For some reason, I’ve come to associate a certain burning sensation in my quads, a sharp tiredness in my calves, with working on a good story. There’s usually ragged breathing, too, and maybe a few beads of sweat that I wipe from my forehead with the back of my hand.
My notebook is filled with questions asked, questions to ask and, at least sometimes, some honest answers. I carry a Subway sandwich—footlong: wheat, tuna, no mayo—to fuel me as I write.
Sit down at the computer, unwrap the sandwich, open InCopy, bite, write. As rituals go, it’s not much. No whispered incantations to Dana Priest, no candles lit for Carl Bernstein, not even a shot of vodka for Clifford J. Levy. Your idols are useless here.
It’s just my mind, the blank page, the truth. And that sandwich. Bite, write. Write, bite.
The sandwich doesn’t matter, though, not unless an errant lettuce shred or tuna chunk gums up the keyboard or something.
This is about getting that good story, after all.
Because as I run up the stairs to The Chronicle’s office like I’ve done so many times before, pushed on by the rush that is particular to deadline reporting, as my legs tighten and my breathing quickens, the same thought always runs through my mind: How do I tell you what I’ve discovered in a way that entices you to read my article, to chew on it like a bite of a footlong tuna sub, to really think about it deeply?
During my four years at The Chronicle, these questions have become an obsession, one that I believe will stick with me. I’ve written about death and about technologies that hold the promise of lengthening lives. I’ve covered a national election campaign, the downfall of a dishonest cancer researcher, lacrosse lawsuits, budget cuts and even Crystal Mangum’s arrest for attempted murder and arson last year. Many of these have been stair-sprinting, tuna-sandwich-eating stories, and I sincerely hope that you’ve chewed over a few of them.
But in a testament to the strange beast that is the reader, the story I wrote that garnered the most views is not one that I ran up the stairs for. A tragic piece, it was one that I had to write but not one that I’m particularly proud of. It was a story about a girl who should have kept her slideshow to herself. Go figure.
The sandwich is done, the article nearly so. Truth is on the page now, the facts laid out in narrative form.
Tomorrow, you will see the story in the paper or online—some of you, anyhow. And I already know what to look forward to. If my article is about lacrosse, I anticipate a comment or two with that infamous list of 88 names, even if none are mentioned in my piece. If it’s about budget cuts or Anil Potti’s misdeeds or too many other topics to name, I expect to see Richard Brodhead roundly denounced, conspiracy theories spun, axes ground. I sometimes wonder if you bother reading my stories at all.
But if you’ve read my story, then I ask nothing more. I will remain hidden behind my byline, and the story will speak with a voice of its own, as it should. And yet, I still hope that I’ve done the story justice, that I’ve written it in a way that draws you in and doesn’t let you go.
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I hope, at least, that my story is true. And that it is a damn good story.
Zachary Tracer is a Trinity senior. He is special projects editor, a former university editor, and always a photog. In a final effort to spread truth, he would like to remind you of a few little things about Dr. Anil Potti.