“Procrastination is the enemy of good editing.”
– Nick Thompson
Nick Thompson (@nxthompson) is the editor-in-chief of WIRED. Under his leadership, Wired has launched a successful paywall, a Snapchat channel, and an AMP Stories edition; it has also been nominated for National Magazine Awards in design and feature writing.
Nick is a contributor for CBS News and regularly appears on CBS This Morning. He is also co-founder of The Atavist, a National Magazine Award-winning digital publication. Prior to joining Wired, Thompson served as editor of NewYorker.com from 2012 to 2017.
Before The New Yorker, Nick was a senior editor at Wired, where he assigned and edited the feature story that was the basis for the Oscar-winning film Argo. In 2009, his book The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War was published to critical acclaim. In February 2018, Thompson co-wrote WIRED’s cover story Inside the Two Years That Shook Facebook — and the World, an 11,000-word investigation based on reporting with more than 50 current and former Facebook employees.
In this conversation, we cover a wide range of topics, questions, and skills, including:
What makes a good pitch?
How does a good features writer (or editor) “map” a story?
How does writing get optioned for feature film, and what are important deal points?
How can publishers (and website or blog owners) hire and pay good long-form writers?
And much more…
Nick Thompson — Editor-In-Chief of WIRED
Want to hear another podcast with an influencer in the media? — Listen to my conversation with Ezra Klein. In this episode, we discuss influencing the rules of the game by which this country is run (overall politics — not partisan), how Ezra lost 60 pounds, and his ascension into the ranks of the most respected media companies in the world (stream below or right-click here to download):
#208: Ezra Klein — From College Blogger to Political Powerhousehttps://rss.art19.com/episodes/84ada1a3-4b0c-44b0-b1f3-a70981a5976d.mp3Download
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QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
Connect with Nick Thompson:
The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War by Nicholas Thompson
Continental Drift by Nick Thompson, The Washington Post
The Wired Origins of “Argo” by Nicholas Thompson, The New Yorker
Joseph Stalin and the Human-Ape Army, HowStuffWorks
The Power of “TK” in Content Writing (and How it Can Help You), ProBlogger
Freedom: Internet, App, and Website Blocker
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
Inside the Two Years That Shook Facebook — and the World by Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, Wired
Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process by John McPhee
The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee
Brigade de Cuisine by John McPhee, The New Yorker
Writer Evan Ratliff Tried to Vanish: Here’s What Happened by Evan Ratliff, Wired
The Running Life by Nicholas Thompson, The New Yorker
New America Foundation
Acadia National Park
Why Buddhism is True: The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment by Robert Wright
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny by Robert Wright
Strangers Drowning: Impossible Idealism, Drastic Choices, and the Urge to Help by Larissa MacFarquhar
The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique
What prompted one man to leave Nick’s reading at a bookstore in Wisconsin? [06:32]
Nick’s best practices for busking in New York. [07:35]
Why did Nick choose writing instead of music as a full-time career? [11:20]
Nick describes how he got tracked into journalism in “a slightly odd way.” [13:04]
Nick gets kidnapped busking in Africa. [16:57]
How did Nick pitch his kidnapping story to the Washington Post? [19:49]
The grading process for pitches at Wired under Chris Anderson, and how the story that formed the basis for Oscar-winning film Argo came to be — in spite of being graded poorly. [21:25]
How does a writer make a good pitch? [25:38]
Are story length and deadline part of the pitching process? [28:18]
What does “TK” mean to a writer, how is it useful, and why is it spelled that way? [28:59]
How (and why) does Nick’s pitch grading process differ from Chris Anderson’s? [30:04]
Commonly unanswered questions in a pitch. [30:55]
What deal points are important to Nick when a story is in the process of being optioned for film, and how might a writer maximize the chance of a story getting optioned? [32:16]
What can a writer do to protect a story from getting locked up in option limbo or poached? [35:20]
How does a writer get an agent? [39:12]
The lessons Nick learned at NewYorker.com about what an audience really wants from long-form magazine stories and more ephemeral Web content. [40:50]
How does a prospective magazine or publisher calculate fair payment to a writer for a long-form story? [45:29]
What is Nick’s process for editing the work of world-class writers? [52:51]
How does someone develop a keen eye as a writer or editor? [57:27]
What you can learn about structure by mapping a story — as an editor, writer, or reader. [59:13]
When he’s got a whiteboard in front of him, how does Nick organize his map of a story? [1:01:32]
My recommendation for people interested in structure and story mapping. [1:02:25]
How John McPhee plays into Nick’s story at The New Yorker. [1:03:28]
How a manhunt led to Nick’s entry in the startup game. [1:06:51]
Why Nick runs to and from work every day. [1:13:25]
Nick’s fight with thyroid cancer. [1:15:33]
When journalism doesn’t work, there’s always law school. Nick talks about overcoming periods of self-doubt. [1:19:16]
How did Wired find Nick and lure him away from law school? [1:23:13]
What books does Nick give most often as gifts? [1:28:36]
What new behavior, belief, or event had the most positive impact on Nick’s life? [1:30:24]
Does Nick observe any particular mindfulness or meditation routine? [1:32:14]
What would Nick’s billboard say? [1:34:09]
Parting thoughts. [1:35:51]
Amy Davidson Sorkin
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