Jacqui Banaszynski and Writing Profiles

Jacqui Banaszynski spent 18 years working as a beat and enterprise reporter before moving on to projects at Midwest and Northwest newspapers such as the St. Paul Pioneer Press, where she won the 1986 Pulitzer Prize for her article “AIDs in the Heartland.” Banaszynski has won several other prizes for her work, and now works on the visiting faculty for The Poynter Institute.

In her essay on profiles in the book “Telling True Stories,” Banaszynski explains through a series of metaphors and visualizations how writing a profile may be carried out. She first references S.I. Hayakawa’s ladder of abstraction to explain how profiles are “the micro that illustrates the macro.” Profiles, she says, utilize both the abstract details of a person and the broad concepts that all can relate to. She uses “AIDs in the Heartland” as an example: farmers and gay rights activists who still have the common struggles of family and loss.

Banaszynski also characterizes profiles into three types: cradle-to-current, niche, and paragraph. The cradle-to-current style of profile brings up biographical details of the subjects life, using knowledge of the entirety of the subject’s life and using past details to connect to the current event. The niche style utilizes the knowledge of what one must tell about the subject to quickly and clearly tell the story. One must compress the subject’s background and find those perfect details. The paragraph style, in a similar manner, also uses the right details to tell the perfect story. However, this profile is even shorter, and takes very specific details to reveal something very specific about the subject.

Banaszynski further stresses the importance of details by explaining the specific items she described in “AIDs in the Heartland.”

“I described the type of flower the two men planted around their farmhouse, impatiens and sweet william. I noted that the last food one of the men ate before he went to the hospital was a neighbor’s moist zucchini bread. And I wrote about peony blossoms set in bowls of water around the house. All those details painted a portrait of the traditional rural Midwest in summer.”

Banaszynski leaves us with details that at first seem insignificant, but then slowly form a scene of these two dying men. Her emphasis on details in writing profiles is not to be dismissed, not with the beauty details appear to paint.

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