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Analysis 2: Features


Stories analyzed:

1.Angels and Demons
St. Petersburg Times
Thomas French
2. Pearls Before Breakfast
Washington Post
Gene Weingarten
3. The Umpire’s Sons
The Baltimore Sun
Lisa Pollack
4. Another Battle of New Orleans: Mardi Gras
New York Times
Rick Bragg
5. Class Struggle
Wall Street Journal
Ron Suskind

Thomas French of the St. Petersburg Times won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1998 for his seven-part piece, “Angels and Demons,” chronicling the investigation of the murders of Jo Rogers and her two daughters while vacationing in the Tampa area. French interweaves an exploration of the lives of the three women, the grief and confusion of family and friends in the aftermath of the murders, and a journey of the lengthy police investigation into an extremely compelling human interest piece through a flawless use of detail and anecdotes that come together to tell this complicated story.
French uses quotes sparingly, and often when what is being said gives insight into the views and beliefs and actual person of the person he is interviewing. This enhances the humanizing aspect of the story, as it lets the reader know who these people are and lets them tell the story. Early on, French quotes Rogers’ sister-in-law as saying “When you run a dairy farm, you don’t get a vacation.” While this on the surface does not directly have anything to with a murder investigation, it does provide insight into the mindset of the victims prior to the murder, complimenting the vivid picture French tries to give the reader of the Rogers women.
Throughout the piece, Rogers weaves detailed anecdotes that tell snippets of the investigation, snippets of family and friends’ lives, snippets of background information, letting the pieces come together into a more vivid, clear picture, rather than laying it all out and explaining it straight in a much barer form.

The 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing went to Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post for his piece “Pearls Before Breakfast,” a psychological investigation of the reactions of a crowd during rush hour in a busy D.C. metro station as the passed by a world renowned violinist planted by the Washington Post to act as a street musician. The piece explores why though over 1000 people passed the violinist, a crowd never formed and only 27 people stopped to give money. Weingarten uses a device of rhetorical questioning in the beginning of the piece to place the reader in the mindset of one of the crowd, simulating the thought process when one notices a street musician, proposing the idea that it is a more complicated event worthy of note. This effectively draws in the reader.
Throughout the piece, Weingarten turns to focus on specific people unwittingly drawn into this experiment, providing specific in put into the psychological investigation of piece and breaking some of the generalizations of the crowd. He speaks to the people who visibly noticed the musician to gauge specific reactions. Additionally, he focuses on the musician, which provides an exploration into the effects attention and praise can bestow. He also provides an element of shock to the experiment results by hypothetical pitching the situation to a music expert to have a prediction to compare the results to. All of the specific focus gave the story a higher level of intrigue.

Lisa Pollack of the Baltimore Sun was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing in 1997 for her detailed look at a family dealing with the effects of a family dealing with a genetic disease which has already killed one child and is affecting another. Pollack heavily concentrates on the family dynamics and portrays the boys affected, as well as their parents (particularly the father, drawing on the father and son dynamic and similarities), playing on emotional interest in order to inform. She interweaves medical information with a sympathetic and detailed story, using a specific story to tell a broader one.
Pollack intrigues the reader at the beginning by detailing games the Hirschbeck family played with the sick boy while in the hospital, humanizing the family and creating a sense of attachment in the reader. She sprinkles the passage with informing details such as “he was only the 18th child with this disease to receive a bone marrow transplant,” which both informs and affects. She also uses short sentences for effect, rather than drawing out an explanation, such as “The game was Michael’s favorite. The object was to get home safe.” Pollack also focuses in on one aspect of the story at a time, breaking the piece into subheadings, sustaining attention.

“Another Battle of New Orleans: Mardi Gras” is part of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times series by Rick Bragg which takes an in depth look at different facets of America and it’s people. This particular piece focuses on a Mardi Gras tradition of Indians of Carnival, focusing on the men who participate in the ceremony and pour passion into making their costumes. Bragg uses particular stories with telling quotes and specific details focusing on a few of the participants to frame an explanation of a tradition, drawing the reader in with a human interest. Bragg opens with intrigue, describing man creating a rhinestoned, sequined, and feathered costume, leading the reader to ask why, and continue reading.
Bragg uses vivid detail throughout the piece in describing every aspect of the festival, from the costumes, to the neighborhoods, to the parade march, in order to convey such a colorful and rich in culture event. He transitions to background, enhancing the “stories from the locals” with input from the expert in order to give an outside reader an inside, thorough understanding of this culture. He includes a battle chants written by the men he features in the story, enhancing the reader’s sense of how serious and integral to culture this event is. This is hammered home at the close of the piece, where Bragg writes “A few years ago, he had a heart attack, but he did not have time to die. He had 40 yards of velvet to cut and sew.”
Overall, this piece portrays a cultural clearly with vivid imagery of the march, placing emphasis on the detail descrbing the costumes, just as the men place the most emphasis on creating them.

Ron Suskind’s piece “Class Struggle” is part of a collection of stories chronicling the struggles and lives of inner city honors students in the Wall Street Journal that won the 1995 Pulitzer Prize in Feature Writing. Suskind opens the piece by setting the stage at MIT’s minority summer program. He describes the students congregated, and while attaching a minority label to them, he also attaches a background label on them by revealing the careers of their parents. He sets up the intrigue of the story by creating a contrast between the majority of the students, who come from homes with parents with established careers, with the students who come from inner city, broken homes. This creates the idea of a minority within a minority for the reader, opening the audience up to new ideas about these students.

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