The case for using scenes to introduce experts

Everyone says every journalist needs a blog. It’ll help you get noticed. It’ll let mum and dad know what you’ve been doing with your life. It’ll convince potential employers of your regular work habit.

I read The Atlantic, the one thing I still have a paper subscription to, partly for what they’re saying. For the big ideas, the big explanations. And I look for writing tips. I deconstruct as I read, trying to figure out the scaffolding, the decisions behind the structure. So that’s what I’m going to write about here: ideas about the world, and literary techniques.

And so, first up, The Conservative Case for Unions by Jonathan Rauch.

Rauch’s structure choices made an engaging (almost suspenseful) read out of what could have been a simple overview of a good idea. He sets up the thesis (that decline of unions has contributed to “grievances underlying populist anger”) with a simple, personal story that describes life without unions. He tells us the ideal purpose of unions, and reminds us where unions fall in the political landscape.

Then, a brief look at solutions to lift our heads from squinting at the problem.

My favourite part is the transition from solutions back to the people pushing for change at home.

“Unfortunately, in America in 2017, we don’t know how a truly modern union would look, because it is mostly illegal to find out.

ON A SPRING MORNING last year, two men from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum met at a Manhattan diner for brunch, and somewhat to their own surprise, discovered they agreed on a way to address that problem.”

I thought the scene was going to end in arrest. It doesn’t, which was a bit of a let down, but a few paragraphs later Rauch tells us these “opposite end” characters wrote a journal article together. This article is probably how Rauch found them. But instead of transitioning out of solutions with something like, “Two men from opposite ends of the ideological spectrum came together to find solutions to America’s outdated labour relations laws” (boring AND predictable), he created a scene.

As for the ideas, two quotes:

“‘Unions provide a mediating function,” Matthew Dimick… told me. ‘Their social-capital function creates ties that reduce anomie and the sense of being abandoned and forgotten.'”

“Although income stagnation is certainly one culprit, another, perhaps still more important, is the decline of the civic institutions that help people feel connected and efficacious. Service fraternities, volunteer clubs, youth groups, churches, political parties, widespread military service, unions, and the rest—in their prime, all fostered social interaction and face-to-face collaboration, cultivating a sense of social cohesion even when times were much tougher than they are today.”