>Jack Hart, former managing editor and writing coach at the Oregonian, was the guest speaker at our Nye Beach Writers Series Saturday night. He’s the author of A Writer’s Coach: An Editor’s Guide to Words That Work, which came out in hardback in 2006 and paperback in 2007.
The book and his talk were full of commonsense advice on how to make one’s writing clear, correct, and communicative. Done right, the words don’t get in the way of the story. It’s a book most of us can use, whether we’re professional writers or normal people trying to communicate.
A few things Hart said caught my attention. One was that newspapers like the Oregonian actually hire writing coaches to help their reporters improve their writing. That was never offered at the papers where I worked, but what a wonderful thing. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons Hart’s reporters won two Pulitzer Prizes and many other impressive awards while he was there.
Hart described two kinds of writing: reports and stories. A report, organized by topics, is meant to convey information. A story, built with scenes, reproduces an experience. Each one has its place in the newspaper, but it’s something to think about when you’re writing. Take a look at the newspapers you read to see the difference.
When I asked Hart how reporters are supposed to dig in and reproduce an experience when papers keep cutting the length of their stories, his answer surprised me. I expected some practical advice on how to write short, but he agrees with me that you really can’t get any depth in a 500-word story and that newspapers are wrong to copy other media with short hits. In order to compete, they need to do something the Internet and broadcasting can’t do. They need to dive into the heart of a story and tell it all.
I asked him how the Oregonian is doing in this era when lots of newspapers are cutting their editorial staffs. He said the paper is down 40 writers, which still leaves 300. That seems like a huge number, but they fill a lot of pages. Do the layoffs make more room for freelancers? Definitely, said Hart, who himself took advantage of an early-retirement option and has two more books underway.
Overall, it was an upbeat, inspiring talk, and Hart sold a lot of books to writers who came from all over Western Oregon to hear him. An open mic followed, and believe me, it was a little nerve-wracking to read my prose in front of such an expert on writing, just as I’m extremely self-conscious writing this report.
Bottom line, no matter how well we write, we can always do it better.
Click here For a good interview of Hart by the Public Relations Society of America.