Marissa Nelson


TODAY: Online Editor Marissa Nelson

Marissa Nelson is the managing editor of, and former senior editor of digital news at She has also written for the Hamilton Spectator and the London Free Press.

Truman Capote: In Cold Blood (1965)
“I remember reading it at journalism school and just being so riveted. It’s one of those books that you start reading and you can’t put down. You have to read it in one sitting. Truman Capote, through interviews and covering the trial, recreates the horrendous murder that happened to the Clutter family. It’s narrative non-fiction and it helped define narrative non-fiction as a genre. It was very unusual at the time, that kind of long-form journalism. It’s so much like fiction because you learn about the characters, and there’s a story structure like you might have in a fiction novel, but it’s not fiction.

I think In Cold Blood really spoke to me because I already had quite a bit of experience in crime reporting. Crime stories can be so easy to throw off with no narrative, no characters, no development. In Cold Bloodwas a massive work; not massive in its pages, but Truman Capote [had] to spend a massive amount of time recreating it. It really drove home the point that there’s never a story you should just flip off and say, ‘Who cares?’ It really influenced me because it’s so powerful and it speaks to how good writing and reporting can bring something back to life.”

Ian Brown: Multimedia package – “The Boy in the Moon” (2007)

“I remember the weekend when the first piece came out. I remember just sitting for a long, long time, reading and watching and ingesting each and every little bit of the story because it was so captivating. It’s one of the only stories I’ve read in the last five years that actually made me cry.

His son has a rare disability, and Ian Brown tells the story of what it’s like in his home: the dynamics that it creates in his family as a whole, the difficulties of it. It’s a harrowing tale, and I think it is a true lesson for everybody in first-person storytelling. That’s why I love it. Ian tells a very tender story about him and his son, but I never find the first-person intrusive in the story. I often find first-person stories quickly devolve into details you don’t need… not arrogance, but a self-absorption that takes away from the storytelling. I don’t think Ian did that [in this piece]. I mean, he’s lived and breathed it for a number of years. He’s obviously written it with such care and thoughtfulness that he just hits the right notes. There’s one quote where he talks about how some parents would say, ‘Oh, no, I would never wish my son away,’ and he talks about how he would wish for a normal son. There’s huge honesty in the storytelling.

It’s also such a powerful mixture of multimedia and text. It was three years ago, and people were just starting to really get into having a landing page, with Flash and video and text, and integrating all of those things together. When you combine fantastic storytelling by Ian Brown with the multimedia component, it’s just a compelling story. The relationship between a son and a father…you know, there’s nothing more universal than that.” Canadians in Haiti: Stories of Loss and Remembrance (2010)

“It’s a series of snippets of stories of Canadians who died in the Haitian earthquake in January. In the early days of the earthquake, the team at CBC News was getting photos and stories from families of people who were missing. They quickly recognized that a public broadcaster had a role to play in terms of paying tribute to individual stories. It’s quite easy when there’s a cataclysmic event, such as the Haitian earthquake, to get swept up in the enormity of it. You think of the hundreds of thousands of people who died, you may think of the millions [of dollars] of aid that are being sent – all these huge numbers.

This is an example of how, in the online world, you can bring compelling narratives to something that is so huge, and actually make it seem much more comprehensible in doing so. You can relate to a face and a name and kids and a dog and a dream.

In this case, you have all of the faces of the Canadians whose stories we were able to tell, and you click on their face and you either get a video and a story, or you get a photo and a story. Instead of comments, we ask for people to give their personal tributes. It’s a really simple concept, but I think that the way this is presented, and the way that it requires users to interact with the information, that’s what makes it so compelling. Even though each section is really small, when you weave it together it’s such a strong and powerful tribute to the people who died. If you took the individual stories maybe you’d think, ‘Oh, well, that’s not an award-winning piece unto itself,’ but when you take it as a collection, it’s really moving.

For the package as a whole, it’s the story of the Canadians who died in Haiti; but it’s experienced through the individual. I think it was important to give voice to those people who died, so that they’re not just a statistic, not just a number quickly forgotten.”

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About the author

Kevin Hamilton was the Front of Book Editor for the Summer 2011 issue of the Ryerson Review of Journalism.

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