Writing Sample: Excerpt from “The Roving Reporter Who Knew How to Sit Still”


A news anchor that can dig into trustworthy information and hold an audience’s attention, all the while relaying it authoritatively across television airwaves, exists to tether viewers to a network.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, Rather, Brokaw and Jennings embodied the persona: square jaw, poised demeanor, and a steady — and when called for, steely — presence. Three men, three networks, and not always much to set them apart.

Nightly news went down like a dry martini, not so strong it made your head spin, but not watered down, either. Dan: a colorless gin. Tom: distilled vodka. And Peter: aromatic vermouth.

Inflection, perhaps, mattered little to most viewers, but Jennings’ voice, tinged with its delicate Canadian accent, offered just the right blend of certainty and incredulity, as if the news he was delivering was also news to him. His broadcasts asked not only who, what and where but “how come?” and “what’s next?”

Colleagues mourning his death this week asked rhetorically if 007 wannabes, including Brokaw and Rather, ever looked as good as Jennings in a trench coat. He was debonair, worldly, and self-possessed, but also personable and human.

He had this odd tick, a habit of lowering his eyelids at the end of a thought, as if to rest in its contents a moment before moving on. As if to rest his mind a little. That flicker of lids and lashes betrayed how heavy the world could sometimes weigh on Jennings, the man.

That he smoked nervously after the 9/11 attacks, having quit decades earlier, only to contract a fatal cancer that would cut short a careful and caring life, should tell us something.

He was, more than his counterparts, though there is no quantifiable way to measure this, willing to inhale. He was willing to consume the worst, most troubling, most uplifting, most confusing information making news in a given day,and repackage it for mass consumption. He wanted to know all there was to know and share it. …

Sanitizing the news, as he himself said, was anathema to him.

Jennings would tell what had to be told, and die trying….

9 thoughts on “Writing Sample: Excerpt from “The Roving Reporter Who Knew How to Sit Still”

  1. rdkalm

    I apologize User. I had to come back to this for public comments because my WordPress password was giving me problems.

    I agree with everyone, as you know. The martini is a delicious metaphor. The whole thing is observant, keen, totally in command. And I know Jennings.

    I stuttered just a bit on that first sentence, the verb so far down the line, but it’s an excerpt, so I’ll give you that too.

    Fine writing.

    1. Thanks. And you’re right about the first sentence. I nearly twisted an ankle as I typed it in, not good to make your reader wonder where the verb is in your opening salvo. Even a work you’re proud of could use extra input and editing, it seems.

  2. I don’t have to read your bio to know you’re a professional writer. I’ll admit, I am intimidated reading everyone’s material.
    Especially yours, User!

    Seriously, I can’t offer any constructive feedback on this sample. I love how descriptive it is.

    I’m on the Clutter chapter in one of our assigned textbooks and wondering how he would assess your writing style. The author urges the reader to eliminate unnecessary words, but don’t adjectives and descriptions like “distilled gin” and “aromatic vermouth” make it more interesting? I think so. Maybe the trick is not overdoing it.

  3. Geez. I feel unworthy to critique this post. Your righting is so clear and poignant.

    Great description. Great story telling. Jennings was before my time, and I couldn’t pick him out of a lineup, but I feel like I can visualize him and his mannerisms just by reading this post.

  4. This article was well written and a really fun read. Your use of language is excellent. I especially loved this: Nightly news went down like a dry martini, not so strong it made your head spin, but not watered down, either. Dan: a colorless gin. Tom: distilled vodka. And Peter: aromatic vermouth.
    What grand descriptions and so very accurate. I was a huge Peter Jennings fan and this is a fine tribute to a great news reporter. Thank you.

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