Monday, February 25, 2013

Lillian Ross: Her Love for Journalism

By Alyssa Ramirez

 Reading “Letter from Lillian Ross” by an American journalist who had been a reporter for The New Yorker, taught me a lot about her writing technique and her love for journalism. 

Lillian Ross begins her letter by giving her perspective on a common journalistic technique: acting as a “fly on the wall.” This is when the reporter will act invisible and watch everything that is going on around him/her without interrupting the scene. Lillian Ross does not agree with this technique because she believes that “a reporter is always chemically involved in a story.” In other words, a reporter has to interact with the people he/she is writing about. I agree with her because in order to fully understand what you are writing about, you need to be a part of the situation and interact with the people who make your story; seeing different points of view and speaking with your subjects can change everything. 

Ross goes further to make an important point that when writing a story, you must state facts. As a reporter, you do not have the right to assume what your subjects are thinking or feeling. Therefore, it is always important to use quotes and as many as possible.

In the second part of her letter, Lillian Ross gives several guidelines that she always uses when writing. There were several points from her guidelines that stood out to me which I feel could help me in my own writing. One point she makes is that she tries to “write as clearly and simply and straightforwardly as possible.” Ross says that in reporting, there is no room for unnecessary comments, words, or phrases. This is something that I need to work on because I tend to use unnecessary words that add length to my work. 

Another guideline that Ross used which interested me was the responsibility she felt that she owed to the people she wrote about. She was very careful with the details that her subjects would give her. She felt that she had to be mindful of the things that her subjects told her and that she didn’t have the right to use everything that they said. Ross also felt obligated to maintain a relationship with the people she wrote about even after the piece was printed.

There are a few of Lillian Ross’s guidelines that I do not agree with. For example, she points out that “tape-recorded interviews are not only misleading; they are unrealistic; they are lifeless.” I do not agree with this because I believe that they aid the reporter in getting as much detail for their piece as possible. A tape recorder allows me to focus and pay more attention to my subject and what they are saying rather than giving them half of my attention while I spend the other half rushing to write down key phrases. Using a tape recorder will give me the ability to focus on the conversation and in return, I will have a better memory of what happened and what was said. If I do forget something, I can always go back to my recorder for refreshment. Therefore, a tape recorder acts as a backup, not the actual experience.

Overall, I got the impression that Lillian Ross loved what she did and was an important figure in the journalism world. She had a great passion for her work and that is the precise element that made her stories great. In her letter she quotes Monica Seles, a famous tennis player: “It’s what I love to do, and it’s given me a special and wonderful life.” Ross says that this is how she feels about journalism and I believe that this quote sums up her entire letter.

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