Book Review: New Anthology Includes Insights into the Journalistic Writing Process

“The Girl in the Window and Other True Tales: An Anthology with Tips for Finding, Reporting, and Writing Nonfiction Narratives,” by Lane DeGregory, The University of Chicago Press, 2023

I was barely a third of the way through “The Girl in the Window and Other True Tales” and ready to swear on my stack of AP Stylebooks that I had never read a better collection of great journalism. And that’s only half of what this anthology by Tampa Bay Times writer Lane DeGregory is.

The other half comprises annotations alongside each story by the Pulitzer winner (for the title story) about the insights, decisions, roadblocks, asides and changes in direction that occurred to her along the way.

This isn’t just for us press people (“inkasauruses,” a colleague I’m intentionally forgetting once said). While it’s great reading for reporters and writers, I’m guessing it would be interesting to anyone who wants a view of what “the media” – when it means “journalism” – is doing. It reveals what an insightful reporter is thinking and seeking during an interview. With, say, the ex-wife of a man who threw a kindergartner off a bridge, or while the reporter is watching a foster child appeal to a church congregation to adopt him.

This “real” media reporting isn’t a brand like Buzzfeed or People and it isn’t first and everywhere like local TV news or echo chamber-y like so much commercial media. I’d hate to rely on “human interest,” but there you are.

Reading her stories is like starting a documentary that sounds semi-interesting and quickly turns out to be mind-expanding.

Who would have thought that the last house in Rosewood, Florida, the site of racial tragedy, would be owned by a Japanese woman who survived an air raid in Saipan to be captured and interred in a camp and then meet an American soldier who would later connect with an old flame and leave her in a huge Victorian mansion (whew). Or that the story of a stuffed elephant lost out a car window would become a reflection on the expectations of a mother of herself – and a son of his mother?

I must say I’ve never read anything quite like the title story of a truly feral child for the detail and emotion DeGregory conjures effectively and without overreach.

At the same time I wonder if anyone with a full-time job would have the luxury of spending several days reporting a story anymore, as she did with nearly all of them. As many of us did, back when.

And now that I’ve finished the remaining two-thirds of this anthology I can only repeat my lede. “I swear on a stack of AP Stylebooks …”

Dayna Harpster has worked full time in journalism for 38 years – at weeklies, monthlies, and mostly dailies, including the Times-Picayune in New Orleans and the News-Press in Fort Myers. She was the editor for Expressions magazine for WGCU Public Media and now works as a communications specialist with the PBS station. She also teaches journalism classes for Florida Gulf Coast University. She recently completed a master’s degree in English literature.

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