Many is the time I try to teach writing by using examples from journalism. Creative writing types roll their eyes. I maintain the principal is the same: Tell a good story. It does not matter if it is reportage or fiction or essay or poetry.
Reporting teaches someone how to write in the most elementary of ways: talk to people, write what they said; go to an event, describe it. It’s as simple as that. But it’s not simple. It takes patience, practice and determination to do it well.
One of the best at it was Roger Ebert. He loved journalism and newspapering from the time he was a kid in school. He did everything a kid in love with newspapering will do: he went to college to study journalism (the University of Illinois). He was an editor at the collge paper (The Daily Illini).
Then he went to Chicago. He arrived at the Chicago Sun-Times in his early 20s, and the movies become his beat. And he covered his beat – like a pro.
I did not know Roger Ebert, but I knew the kind of reporter he was, the type of newspaperman he was. His movie reviews, his interviews, his essays, his entire writing output was based on a love of film, words, getting it right, and telling the story. It made sense to me that he embraced communication in all its forms, before his illness and afterward, because the essence of anyone in the business of reporting, writing, storytelling, in the end, can’t help themselves. It’s away to reach an audience. And it one’s audience is on social media, then that’s where one goes.
As we continue on our journeys through the writing life, we meet people like Mr. Ebert through their work, their passion, their generosity. It’s a grand testimony to him and his work that he was praised for allowing us to have a glimpse into his life as well as his body of work, each written about with integrity, wit and honesty. Any writer who wants to put words on a page, fiction or nonfiction, could do worse than have Mr. Ebert as their guide.