I first discovered Lawrence Wright’s reportage with his Rolling Stone profile of Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey. Wright’s Al Qaeda book The Looming Tower is on my in-progress PhD’s bibliography. I’m looking forward to Wright’s new Scientology book Going Clear (New York: Knopf, 2013) which builds on his Pulitzer Prize-winning New Yorker profile.
Charles McGrath’s New York Times profile has this gem:
Among his peers Mr. Wright is known for his thoroughness and for his legal pads and his filing-card system, which in the computer age is as complicated and as antique as the historian Robert Caro’s. Lauren Wolf, a recent graduate of the journalism school at the University of Texas, who worked for Mr. Wright as a fact checker and researcher on “Going Clear,” said, “I think the reason Larry hired me was that in the interview I said, ‘I think one of my faults is that I don’t know when to stop researching.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I don’t think that’s a fault.’ ”
She added: “He’s incredibly thorough. He does an immense amount of reading and researching and talking to sources.”
McGrath’s insight is that background due diligence, interviews, fact-checking, and source analysis still matters with reportage. Index filing cards and legal pads can sometimes be the best way to capture and track ideas — in an offline form that can’t be hacked to compromise an investigation. Research managers look for Wolf’s ‘fault’ when assessing a researcher’s capabilities, skills, and performance track record.