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Chris Jones on "Animals," his Zanesville Zoo massacre story

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by brandonsneed, Feb 7, 2012.

  1. brandonsneed

    brandonsneed Member

    Hey everyone, so Chris Jones all too kindly stopped by my blog today to talk about reporting and writing his latest Esquire feature, "Animals" (http://www.esquire.com/features/zanesville-0312?click=pp), which gets inside that wild Zanesville Zoo massacre from last year. It is also amazing and 10,000 words long and it will scare you.

    Before going further, I've got to talk Jones up for this: I emailed him a few weeks ago asking if he'd talk a little about his Roger Ebert story, what with its two-year publication anniversary coming up and whatnot. He asked if I'd be up for talking about this instead. Told me it was all super-secret and whatnot because GQ had a guy also writing a story about it. Which was crazy, because they ended up in Zanesville reporting it at exactly the same time. Anyway, here's a bit from him about that. Knew lots of folks around here would really dig it.

    And here's the link to the full interview, which I figured a few of you might like to check out, too: http://brandonsneed.com/home/2012/2/7/chris-jones-of-esquire-on-his-zanesville-zoo-massacre-story.html
  2. JR

    JR Well-Known Member

    Read Chris's piece yesterday. As always, brilliant.
  3. JPsT

    JPsT Member

    That's wild.

    Thanks for this, Brandon. I was actually hoping you'd have one of these for Jones' Zanesville piece as I was reading it.
  4. mediaguy

    mediaguy Well-Known Member

    Dueling Zanesville longforms! GQ has very good writing from Chris Heath as well.

  5. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    Great stuff. Thanks for posting that, Brandon.
  6. PCLoadLetter

    PCLoadLetter Well-Known Member

    I'm just reading Chris Heath's GQ version now, after reading the Chris Jones version last night.

    I feel bad for Heath. It's a perfectly well-done story, but Christ, does it pale in comparison. It reads like the Cliffs Notes version.
  7. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    My only two questions are who will produce this and who will direct it?

  8. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    What always gets me when I read two stories on the same topic is how details change.

    In Jones' story, Blake told Merry to shoot any animals that get through the fence when they're standing at the bottom of the driveway.
    In Heath's, it was Lutz, over the radio.

    In Jones' story, the bear was running through the fields, spooking the horses.
    In Heath's, the bear was in the horse pen, in the middle of their furious circle.

    In Jones' story, Thompson's ex-wife called the volunteer caretaker.
    In Heath's, it was "someone in the neighborhood."

    I mean, seriously?
  9. typefitter

    typefitter Well-Known Member

    Thanks for the kind words about the story, everybody, and to Brandon for chatting with me today.

    IJAG brings up an interesting point. I haven't read the GQ story for various reasons, but I'm curious to read some of those details.

    Now, I will say up front that a story like this is very difficult to report, because things happened fast that night, and nobody was taking notes. Even people who were there disagree on some of the details.

    For instance, with me, Kanavel thought the first animals they shot from the truck were the two tigers coming from the barn. But both Blake and Lawhorne distinctly remember the lion in the distance being first. So there, I went with Blake and Lawhorne, because independently, they were each very clear about it. But that just goes to show.

    Where I didn't know—the three cats creeping onto Polk's farm, what exactly they were, say—I just write as much. It's just a blur. A hole in the narrative that bothered me was that nobody could remember shooting the white tiger that was eating Terry Thompson. I wanted that scene, but I didn't have it, so it's not in there. (Does Heath have it? I'll shit if he does.)

    With the three specific points IJAG brought up:

    Blake and Merry were on the scene before Lutz even knew what was happening. He was home watching TV. Blake specifically told me that he gave the order, and Merry told me that as well. I included Blake's quote in the story, I'm pretty sure (it was at least in one of the drafts). Lutz also gave the order en route, that's true, but by that time, several animals had already been shot.

    I'm not sure what the difference is, exactly, with the second one. I mean, it's pretty clear to me that we're talking about a field—I think of a pen as being a small area. The horses are in a field that's several dozen acres. It's fenced, but it's not a pen. But that's almost a matter of word choice than reporting. As for the bear, it was chasing the horses. Dolores Kopchak says that in the 911 call even, which is widely available, and which I quoted.

    I can't tell you who told me that it was Terry's wife who called the caretaker, but it was someone who would know. I worked hard on that detail, because the cops just knew that John Moore suddenly showed up. I wanted to know why, so I found out. That detail alone cost me a dinner at Red Lobster.

    Again, this isn't a hack on Chris Heath. He's a really good writer. He scared the shit out of me, being there. And again, a story like this is really hard to report. But I'd put our fact-checking department up against anybody's, and frankly, I'd put my reporting up against most people, too.

    Still, when you're writing narrative non-fiction like this, you're relying almost entirely on people's memories. That's just how it works, and memories are fallible things.
  10. Iron_chet

    Iron_chet Well-Known Member

    Why does Esquire put this on-line for free??

    I travel quite a bit for work and always pick up magazines at the airport, GQ, VF and Esquire. Without fail I always comeacross an article I read on-line and some of the joy is taken away.

    Regardless the article is a great read and I enjoyed it immensely!
  11. typefitter

    typefitter Well-Known Member

    Well, to be honest, we were saving this one at least until the issue came out, but GQ posted theirs in response to a NYT story that ran about ours, and then we didn't really have any choice. I would have much rather waited.

    But I'm glad you liked the story. Thanks for saying so.
  12. Double J

    Double J Active Member

    Outstanding, Chris. And I love the competitive fire as much as I love the reporting and writing.
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