Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Events of October response (Week 8)

The whole time I was reading this book I was in awe of how much reporting Gail Griffin did in order to complete this book.  There was never a time when I felt there was a lack of anecdote or quotes, there were always many different sides of the story being told.  In a way, this piece was similar to the profile done on Frank Sinatra by Gay Talese, in that the main characters of the story aren't interviewed at all, yet we get a good picture of their relationship.  I'd like to one day try a profile where I don't interview the person it is about at all and just talk to people in Kalamazoo who know them, I think that could be a really interesting experiment.

I found so many aspects of this book worth talking about, but I wanted to focus in on Gail's choice to include herself in the story.  I felt that this was definitely one of those times where using the "I" character worked to the book's advantage and I felt that she really committed to going that route.  In a story like this that's so emotional and has the potential for bias, it was definitely good for her to be up front.  I think that if she had been some outsider the book would have read much differently and she may not have gotten her subjects to say as much about their experiences.  I did have one thought as I was reading the book though and I was wondering if any of you were thinking the same:  If we are to consider this as a narrative journalism piece, did Gail have uncontaminated access to the story?  I'm sure that Kalamazoo College wouldn't have fired her over the book, but she definitely had quite a few of the connections to subjects and to the story that we were warned against.  Just wanted to hear your thoughts!


  1. This book is where I think narrative journalism and creative non-fiction meet. That's why I think your question of uncontaminated access is an interesting one because I don't know if that was even considered when the author was writing it. It would have had a completely different feel and emotional pull (or lack thereof) if Gail weren't the author. Because she was here and is part of the Kalamazoo College community, I think she was able to tell the story with more raw emotion and first-hand experience of the grief of the campus. Ultimately, I think her insider status was a benefit in this case.

  2. Cassie,

    I had your same question about uncontaminated access as I was reading! Although Gail was a K faculty member, I wonder if it's uncontaminated because she didn't have personal relationships with Maggie or Neenef. I also wonder how the story would change if the author wasn't as directly involved with the K community when the event happened, like Gail was. Would people be as willing or trusting in opening up to an outside reporter? Would we be presented with an entirely different story...one that would perhaps have less impact on the reader?

    I think your idea of experimenting with writing about a subject based solely off people who know the subject well is interesting. I think it might positively push you as a reporter to investigate the many aspects that make up a subject.

  3. Gail is part of the story, so no, she doesn't have uncontaminated access. And I think Darrin is correct in that while Gail is doing narrative journalism, she is also doing memoir. She chose to be transparent in her approach and to use first-person point of view. Every choice she made affected the story's outcome.