John Heilpern’ Journalism Techniques

In the frames of the current journalistic trends, the participative approach to writing prevails, allowing authors to express their personal attitude to the events. Willis (2003) noted that “What you give up in terms of arms-length objectivity, you more than gain in terms of understanding and empathy” (p. 21). The modern genre of a feature story presupposes conveying journalists’ emotions and subjective views using the appropriate techniques and structure. Using the participative approach in his feature stories, John Heilpern managed to involve his readers into the atmosphere of interviews The importance of being Oscar and The offending champion published in Vanity Fair by implementing the techniques of maintaining his voice, quoting jokes, using the regular structure and showing rather than telling.

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All techniques chosen by the author are aimed at enabling the readers to look at the interviewees and conversations with them from the journalist’s perspective. Heilpern reproduces the atmosphere of real-life communication exchange instead of an official interview, expressing his opinion of the events throughout the stories. Describing the conversation and his interlocutors, the journalist chooses the words with evaluative meaning. With the aim of persuading the readers in objectiveness of his opinion and creating the full picture, he tells the story, starting from sharing his knowledge and impressions from the interlocutor before proceeding to the interview itself. Presenting the conversation and his interviewees from his own perspective, Heilpern considers the peculiarities of the readers’ perception.

For producing the effect of readers’ physical presence at lunches with celebrities, these feature stories allow observing the process of establishing the rapport between the two people and following the conversation that seems to be rather sincere due to the techniques aimed at imitating the informal situation, such as irregular questions, short answers, and repetition of certain fragments with the aim of emphasizing one’s idea. For example, Oscar admits: “Let me tell you, it was never the ladies who lunch. They never lunched! They always wanted to stay thin” (Heilpern, 2009, The importance of being Oscar). Personal knowledge and the process of live communication are the main sources used in the interviews. For this reason, the author does not omit jokes which would be unaffordable for a news story, for example.

The humorous key of these interviews is not Heilpern’s attempt to demonstrate his own wittiness or to entertain the readers. Incorporating the jokes in these feature stories, Heilpern managed to make the reproduced communication exchange more natural. The quoted jokes and anecdotes could be easily omitted without distorting the general idea of the stories but they are important for reproducing the situation and revealing the writer’s attitude to it. For example, Oscar’s explanation for being stylish and wearing a tie for not to be confused with a member of a Latin band is not significant, still, demonstrates the designer’s humanness and a side of personality upon which the light is rarely shed in media. Reflecting on his interviewees and incorporating the jokes into the stories, Heilpern makes his readers believe him and feel like participating in the talk themselves.

Despite the aim of reproducing the process of live communication, the author managed to organize the material in a proper way and to describe the real-life conversation at the same time. Heilpern’s stories consist of an introduction, in which the settings and the interviewees are described, the beginning of the communication exchange, presupposing establishing personal rapport, development of the conversation and the final statement representing the conclusions part. Ricketson (2004) noted that “A feature needs a coherent structure, with an arresting opening, well-organized material and an ending that, in direct contrast to the hard news story, reaches a satisfying conclusion” (p. 3).

The author followed this regular structure as the introductions pointing at the importance of the person intrigue the reader, while the conclusion is rather satisfying than logical resembling a final dot of a story though this conclusion could not be made from the previous parts. In the main body, Heilpern pays attention to the development of his characters. In a brief introduction part, the author presents an interviewee officially, but his main aim is to demythologize his characters. Reproducing the friendly conversation and the ways in which he builds bridges to his interlocutors, the journalist enables readers to see the celebrities from a new perspective, proving that they are ordinary human beings with their feelings and weaknesses.

In the story The offending champion, Don Rickles speaks about his girlfriend which was impressed with his acquaintance with Sinatra, and the reader can associate himself/herself with this girl, seeing the situation through her eyes but taking advantage of being initiated into the secrets of the interlocutors. Heilpern does not express his opinion directly categorizing the events as good or bad, but his attitude to the characters is seen from his choice of original epithets aimed at evaluating the celebrities, their words, and behavior. For example, Oscar de la Renta is described as “looking impossibly elegant”, while “no man could look more refined than he” (Heilpern, 2009, The importance of being Oscar).

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Don Rickles is defined as “a legendary comedian” (Heilpern, 2010, The offending champion). The evaluative shade of meaning of these epithets is helpful for understanding or even feeling the author’s attitude to his characters. Providing the readers with seemingly insignificant details of the interviews, such as Rickles ordering Bloody Mary and burger or lunch of salad Caprese served at de la Renta’s office, the author involves the audience in the situation appealing to the readers’ senses. However, being included in the whole picture, every trifle becomes significant having an impact on readers’ perception of the stories producing the effect of their physical presence at interviews and making them share the author’s opinion of it.

Due to the participative approach implemented in the feature stories The importance of being Oscar and The offending champion by Heilpern, a person gets involved into the process of communication exchange between the journalist and his celebrity interviewees and is enabled to see Oscar de la Renta and Don Rickles through the author’s eyes.

Reference List

Heilpern, J. (2009). The importance of being Oscar. Vanity Fair[online]. Web.

Heilpern, J. (2010). The offending champion. Vanity Fair[online]. Web.

Ricketson, M. (2004). Writing feature stories: How to research and write newspaper and magazine articles. Australia, Allen & Unwin.

Willis, J. (2003). The human journalist: Reporters, perspectives, and emotions. Westport, Praeger Publishers.

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