Eig bytes into future of writing in Brown Bag



Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

In what some refer to as the most significant federal decision since the New Deal, on June 28 the United States Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act in a 5-4 vote.

When the news first broke, organizations immediately took to Twitter to broadcast the decision as Chief Justice John Roberts read the ruling.

With floods of tweets about the verdict, some news outlets chose to be first instead of verifying what they reported, which led CNN and Fox News to publish false information.

Writer-in-residence Jonathan Eig said journalists have often made mistakes, but the digital realm allows those to happen at a faster rate.

The Week Six morning lecture platform theme is “Digital Identity,” and Eig will present a Brown Bag Lecture, “Googling Your Way to Good Writing,” at 12:15 p.m. today on the Alumni Hall porch.

“I’m going to talk a little bit about the importance of research in writing — especially how for an inexperienced writer it’s really a great help to have facts, and fill notebooks and find things that make it less daunting to write,” Eig said.

The Internet helps to tell a story, research and gain a sense of what to write about. If a writer wants to describe an actual place, he or she could use Google Earth to zoom in to the minute details.

“You don’t have to rely as heavily as you used to on your imagination,” Eig said. “And that’s not to say you shouldn’t or that we should limit our imaginations, but for those who are looking to get started, the Internet, and Google in particular, is a great tool.”

For nonfiction writers, biographers and historians, there are amazing tools now that were not available years ago that make research more efficient and help writers avoid digging through archives or tracking down sources.

“It’s easier than ever to check a lot of facts — there’s no excuse for all the inaccuracy and laziness that you see,” Eig said. “It can be a dangerous weapon in some way, because it might make you lazy, but most of the time, if you use it properly, it can really enhance storytelling.”

The new digital age calls for writers to adapt to new technologies. Eig, who co-founded the sports news website ChicagoSide, understands the benefit of online-only publications and using the Internet to fuel good writing.

A few years ago, Eig became frustrated with the state of sports journalism. Although, he said, there is a lot of good work in magazines and on ESPN, newspapers lack a local angle — many readers do not know what is happening in close-to-home sports.

Eig and his friend Sol Lieberman were sitting in a bar talking and decided it would be fun to start a local sports website for Chicago. They eventually created ChicagoSide to showcase great writing and feature stories focused on the city’s local sports.

But Eig dislikes being called a “sports writer,” because most of his work has been primarily in journalism — he has never professionally covered games or been reporting in a sports press box.

He wrote for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Esquire and The Washington Post. He appeared on “The Daily Show” with Jon Stewart and NPR’s “Fresh Air.” He has penned three nonfiction biographies: about Al Capone, Lou Gehrig, and Jackie Robinson.

Eig said new technologies will present an interesting challenge for future biographers, who will have to make the decision on whether to go through an entire archive of someone’s tweets.

“That’s probably an amazing waste of time, and yet you will, in some ways, start to discover their character and personality,” Eig said. “On the other hand, those people are not writing letters anymore, so are they really sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings in the way that writers of old used to?”

Eig’s three non-fiction books are Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig; Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson’s First Season; and Get Capone The Secret Plot that Captured America’s Most Wanted Gangster. He said he does not know how different biography writing will be 20 years from now.

“The digital world is changing so much about our public persona,” Eig said. “The fact is that we are living our lives much more publicly now because of Twitter and Facebook, and even our passing thoughts are now broadcast to the world.”

For Eig, the digital world is ever-changing, but coming to Chautauqua every year is a constant opportunity to speak to writers and learn from them, because he never stops learning and trying to improve.