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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. Small Town Guy

    Small Town Guy Well-Known Member

    Think how the respective authors of the dueling Maravich biographies felt when they both came out the same year.

    My friend has a similar thing with his Hank Greenberg bio. Mark Kurlansky had one come out this year, which my friend didn't know he was writing until a few days after he signed his contract. It did make him grind even more with the research and interviews.
  2. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    I know this: I would absolutely love to compete against some of the people posting on this thread.

    "Hey, source, whatever you do, make sure you call Dick with this information, too. I'd hate to scoop him."
  3. typefitter

    typefitter Well-Known Member

    The same thing happened with those twin Capote movies. Just brutal to invest that much in something and not have it to yourself. But really, what are you going to do? Give up? It's a tricky thing. My stomach dropped when I knew Chris Heath was there, but I wasn't going to take my ball and go home.

    Versatile: I never thought of going another way with the structure. For me, when a story has a kind of natural arch, it's a bit like a record scratch if you try to mess with it. I was always starting with the panicked horses and then just going through the story as it unfolded, hour by hour. It was too complicated, I think—too many people, too many moving parts—to do it any other way.

    Magazine writing, you don't have to grab people with the top the way you might in a newspaper or online, say. Like, with a tiger attack. You build a little more slowly, which takes more investment, but hopefully has greater rewards.
  4. Dick Whitman

    Dick Whitman Well-Known Member

    What are your thoughts on flashback technique in general? As in leading with the biggest event first, then going back to show how it got there. It's not exactly a new technique - hell, that's how the movie "Sunset Boulevard" was structured six decades ago. On the other hand, I've known writers or read writers who think it's a cop-out way to get the reader's attention.

    I suppose your answer is going to be, "Depends on the story."

    I sure hope I get to write narrative features again some day. It's probably my biggest passion. Just never had the outlet all the time, and certainly not now, though I have about 20 books on structuring stories, both fiction and non-fiction. For now, I can settle on living vicariously through guys like you.
  5. Glenn Stout

    Glenn Stout Member

    And when you are writing a book, the lag is sometimes a year or two or three. You learn something, something you think is key and unique, that you busted your ass to get - yet you know someone else - or sometimes multiple authors - are writing about the same topic, plus daily and magazine people who might find it as well, or just stumble on it, and maybe one or more of them will, and you hope to your god the no one writes it better - and you have no idea whether they have it or not - or if they do, whether or not they'll know what to do with it.

    Kind of puts you on edge. You write it the best you can, then all you can do is wait. and until the day your book finally appears, you have no idea.
  6. 93Devil

    93Devil Well-Known Member

    Which is what everyone here is saying who does not wish to play dirty pool.

    When I was in college a broke a student abduction story (girl knife point down to the railroad tracks but she got away by fighting and running), and after it ran some of the local TV stations were asking me for phone numbers and details. I told them after I did my daily flip through of Tempe police reports, I found the report, noted the address and rode over there to knock on the door. I got the story by digging, and I told the TV station exactly where the information was. It was on the flip sheet the police provide the media each day and they were more than welcome to find the info there.

    Did I help them? Not really. Did I give them fake info? No. Did I tell the girl not to talk to anyone? No.

    IIRC, we did not give the exact street address in the story, and since this was pre-internet, tracking her down by name alone was not that easy.
  7. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    That was after it ran, 93D. Totally different deal.
  8. BDC99

    BDC99 Well-Known Member

    This is exactly what I thought when I read them. Heath's was a well-written story, but it was a completely different story than the one Jones wrote. And Jones' is far superior because of the tremendous detail. It's no surprise that's the case with all of his top-notch stories. There's a lesson there, kiddos. And a tremndous story, Chris. Breezed through it in no time.

    As for the competitiveness argument, the fact this thread has turned on that is ridiculous. Why would you NOT ask for an exclusive if you have the clout and/or relationship with the source, especially on a feature of this length? Silly. And I'm pretty sure Jones has admitted more than once that he can be a d--- when his competitve nature kicks in, but I don't think he did anything wrong here. He did come across as as a-hole at times in the initial post thing sneed posted, but I can't blame him. That competitiveness is one of the reasons he is so good. Oh, and then there are the details and outstanding reporting.
  9. Piotr Rasputin

    Piotr Rasputin New Member

    If Heath posted here, I'd totally read his story.

    But he doesn't, so I just can't be bothered.
  10. buckweaver

    buckweaver Active Member

    Or the dueling 1975 World Series books put out by Mark Frost and Joe Posnanski in 2009.

    Or the multitude of Fenway Park 100th anniversary books that have already been published, or will be.

    If you're lucky — and good — your work rises above the competition no matter what else is out there. You kick everyone's ass in six different directions, like Glenn, five posts up, did with "Fenway 1912", because you out-researched, out-interviewed, out-hustled and out-wrote everyone on that particular subject.

    But it's naive to think that's how it works in the real world. In reality, and in any long-form writing especially, your goal (one of them) is to tell a story no one else can tell. And you only get one chance to tell that story. Neither Chris Jones nor Chris Heath will ever write about Zanesville again, I'm guessing.

    So it goes back to this:

    You get one shot. But if someone else tells it first? Man, it's over. That's excruciating.

    Take advantage any way you can. Asking for an exclusive and "salting the earth" for the reporter following you isn't out of bounds in any way here, and I don't quite understand why any journalist would say it is.
  11. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I went to a lecture by William Nack a few years back, and he basically said he thinks just about every story should start with the key moment. He made a pretty nice argument for it, as well. He also quoted, off the top of his head, a full poem by either Keats or Yeats. (I always get them confused. I blame Morrissey.)
  12. ColdCat

    ColdCat Well-Known Member

    No one is saying a reporter should tell a source to call up the competition to make sure they get this too, but there's a difference between competitive and just being a jackass. I know with magazine writing its a different deal, but in a day-to-day deadline situation, we're all out there dealing with the same not-always-helpful PIO's and SID's and the same bosses in need of anger management. When I was in news I was never above telling a reporter from another shop what was going on and I got the same back in kind. We all knew we were in the same boat ultimately and its nice to have a friend in the field sometimes. During my sports days I would share a stat with the SE from the other paper or let another writer know who was a good talker on the team. You don't do it on a major story and you don't give away an exclusive either, but you don't throw up roadblocks for your competition.
    You never know, you might want a job at their place some day.
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