From Lake Powell, words writ in tears
By Judd Slivka and Maureen West
The Arizona Republic
December 31, 2000

Today's story on two drownings at Lake Powell -- and the mystery of carbon monoxide deaths they solved -- is another step by The Republic into the borderlands of literary journalism.

Here's how it got into the paper:
The concept came from a meeting about how to follow the paper's earlier stories on design flaws in houseboats that led to nine deaths and 102 serious injuries from carbon monoxide at Lake Powell over the past decade. How could we best tell the story of the human impact of these deaths? It was obvious that it had to be about the Dixey family, whose boys drowned this summer, but whose deaths were not in vain because they set off a chain of events that revealed the design flaw.

We could approach it conservatively and write it like a traditional newspaper story. Or go out on a limb and shoot for a narrative reconstruction.

The conservative approach requires less extensive interviewing and less need for a story to have a defined path; we can get them in the paper faster, too. Doing a reconstruction requires hours of mind-numbing interviews: Where were you when you got the phone call? What did they say? What did you do next?

In the end, we opted for the narrative approach because the story we were telling had natural drama to it, and we felt the narrative served the reader better.

Some statistics: Number of interviews, 14. Pages of notes and documents, 328. Total words, 6,123.

They are words writ in tears. From the reporters and photographer who recorded and wrote them to the families and officials who opened their hearts to let them out.


    Copyright 2000, The Arizona Republic. All rights reserved. This article graciously provided courtesy of The Arizona Republic.