In northwest Tanzania, looking for Mayegga's brain surgery patients. Photo/Annie Duryee
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When I work on a story, I ask myself: "What will I learn from it? What will others? What is this story’s universal wisdom?"
Stories are how we make sense of the world. They are how we transmit our beliefs and traditions.They are part of our wiring. Our brain’s mirror neurons help us experience another person’s successes and failures, which in turn allow us to take new and better paths.
Is there a better way to help newspaper readers to experience stories?
I think that crafting rich narratives gets readers closer to the real thing. After graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, I’ve spent the past 30 years writing stories, mainly for newspapers. Many of my stories involve a quest of one kind or another: A black man's search for redemption through the construction of a children's park (The Guardian); a doctor's quest to teach brain surgery in Africa (One Brain at a Time); an insurance executive's search for justice (The Insider). I also seek out subjects that have huge stakes but are difficult to understand, such as the beautiful and mysterious world of ocean plankton (Every Other Breath).
I try to use investigative and narrative storytelling techniques to put flesh on these stories. This is increasingly rare in newspapers. Fortunately, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Post and Courier supports in-depth narrative work. There, I've exposed a variety of complex community problems, from mercury poisoning to insurance boondoggles to questionable police shootings, often using narrative techniques to get those mirror neurons firing.
2019 Inaugural M.I.T. Victor McElhaney Knight Science Journalism Award
2018 AAAS Kavli Silver Award for Science writing.
2018 Society of Environmental Journalists Award for best environmental beat reporting.
2018 ASNE Deborah Howell Award for Writing Excellence.
2018 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business Journalism.
2018 Columbia Journalism School John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Reporting, finalist.
2018 Furman University Riley Institute Diversity Leadership Fellow.
2017 AGU Walter Sullivan Award for Science Writing.
2017 National Press Foundation Award for Technology in Journalism.
2017 Barlett & Steele Silver Medal for best investigative business story.
2017 Green Eyeshade Award for Feature Writing.
2016 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Breaking News.
2013 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Explanatory Reporting.
2013 Sigma Delta Chi Award for National Reporting.
2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist in Feature Writing.
2011 Harvard Nieman Fellowship.
2009 National Press Foundation Stokes Award for Best Energy Writing.
2008 Gerald Loeb Award for Business and Financial Journalism.
2008 Southern Newspaper Publishers Association Best Local Story Award.
2008 ASNE Jesse Laventhol Prize for Deadline News Reporting.
2007 APME Award for International Reporting
2006 Phillip Reed Memorial Ward for Outstanding Writing.
Since 1985, winner of more than 50 S.C. Press Association Awards, including Journalist of the Year.