Lessons learned from an end-of-life project
Tampa Bay Times feature writer Lane DeGregory wanted to explore the issue of physician-aid-in-dying, which was legal in a few states and had just been passed in Canada and California.
To do so, she and a photographer found a couple to follow as the husband faced his last days with ALS. She wrote about the project here.
This is a tip sheet that she and photographer Eve Edelheit shared at a newsroom brown bag.
1. Stories beget stories … To see larger issues, listen to the quiet asides
2. Start with an expert who can give an overview of the landscape, and help you secure your subjects
3. Explain what you want to do and why; be clear about what you need and want: access, scenes, communication, time, thoughts and journals, turning points, silence
4. Tag-team with a photographer, go together, good cop / bad cop … husband / wife … expert / outsider … be each other’s eyes, ears … and therapists
5. Get your toe in the driveway, then fan-kick into the bedroom and bathroom… to get others to open up, sometimes you have to share yourself
6. Be patient and present, don’t check your phone or make grocery lists; when you need a break, go to the bathroom or get something from your car
7. Let the subject steer and ramble, but when it’s time to redirect, take the wheel … be aware of what you need … insist on imbedding at least once
8. Pay attention to uncomfortable moments, record them even if they seem like asides … relish the bruise on the apple
9. Be willing to follow the story as it shifts, talk it through with the photographer and editor so there are no surprises, reshape as you go
10. Push back with your editor when it’s important … argument helps define and strengthen your story … you need someone to see it from afar, but you’re living it.
Lane DeGregory is a Tampa Bay Times feature writer who prefers writing about people in the shadows. For 10 years, she wrote news and feature stories for the Virginian-Pilot. In 2000, DeGregory moved to Florida to write for the Times. DeGregory's stories have appeared in the Best Newspaper Writing editions of 2000, 2004, 2006 and 2008. She has taught journalism at the University of South Florida - St. Petersburg and at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, been a speaker at the Nieman Narrative Conference at Harvard University and has won dozens of national awards, including the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for feature writing.