Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Journalism's Second Draft

Magazine article The Wilson Quarterly

Journalism's Second Draft

Article excerpt

"Whose Turf Is the Past?" by Andie Tucher, in Columbia Journalism Review (Sept.-Oct. 2004), Journalism Bldg., 2950 Broadway, New York, N.Y. 10027.

High-minded journalists used to boast that they were writing the first, rough draft of history, but lately they seem to be essaying finished drafts as well. Take, for example, the thick, well-received volumes by Anne Applebaum, David Maraniss, and Robert Caro. Works by academic historians such as Joseph Ellis and Robert Dallek also show up on bestseller lists, notes Tucher, a historian and former journalist who teaches at Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. Do any consequential differences still separate the two breeds?

"Historians try to pose a really interesting problem or contribute to the debate in a field," observes journalist Nicholas Lemann, author of The Promised Land (1991) and other works, and now the dean of Columbia's journalism school. "But it's striking how little professional historians know about how to tell a popular story. They think 'popular' means 'picking a good topic.'"

Yet journalistic storytelling has a "stylized quality, which can be a disadvantage as well as an advantage," says Robert Darnton, a historian at Princeton University. …

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