Last week, I heard from Glen Kramon, assistant managing editor of the The New York Times on how to be a better business writer and really just how to be better at life. Here are my top 10 from his talk:
The life stuff first…
“There are 2 kinds of critics in life: those who criticize you because they want you to fail and those who criticize you because they want you to succeed. And people can smell the difference a mile away. If you convey to people that you really want them to succeed, they will take any criticism you dish out. If you convey that you really hold them in contempt, you can tell them that the sun is shining and they won’t listen to you.” – Thomas L. Friedman
Don’t criticize people to get what you want. Tell them what you like…and what you would like. It’s not productive to talk about what you don’t like. Steve Jobs, despite other faults, did that really well to help The New York Times (NYT). He told the NYT about how his family spreads out the Sunday edition every week and fights over sections. Then he told them how he wanted to help the paper get to the future.
Apparently, our generation reminds him of Honey Badgers. Obviously, I’m offended, but not so offended that I deem it un-shareable. Basically, we’re ‘fearless’ but ‘don’t give a shit,’ and we ‘move about freely.’
The biggest difference between the NYT and WSJ reader – gender! NYT readership is about 50% female, but WSJ readership is just 30% female. And at most, 1 out of every 150 Americans reads The New York Times.
Just don’t text and drive – Robin Williams has the best take on it (Skip to minute 44:30. Be warned, it’s inappropriate. Probably wouldn’t cozy up with Mom or Dad to watch this one.)
And now his actual writing tips…
When you write, ask yourself – who is my audience? Think of who will be reading this. And what is your ask? What do you want from them?
If you boiled it down to one sentence or one paragraph, what would it say? Know that before you start writing. To try it, tell us your life story in 6 words. SO TOUGH. IF anyone wants to try, I’ll share the best next week!
Write it as you would say it to your colleague or friend. NPR did a story that says if you use a lot of business jargon, people will think you’re more knowledgeable. On the other hand, one blogger has referred to this jabber as ‘dog whistle code,’ intelligible only to those in the industry. Glen tells us that it’s way more advisable to write like an ‘intelligent generalist’ (See: Paul Krugman).
Get to the point quickly; don’t wait till the end. State your bottom line up front.
Say it in fewer words. Even if you’re writing on a laptop, pretend like you’re writing on your Iphone (and that you have my fat fingers ;)).
– Sarah Leggett (WG’16) Sign up here, or on thevenable.com, to read pieces from her just once a week