2018: The Writing Style Guide
A complete guide to the correct use of English for non-fiction writers.
2017: Hospice Taranaki – 25 years of loving care
book to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the founding of Taranaki’s hospice in 1997
2014: Clearing the Water – The Saving of Taranaki’s Most Precious Asset
This is a 140,000-word account of the state of Taranaki’s waterways, published by Puke Ariki Museum.
It examines the history of water pollution and counter-measures in Taranaki, referring specifically to the author’s land-mark 1972 investigation published as an award-winning series in the Taranaki Herald newspaper.
The book analyses work by Taranaki Regional Council over the past several decades to improve water quality in Taranaki’s 500-plus streams and rivers.
The book is available free here in separate chapters (click on each one to download):
My PC Adventure – a Kiwi male’s brush with prostate cancer (2009)
Here’s the beginning of my story about being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008 and the treatment (so far successful) I underwent in 2009.
It was published as a blog, which can be read HERE>
I wrote just a few chapters for this textbook, which was published by the NZ Journalists Training Organisation in 1998. I edited the remaining contributions, which were provided by a wide range of New Zealand journalists in print, TV and radio. It went through three editions, and lasted as the main J-School textbook until 2007.
Here’s a sample from my chapter on writing news story introductions:
Metro magazine gossip columnist Felicity Ferret once sneered that the now-defunct Auckland Star would cover the “second coming of Christ” with an eight paragraph news story.
The Star later disappeared forever, so perhaps he/she’d put her finger on something, a lack of analysis or interpretation or some such journalistic deficiency that hastened the paper’s eventual demise.
Yet whenever I do a reality check with newspaper editors – the biggest employers of journalism graduates – all insist the key attribute they seek in young job-seekers is an ability to write tight, accurate, basic news stories; if not eight-par stories exactly, then certainly not long ones. Even some magazine editors first look to see if a job applicant’s CV has news reporting experience listed.
When I wrote essays at school, we put the conclusion last. But we had a captive audience, long-suffering teachers who were paid to read our prose, supposedly to the end.
News stories don’t have any such privilege. Their readers scan, eyes sampling, tasting, skipping on. There is no obligation to go past the first couple of paragraphs.
If interest is not arrested, it’s on to the next story, and the next. Which is why the news story is so different to the school essay.
Instead of leaving the main finding – the conclusion – until last, it must begin there, then prop up that first, compelling sentence with support material, usually in descending order of significance.
Kiwi Journalist (1991)
Here’s how I began my first textbook on journalism, written over three weeks in 1991 when I was “on holiday”. The book is out of print now, but I have it all in digital form. Might resurrect on day (with a lot of updating, of course):
Any illusions about the glamorous life I was about to lead as a journalist receded quickly in my first week. Cadet duties instilled humility.
One chore was bringing back to the office a packed lunch for one of the printers – his wife worked at the local bookshop where I had to go to collect the New Zealand Heralds.
My reaction to such prosaic responsibilities must have been noticeable because the news editor, a kindly man called Clem Cave, said: “My boy, the way you do those newspaper files will be a measure of how good a journalist you’ll become.”
Cadet reporters don’t have to tread the traditional slave labour route these days, which is probably a shame. Our mundane duties -which included drawing the weather map, making tea for the subs (I put 15 teaspoons of tea into the pot on the first day and was never asked to do it again), filing papers, calling at the town’s hotels to see if anyone “important” was staying, cleaning the chief reporter’s car, doing the shipping column (listing shipping movements), helping in the proof reading department, getting the newly-printed papers from the press (a chore I’m certain put ink in my veins) – gave us a chance to slide gently into the news office routine.
Today’s cadets have mostly graduated from a journalism course, with an implied readiness to get straight into reporting. They start automatically on the second rung of the grading ladder (some on the fourth rung, if they have degrees) and these things put them under a pressure to perform that didn’t exist in the mid 60s. But I know which system is better.
The photo was taken when I covered the 1978 royal tour to NZ for the Auckland Star (I was one of a cast of dozens). That’s me at top left).
How to Survive Without the Applause – a guide for newsroom middle managers (1986)
After 15 years of being a newsroom middle manager in newspapers and magazines, I wrote down the 20 rules for survival. Excellent illustrations by cartoonist Tom Scott.
The book (more a booklet) was printed by NZ News Limited, then the biggest newspaper chain in NZ, and circulated to managers throughout the group. The only feedback I got was from one colleague who said it told him more about me than how to manage.
However, I got a request for it from someone running a management seminar in 2006, so there must have been something useful there apart from Tom’s great cartoons.