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Read and Learn

Julie Schwietert Collazo
Various deadlines loom this Monday morning, so I’m keeping this short.

Jeanne Marie Laskas has an incredible article about Joe Biden in the August 2013 GQ, and I urge you to read it, even if you could care less about politics… or Joe Biden.

Notoriously critical media analyst and journalism professor Jay Rosen gave Laskas high praise for the article via twitter, where he said that it was “almost” as good as the classic “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” by Gay Talese. I actually thought of “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” when I was reading Laskas’ piece, too. Unlike Rosen, though, I didn’t think it was almost as good as Talese’s exemplar of new journalism.

Jay Rosen's public praise of Laskas' article.

Jay Rosen’s public praise of Laskas’ article.

I thought it was better.

Laskas’ Biden article is deceptively simple. She’s tagging along with Biden for months, gathering observations and information to write a profile piece about the vice-president. It’s not a particularly “deep” piece, by which I mean it’s not analytical. In it, Laskas spends a lot of time just quoting Biden (without actual quotes). But it’s in the particular style of telling the narrative of that experience that Laskas excels– and it’s in paying close attention to that style that other writers can learn a lot. Laskas’ sentence structure mimics Biden’s own speech and, we glean, his thought processes and personality. Sentences are rapid-fire; many aren’t even sentences. Laskas “gets” Biden. She has inhabited him and is able to put him in front of us as a result. She’s present, but she has disappeared. She has become Biden’s conduit.

It’s worth noting that this is not her typical style. Laskas is nimble, able to draw from a set of narrative skills that is both deep and broad, deploying different techniques for different topics (this piece about guns, for instance, is markedly different in style than the Biden piece).

Bottom line: Go read the article. Study it. Read it and learn from it.


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