“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…
- Listen to it on Apple Podcasts.
- Stream by clicking here.
- Download as an MP3 by right-clicking here and choosing “save as.”
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):
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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
- 60 Minutes
- Continental Drift by Nick Thompson, The Washington Post
- Washington Monthly
- 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
- The Atavist
- 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
- Legal Affairs
- 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]
- Paul Nitze
- Friedrich Nietzsche
- The Beatles
- George Kennan
- Philip Scheffler
- Steve Kroft
- Chris Anderson
- Joshuah Bearman
- Joseph Stalin
- Bob Cohn
- Svetlana Alliluyeva
- Tony Mendez
- Neil Strauss
- William Morris
- David Remnick
- John Cassidy
- Amy Davidson Sorkin
- Michael Lewis
- Kelefa Sanneh
- Ryan Lizza
- Katherine Boo
- John McPhee
- Rachel Aviv
- Mark Zuckerberg
- Fred Vogelstein
- Pamela McCarthy
- Evan Ratliff
- Doug McGray
- Jennifer Kahn
- Jefferson Rabb
- Scott Thompson
- Danielle Goldman
- Brendan Koerner
- Robert Wright
- Larissa MacFarquhar
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