New semester, new classes. This semester brings with it MCOM 356, feature writing, with Julie Scharper from the Baltimore Sun.
As a part of the class, we’re sometimes going to have to read different feature stories that she’s found, and write about them. Below, I’ve written out a response to “Pets Allowed,” written by Patricia Marx in The New Yorker.
So, if you haven’t read this story, I most definitely recommend that you do. It’s well written, interesting and consistently hilarious. I think it’s an excellent piece that showcases the author’s talent and journalistic skill.
Marx took a personal journey into the little-understood world of emotional-support animals in (what I would call a wildly successful) attempt to shed some light on the relatively new topic.
I can honestly say that reading a hard news story about the rules and laws that surround E.S.A. would have been kind of dull.
And it would have been a very short story, at that. A nice lead about the laws that exist, a quote from an activist, a paragraph or two about how the rules came to be and how they’re different from the ones that surround service animals, a quote from a business owner who’s been impacted by emotional support animals and then a nice little bit about someone who has a better life because of their E.S.A. Done. And incredibly boring.
Instead, after noticing more and more support animals (in a growing number of locations that didn’t seem appropriate), Marx decided to push the limits with five different and perhaps “unorthodox” animals in order to report on what was happening.
Writing in the first person, Marx relayed each experiment that she conducted, detailing the animal she took and the places she took them. Using first person allowed her to construct a rich and vivid narrative of each experience rather than using distanced language that would not have been as captivating.
I think her way of approaching and researching the topic by personal immersion rather than depending on interviews from people with E.S.A. allowed for much richer detail. A reporter is always going to be able to get a better story if they were actually able to witness or experience something that happened rather than depending on interviews and second hand experiences.
The only thing I’m not crazy about in this article is that it seems, at times, to be a bit dismissive of people who actually benefit from using E.S.A. I don’t think I fault Marx for it — the story she was trying to tell wasn’t one about people who actually have intense emotional problems and the struggles they live with. But, maybe, it would have been nice if there had been a bit more balance in that regard.
She called, for example, the well-known ethicist Peter Singer (who isn’t crazy about the E.S.A. movement) and speaks with someone who uses a service dog (not an E.S.A.) for multiple sclerosis. She does not, however, consult with anyone who seems to actually benefit from an E.S.A. Maybe she tried, and couldn’t find anybody with an actual problem who was willing to talk on the record. Maybe, I don’t know.
My one little problem with the article, though, doesn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of the piece. I was laughing out loud as I read some parts (““Holy shit!” the woman in back of us said, spying Daphne. “I feel like I’m on drugs. Now I need a drink.”” was especially hilarious) and never felt bored. Overall, it’s an excellent example of a feature story.