2011 Pulitzer Prize winner speaks at Knox
Konkol talks reporting, developing a voice through writing
For 2011 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist of the Chicago Sun-Times Mark Konkol, it is the little things that make his job great. Last Thursday, Konkol shared some of those secrets with the Knox community in Borzello Hall.
The 2011 winner for local reporting addressed the group of students, staff and Galesburg residents directly after speaking at a GateHouse Media conference, all while maintaining a big, brash and humorous personality occasionally accompanied by profanity.
Konkol began by creating an informal atmosphere that lasted throughout the talk.
“I won the Pulitzer Prize. It was great,” he said jokingly.
He elaborated that he, along with reporter Frank Main and photographer John J. Kim, won the prize for a series of stories profiling victims of a 59-hour shooting spree in Chicago during a weekend in 2008 where 40 people were shot, nine fatally.
“I decided that I needed to find a story that would get me out of the office for the entire summer,” he said. “We went out on the street; we found victims.”
Throughout the writing process, Konkol found that being on- site allowed him to hear stories that otherwise would have been lost. One of these stories was of Willie Brown, a victim of the shooting who was able to identify and hug his shooter in a McDonald’s, and another victim who actually showed him the bullet taken from his shoulder.“You don’t get this kind of sh*t if you’re talking to somebody on the phone or you Google them,” he said. “You gotta be there. It’s old school reporting.”
By telling the story of the shooting spree in this way, Konkol was able to take a story that otherwise might have been forgotten and turned it into a Pulitzer.
“What we did was we took the small and told the big story,” he said of the writing process. “And we wrote it in a narrative way that drug the reader along so they had to be with us, because reading is an active process.”
Among the advice he gave to future reporters in attendance, he stressed thinking throughout the reporting process.
“You don’t go into a story with an idea of what it’s going to be,” he said. “You report, and you think about the story you’re going to tell and how you’re going to tell it.”
He also encouraged basic reporting techniques such as being at the scene, being resilient, asking questions that might not have answers, outlining and writing with authority and discovering a unique voice.
“These are techniques that will at the very least, stop you from staring at a blank screen with your name on it for three hours until there’s fifteen minutes left to deadline and you have to write something and it’s gonna suck,” he said.
Senior Sam Cavedon said that although she was not involved in journalism, she still found Konkol’s talk to be “really, really, really cool.”
“I think he’s hip for us, particularly, so that was really refreshing,” she said. “I think that tone goes over really well in this generation.”
Konkol was displeased at the direction the newspaper seemed to be heading and stated that the only way to get ahead in today’s reporting world is to be able to paint a picture with words.
“It’s not the newspaper business anymore, it’s the story business,” he said.
Despite this, Konkol offered himself as proof that anyone could succeed in this business.
“This job isn’t that hard if you get out of the way,” he said. “It’s about your community. It’s about where you are. It’s about how people connect with what you write. Keep that in mind the best you can.”
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