I have two pieces in the January issue of The American Lawyer, my former employer. One was part of a months-long project that reintroduced me to the world of high-stakes commercial litigation, something the magazine excels at covering. But the more memorable story for me was a shorter piece that I suggested to the magazine: a Q&A with the outgoing mayor of Rochester, N.Y., Tom Richards.
It’s a story for Am Law because Richards rose from the ranks of Big Law. After running an Am Law 100 firm, he made his mark in both the corporate and political realms. Working on the story reminded me why I love being a journalist: for the opportunities to meet successful, engaging people like Richards. The mayor’s exit from public life grew complicated and sad with the illness and death of his son. In talking about that, he showed wisdom and grace in his thoughts on balancing life and work.
My new story in the December issue of The American Lawyer (sub. req.), on the Baby Veronica adoption case, reminded me of what I love most about my work as a journalist, and what I find most frustrating.
I knew little about the case and almost nothing about the legal substance it concerns when I got the assignment. Given the magazine’s focus on the business of large law firms, and given the laws of magazine-journalism physics — dictated by finite space and time — I chose to focus on the enormous legal effort that ultimately won the case. But to understand what the lawyers fought over, I had to absorb huge numbers of briefs, decisions, and conversations about adoption law, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and the facts of a case in which both sides viewed the same facts from wildly different perspectives. All of that is fun for me: it’s a constant education, even though hours of reading or interviewing might only serve to sharpen one paragraph or phrase in the greatly distilled version I had room to write.
But what’s frustrating about all that is how many people and tangents I had to ignore in that streamlining process. I could have written a story 10 times longer to explore those many angles, not that the magazine or its readers would have wanted that. I almost always feel this regret once a story gets published, when I send it to the helpful sources I met in my reporting. Most are too polite to say, “That’s all you had to say about X?” So I’ll say it for them. It’s not that I think the story is superficial — I’m proud of how it turned out and what it was able to say — but I’ll always wish it could have said more.
Invariably the stories I write concern tragedy, violence, unhappy people, disagreements (to say the least), and general mayhem. I chose this writing life. But neither man nor woman can live by true crime or other law and justice stories alone. I’ve whipped up a little something that I want to share.
Earlier this year, I used a trail camera to capture some images and videos of a fox family living on our property. I posted them to Facebook and on a photo-sharing site. But they were hard to view in the formats I chose. Meantime, I’d been hearing about Atavist‘s self-publishing multimedia tool, Creatavist. I wanted to learn to use it, both for my own work (potentially) and for editing clients who want to publish memoirs.
Thus was born The Wonder Weeks. To make best use of the video, I told the story behind it. Enjoy.