It helps me find a suitable, vivid description, or a description that can work on more than one level.

Can you describe your routine on weekdays during the pandemic? What are you doing after your day’s work is done?

If I’m not traveling — I’ve been to California, Alabama, Kentucky and Rhode Island in recent months — I start the day by trying to exercise. Then I sit somewhere with my laptop and write and rewrite and trim and tighten. Usually there is some kind of zoom call. There is usually one or two interviews. At some point, there is a dog walk, and a mesmerizing study of the contents of the refrigerator, and a walk around the block. Then, at the end of the day, another long walk and an internal debate about whether I’ve earned a glass of wine. I usually ignore the evidence and make a positive decision.

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