This week, The Inside View speaks with Nate Hendley, who has made a career out of print journalism and has written a series of true crime books.
1) Your work has appeared in National Post, The Globe and Mail, eye magazine, This magazine and Maclean’s. How did you come about deciding on print journalism as a career?
I have been writing ever since I was a kid. In grade school, I’d pen these long, hand-written adventure stories involved mercenaries and guns for hire. In high school and university I wrote a lot of short fiction, tried my hand at novel writing (with grim results) and wrote songs (I played in a few bands).
After graduating from university in 1989, I moved back home and tried to launch myself as a fiction writer. I wrote a lot but didn’t sell anything. I decided if I was serious about working as a writer, I’d better get specialty training. And switch to non-fiction. So I applied to the journalism program at Conestoga College (local community college in Kitchener, Ontario). Conestoga had a stream for university graduates, so you could finish in just over a year.
I never actually graduated from Conestoga. I started doing a gig at a Guelph, Ontario music paper called Spotlight after I left school. I also worked part-time at the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, writing up short sports round-ups and answering phones in the newsroom.
I just kind of went from there. I moved to Guelph, Ontario, started writing for a pop culture mag called id. I became the editor-in-chief eventually.
I never really seriously tried any other profession to make a living, besides writing. It’s something I do well and that I enjoy. So I keep at it.
2) What kind of stories are print media editors looking for from their writers?
Depends who the editor is. I did a lot of freelance writing for the National Post in its early days around 2000 – 2002. I did a lot of colourful feature stories for them. I would pitch them interesting stuff that caught their attention—like a piece about this weird religious prayer rival some group did down in Regent’s Park to bring about peace or something in the community and another piece about UFO devotees.
I got a rep as a reliable freelance reporter with the Post, and they started assigning me stuff. I covered a lot of concerts, for example.
I now write for a lot of trade publications, which are magazines focused on a specific profession, occupation or niche. I’ve written for Canadian Grocer, Canadian Printer, Canadian Metalworking, Franchise Canada … you get the idea.
With trade pubs, I never have to pitch. The editors assign stories. So my advice is, get a rep for being consistent, file on time (that’s a biggie), give the editor’s what they want (if they ask for three interviews in your story, don’t try to get away with just doing one), stick to the assigned word count and don’t make waves. The media world, like many professions, still runs to a large extent on word-of-mouth. As in, one editor recommends a writer to another editor.
3) How can local entrepreneurs attract a writer to feature their product or service? How about local authors or artists?
Local entrepreneurs looking for coverage would be best advised to start with local neighbourhood or community papers. Put together a press release about yourself or your business. Keep it short, sharp and to the point. Make no longer than one page. And include contact info (this part is vital). Give the paper a reason for covering you (is your store launching some interesting new product? Are you drastically expanding your business?—the media needs a reason for giving you coverage). Find out the proper editor at the paper to send the press release to. Then email it to them. If they don’t respond within a couple days, send it again.
Local and community are always looking for stories and they usually welcome press releases or emails from entrepreneurs.
Once you get clippings in local and community papers, you can move up a notch and try to interest the bigger players, like The Toronto Star, or CITY-TV, or radio station or what not.
For authors and artists, I would advise creating an interesting website and keeping a blog, about your book or painting or art in general or whatever. Update content regularly. Use social media to drive people to your blog. And like entrepreneurs, write a press release and send it to local media to drum up some stories.
4) If a budding journalist asked you if they should pursue a staff position or work as a freelancer, what would you tell them?
Logically, it would make more sense to pursue a staff position if you’re a budding journalist. A staff position provides security, contacts and benefits (like dental and such). It’s tough to freelance if you’re just a newbie.
Problem is, there aren’t too many safe and secure staff jobs out there anymore in the media for budding journalists. So be prepared to freelance, even as you try to get a staff gig.
5) What’s your vision for the future of print media?
I think there will always be some kind of print media going. Personally, I prefer reading paper books and magazines, even though it might be more convenient to use an e-reader. I think there’s enough of us who feel the same way to keep some semblance of print media going (maybe in the same way companies still produce vinyl records, for die-hards).
Having said that, I think we will see fewer print publications in the future, as the media gravitates to the digital world. I suspect more newspapers will disappear, or at least stop doing paper copies. Ironically, one of the trade mags I wrote for—called Canadian Printer—no longer prints paper copies. It’s all digital.
6) On the side, you also write true crime books. How much research was involved with your latest book, The Mafia: An American Subculture?
Quite a bit of research went into the book. Some of the research was left over from a previous book I had done for the same company, called American Gangsters. I found the FBI website to be an invaluable trove of information. For instance, I printed off this once totally top-secret FBI file on the Mafia, published internally in the late 1950s. The FBI website is also chock full of press releases about U.S. government crackdowns on Mafia types, which was very helpful.
I availed myself of many good books about the Mafia as well. There’s lots of websites about Mafia figures on the Internet, but I avoided using most of them because they’re generally wildly inaccurate.
Other material used include government reports, court documents and many, many media stories, especially in the New York Times and Chicago papers.
Questions for Nate? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted from The Editor’s Desk.
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