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Seven Days Writers Reveal What It Took to Report the News in a Hybrid Year

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Published December 28, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.


Nicholas Languerand at the Capitol with his Pepe the Frog flag on January 6 - COURTESY OF U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
  • Courtesy of U.S. Department of Justice
  • Nicholas Languerand at the Capitol with his Pepe the Frog flag on January 6

Journalists tell two kinds of stories.

There's the formal, published account, with sources cited, observations rendered, facts confirmed. And there's the other type — a kind of director's cut, rife with wrong turns, evasive subjects, self-doubts, near misses and doors finally opened — that they tend to share only with colleagues, close friends and partners. This is the messy, expansive version, the one that lays bare, as the Hamilton number puts it, "the art of the trade/how the sausage gets made."

Once a year, Seven Days treats its readers to the second variety. We call them "backstories" and ask our journalists to describe the twists and turns that carried their most memorable work to fruition: the hard thinking and shoe-leather grunt work, the moments of inspiration and dread. Serendipity. Glee. Frustration. Plain human connection.

In the stories that follow, our journalists offer a sampler boasting all the pathos and joy of fiction. One describes the electric thrill when a source surreptitiously hands over a cache of documents for his story on the collapse of a drug company. A video journalist struggles to carry out a snowy shoot in bone-aching cold. A rookie reporter finds journalistic bliss watching a horse whisperer at work. Another writer draws lessons from her recent reporting to help her mother come to peace with impending death.

The backstories also feature UFO weirdness, maddening courthouse dysfunction, a reporter's yearslong wait for a story and, in one case, the account of a sudden roadside stop for a mouthful of snow.

It's good for our democracy that readers know more about how news professionals operate. These backstories aren't mere entertainment. They reflect the rigor required to gather reliable information and images, as well as the enterprise and happy fortune that fan aspiration into published stories, week after week.

American journalism inhabits a disquieting moment, with local newspapers vanishing like fireflies and a growing menace presented by political extremists who take aim at its practitioners. It bears remembering that the January 6 insurrectionists directed their initial outburst of violence at journalists on the scene. By better understanding the world that Seven Days journalists navigate, readers are, in a sense, helping to honor freedom of the press and the sacrifices made over the years to secure it.

So pour a cup of tea, settle in and enjoy the sausage making.

The original print version of this article was headlined "Backstories, Sidebars and Follow-Ups 2022"