On stories that need to be told

When I was a reporter in Maine, I took it upon myself to pitch a narrative series.

The narrative series, I proposed, would be several days long in newspaper terms. I wanted to follow the story of one woman fighting for her son’s release from a prison in Singapore.

I wanted to follow her battle, from halfway across the world, for her offspring.

My editor at the time gave me his blessing to pursue the story.

I worked for a month solid on the story. I spent my free time with this woman and her family. I got to know her habits, quirks, what scared her, her strengths.

I wrote the story in installments, as my editor and I had agreed.

I met my deadline. Turned the story in.

The next day, after he had finished reading my first drafts, he pulled me into an office and told me “Lizzy, I think this doesn’t work as such a long narrative. I know you’ve worked hard on this, but we need to rework it.”

I sat there stunned. I had spent so much time on this story.

I had stayed up writing it after all my other daily stories were turned in.

I felt the look on my face — I knew I looked like I was going to cry.

But, strong journalists don’t cry when their editor disagrees with them, I told myself.

So I bit my lip and said simply “OK, let me go back and try to edit it down. Can we still have it have different sections? But all in one story? Would that work?”

“Try it,” he told me.

I stayed up all night slashing my story — cutting out three and four paragraphs in one swoop.

I turned it in again.

“Still too long,” he told me.

“Give me another shot,” I told him. “This story is important, and I want it to be told, so don’t kill it. I’ll make it work.”

When I finally handed the story back in to my editor a final time, he sent me an email that said simply “A1, Sunday.”

That was the prime spot. Page 1, above the fold, in the Sunday edition.

It took me months to get the story right, and get it out. But I did it.

My own story is the same way. My life. My battles. My struggles.

There’s a story here. It needs to be told.

The time and format isn’t quite there yet, but I will never give up. My parents never did, and that’s what got me here in the first place.


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