For this week’s Meet the Media, we’d like you to meet Doug Thompson. Doug is based in Ventura, California, and is a freelance writer for consumer magazines such as Southern Boating and Sea Magazine, and also the publisher of VehiclesTEST.com, which creates third-party video reviews of new cars.
- How did you find yourself as a freelance writer?
I found that writing is one of a few skills I have that people will pay for, so I freelance to earn money to pay for my family’s living expenses. Early in my career I was on staff at newspapers and magazines, and I kept those relationships after I moved on. Editors use freelance writers who file clean copy on time, on or before deadline. I also follow the editor’s directions, and that’s critical on bigger projects.
2. Which of your stories are you most proud of? I wrote a newspaper outdoors column for the Ventura County Star in the mid 1990s about a father who accidentally shot and killed his son while hunting. I interviewed the father and the column touched on gun safety, loss and grief. It generated a lot of reader interaction, both favorable and unfavorable.
3. What is your favorite thing about your job? Let’s start with the worst thing: I always feel as if I will never get another assignment. However, once the assignment is made, I am now in charge. I do the interviews, I create the story, and I file the final piece of work. I am in control and am fairly certain what’s going to happen. The editors may have questions, and I usually have the answers or can find them fast.
4. What is your interview style? I like to interview in person or by phone, and I use a notepad and a digital recorder. I like to write notes, but usually look the subject right in the eye. The digital recorder helps me quote people accurately. I type fast so the transcriptions are good for me to get a second review of the interview. For some story formats I will send the subject questions in advance by email and have them answer in writing. I have found this to be an effective use of time for both myself and the subject.
5. What do you look for in a story? I use the 7 traditional criteria of news value. Conflict is No. 1, wars, politics, crime or sports. The other six are audience, impact, proximity, timeliness, prominence and unusualness. There has to be a hook. The messy stuff is the best.
6. What is your day like at your job? I have to keep my hands on the keyboard and a phone in my ear. It’s like digging a ditch—the dirt doesn’t move by thinking about it. Writing and reporting is all about action, taking the steps necessary to get the information and make it interesting for the readers.
7. Who do you most look up to in the journalism industry? Every small-town newspaper editor trying to put the readers first. The famous editors at The New York Times are good too. Maybe some are motivated by money, but most are motivated by finding out the truth and presenting it to the readers.
8. What is your favorite news outlet? Did I say The New York Times? Everyone in journalism (Fox, CNN, Wall Street Journal) ends up following up on stories from The New York Times.
9. Fill in the blank:
- If I am not writing, I am…going to Los Angeles Dodger baseball games, even though I’m a Cubs fan, playing tennis, riding bikes with my wife Ann, reading or listing to podcasts.
- If I could interview anyone, it would be… Donald Trump. I would try to be tough but I think he has a super-human way of getting you to go along with him. I would like to experience that in person, and still be extremely tough.
10. What is your guilty pleasure? Watching baseball on TV and afternoon naps. Baseball is the ultimate napping sport, and naps, well I can’t help but take one. If I miss out I feel less than. An afternoon nap is a gift from God.
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