Goodman: Avoid ‘food fight journalism’

Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman advised serious reporters to embrace, not avoid, complexity.

At Harvard’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism on May 4, Goodman said winners and finalists for J. Anthony Lukas book prizes “work against the very strong tide of the times, against food fight journalism. We live in an era of opinion hurling, where there are villains and heroes. Everything is required to be far more simplistic than the problems we face.”

But she said these books are built on “pilings of reporting. They’re complex when complexity is out of fashion. Against the trend to oversimplify, they follow the story wherever it leads.”

Goodman said, “Complexity respects the subtlety of people,” and urged reporters to “avoid the slick and quick in favor of the real.”

Jonathan Schuppe, who won a $30,000 work-in-progress award for “Ghetto Ball,” echoed that theme. After immersing himself in the lives of ghetto families he said, “the conclusion won’t be tidy.” The former Newark, N.J. Star Ledger reporter called his book a story of a city and of an ex-drug dealer seeking redemption.

The awards, administered by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, honor work that exemplifies Lukas’s literary grace and commitment to social concern.

Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter David Finkel won the $10,000 book award for “The Good Soldiers,” which follows an American battalion in the Iraqi war. After detailing his efforts to gain young troops’ trust, he recalled agonizing over whether to cut a gory detail about a soldier’s death. Finally, he kept it in, because “the obligation is to the story.”

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.