Story of the Week: Profile of a mine disaster's last survivor



My new selection for story of the week is an excellent journalistic profile from my local paper, The Columbus Dispatch. The article revolves around reporter Randy Ludlow's interview with Sigmund Kozma, who at age 95 is the last living survivor of the 1930 Millfield Mine disaster. The 600 word article is a perfect example of how brevity in prose and writing style can actually heighten a story's emotional impact.

Note the sparse power of the opening:

There's the name of Sigmund Kozma's buddy.

WILBUR NORTH.

It's chiseled into the stone of the pillar next to the post office.

Wilbur was Sig's best friend. They grew up tramping the fields, hitting the swimming hole and chasing girls. Sig was sweet on Wilbur's sister.

Eighty-one other names are engraved in stone as well, men Kozma knew from the company town of the Sunday Creek Coal Co.

After that powerful introduction, Ludlow resists the urge to veer off into political or historical asides and simply provides the barest of needed background in two descriptive sentences. In the first, he states that "Kozma is the only miner still alive among the 138 who walked out of that hellish hole on Nov. 5, 1930." In the second, he writes that "It was spitting snow the day of Ohio's worst mine disaster." That second sentence is an absolute gem, with "spitting" providing a perfect counterpoint to snow, turning what would normally be a beautiful image into an apt illustration of the horror that unfolded 77 years ago. The story then provides more of Sigmund Kozma's memories of the disaster before closing where it began, with Kozma remembering all the friends he lost so long ago.

This is an absolute masterpiece of local journalism. I'd highly recommend the story not only to any budding journalists, but also to anyone who cares at all about story craft.

Read the entire story:

"Ex-miner mourns pals 77 years after blast" by Randy Ludlow, The Columbus Dispatch.