Real News. A Real Difference. Tony Bartelme in Africa seeking patients of Emanuel Mayegga, a student of Dr. Dilan Ellegala. Tony traveled to Tanzania in 2010 to cover the story of Dr. Ellegala, an MUSC neurosurgeon performing and teaching brain surgery in one of the poorest and most remote places in Africa. The series was a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize.
By Tony Bartelme
Special Projects Reporter, The Post and Courier
When I begin work on a story, I ask myself: "What will I learn from it? What will others? What is this story’s universal wisdom?"
Stories are how we make sense of the world. They are how we transmit our beliefs and traditions. They are part of our hardwiring: Our brain’s mirror neurons help us experience another person’s successes and failures, which in turn allow us to take new and better paths.
Is there a better way to help newspaper readers to experience stories?
I think that crafting rich narratives gets readers closer to the real thing. After graduating with a journalism degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, I’ve spent the past 30 years writing stories, mainly for newspapers. Many of my stories involve a quest of one kind or another: A black man's search for redemption through the construction of a children's park (The Guardian); a doctor's quest to teach brain surgery in Africa (One Brain at a Time); an insurance executive's search for justice (The Insider). I also seek out subjects that have huge stakes but are difficult to understand, such as the beautiful and mysterious world of ocean plankton (Every Other Breath).
I try to use investigative and narrative storytelling techniques to put flesh on these stories. This is increasingly rare in newspapers. Fortunately, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Post and Courier supports in-depth narrative work. There, I've exposed a variety of complex community problems, from mercury poisoning to insurance boondoggles to questionable police shootings, often using narrative techniques to get those mirror neurons firing.