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Found Objects

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A SEASONED editor and critic, John Beaufort, once shared a bit of wisdom that has proven so practical over the years that it deserves further currency: "It's not what you look for but what you find."

My friend had been floundering in London after the great war. London then was the capital of world news; Washington, still a backwater. He felt under enormous pressure to get his dispatches back to the States. Then someone shared this statement with him.

It means that we can become so caught up with outlining what we think we need as reporters to put together a story that we overlook the obvious, what is right at hand; we need to become better observers, to cultivate a receptivity to the flow of what is around us, to learn to quiet down, listen, see.

For a reporter, the ability to see what is in front of him is no small matter. Most reporters, it is complained, travel in flocks. Can flocks see? Reporter flocks, in campaign coverage, visit the conventional feeding places - photo ops, speeches, luncheon stops. Nothing wrong with this, but seldom does the conventional lead to the exceptional. (Fine stories do follow asking "What's missing here?")

Time and again I would come upon some report in the mail, spot a potential source in a lobby, course through a city-hall planning department, and come upon a fragment of information, or a quote, that would prove useful or crucial to my work.

Now let us post a corollary. A found fragment can contain the DNA, the identity, a blueprint, for a larger work.


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