Ask the Editor: What makes WORLD unique?

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: Ask the Editor.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Once a month Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky joins us to discuss what makes WORLD unique—and why we do things the way we do.

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: I often get letters that go like this: “I read a story in WORLD that ended with this line. Quote, The writer is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute mid-career course. What is that mid-career course? And since I want to write like Andrée Seu Peterson, should I take it?”

I chuckle at such letters, because there is only one Andrée. Our mid-career course emphasizes pavement-pounding. Phone-calling. Document-reading reporting. Not column writing. Susan and I accept ten people each year. We make them go out and interview people on the street, interrogate someone on the phone, and sit in our living room while we shred their writing.

It’s not for the faint-hearted. We’re looking for those who want to become the reporting equivalent of a 5-tool baseball player. We want reporters who can discern, report, analyze, write, and tell stories.

Here’s what I mean.

Discern. They approach a story within a Biblically objective framework. 

Report: They move from abstract examples to observed reality. 

Analyze: They connect the dots, seeing the sum of all the specific details. 

Write: They smoothly and accurately convey information. 

Tell a story: They weave that information into a compelling account.

We’ve found over the years that the best reporters also have certain personality traits.

They are curious. They want to see and learn new things.

They hustle. They work hard, fast, and long (if necessary).

They are smart. They see connections and go beneath the surface.

They have integrity. They have the grace to withstand enticements.

And they have a thick skin: Good reporters inevitably make some people mad.

The very best reporters have one more thing: Charm. They remember the way to catch flies: Honey, not vinegar.

Some people write because they want to see their bylines on articles. But are they willing to put in the work? They have a good IQ but do they also have DQ — determination quotient? We don’t just write articles. We rewrite them. It’s hard work.

America’s best nonfiction writer may be Michael Lewis. He wrote books like Moneyball and The Blind Side. He says, “The most common pleasant thing people say to me about my writing is that it looks ‘effortless.’”

Then he offers this confession, “It is the opposite of effortless. … I probably do 20 drafts of each chapter. I write something over and over. It’s like Groundhog Day. My writing process is sweaty and inelegant.”

People who saw the late writer Tom Wolfe toiling at his desk knew it didn’t come easy. They described his haunted, desperate look. I’ve seen that look at times among our reporters as deadlines approached. I’ve looked in the mirror and seen that look in myself.

That’s why IQ and emotional quotient, EQ, are important. But DQ, determination quotient, may be the most important quality of all.

For WORLD Radio, I’m Marvin Olasky.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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