Monday, June 06, 2011

How to write like Tom Zind

Award-winning journalist shares with ASBPE his keys to success

Tom Zind finds one of the best ways to produce award-winning stories is to write in short chunks at a time. As an extra boost, he believes getting a little inspiration from sweat and endorphins helps as well.

“For me, many a story owes its lead to a 6-mile run,” Zind said.

Zind, who won ASBPE’s 2010 Stephen Barr Award for his article “A Killer in the Ranks” that appeared in the January 2009 issue of EC&M magazine, addressed the Kansas City Chapter in a meeting on May 18 discussing effective reporting and writing strategies.

He emphasized the importance of thorough reporting. When given an assignment, Zind begins his research by copying and pasting everything he can find on the internet on the topic and dumping it into a file. He then goes through the file and highlights the important information. He finds this process helpful in developing his questions for sources.

“There is no substitute for immersing yourself as much as possible in the story,” he said.

When it comes to the actual interview, he said it’s important to have a conversation with the source and not just a strict question and answer session. He said reporters should lay out their understanding of the topic of the story so as to alleviate concerns the source might have of being misquoted. He said he often gives a summary mid-interview of what he has heard from the source so far to ensure accuracy and demonstrate understanding. Zind, who does not record his interviews, said it’s important to review notes quickly after an interview to help memory of the interview.

“I find interviewing a huge task in multi-tasking,” Zind said.

When it comes to the writing, he discussed the power of the lead, and he personally likes to use anecdotal leads. He says in every story there will be the lead that pops up as being the perfect one for the story. He also said a strong closing is important and to overcome writer’s fatigue and resist the urge to simply end the story.

“The key is fighting through the urge to end it and letting it fall off a cliff,” he said.

The flow and pace of the story are important to Zind, and he said to be sure to use strong transitions with clear and concise sentences that don’t turn into run-ons.

“Fall in love with the period,” Zind said. “Make good friends with the period.”

He said quotes should amplify and explain and not simply parrot what has already been said.

Zind is not a procrastinator and finds his best work comes when he starts his story plenty in advance. He said that in writing, time cures everything.

“Writing a piece of strong journalism doesn’t have to be a rushed job…if you start early enough, it’s amazing what writing some and coming back can do…let it marinate,” he said.

Overall, Zind said the goal is to enjoy the process of writing, and the finished product is simply the cherry on top.

“The goal is creating not just something people want to read, but something they can’t put down.”


Martha Spizziri said...

Great posts from the recent meeting. It's always interesting to me to hear how other people work.

Rick Babson said...

Good advice for any reporter/writer, regardless of experience.