Pro Tips: Writing Workshop brings 125 students together with 15 teachers

More than 125 people participated in the National Press Club Journalism Institute’s inaugural Writing Workshop on Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Participants selected four sessions during the half-day workshop, one per hour from 1-5 p.m., and left with concrete skills to take their work to the next level. (All photos by Melissa Lyttle)


1 pm

How to make an investigative story go viral. How do you get readers to stick with you through a hefty, lofty, longform investigative piece? By writing it with them in mind. Washington Post investigative reporter Amy Brittain will share her tips for writing for readership and engagement–what works, what doesn’t, how strategies have changed over time, and using metrics to help guide you. Learn how to create tension and suspense, pick the right quotes, build a narrative arc, write to a destination and more.

Making every word count (on a deadline). You can write short if you’ve got time and fast if you’ve got space–but what happens when you’ve got to turn out tight, clean copy under pressure? Politico cybersecurity reporter and morning newsletter writer Tim Starks will share tips on how to quickly spot (and fill) the holes in your understanding, find your focus and your target audience, polish your prose–and do it with style.

How to publish a bestselling book: Two agents & one author share their tips. Got a book in you (or in a file drawer)? Literary agents Gail Ross, of the Ross Yoon AgencyRaphael Sagalyn, of ICM; and New York Times best-selling author Lynne Olson will share their insights and answer your questions about how to get your manuscript out of the slush pile and onto the New York Times bestseller list.

2 pm

How to write online. When you write for a digital audience, you’re vying for the attention of readers with a near-infinite array of choices at their fingertips–literally. Learn how to compete–and win–on the electronic playing field, whether you’re writing a story, a blog post, a headline or a tweet. engagement editor Nisha Chittal will help you learn how to identify your target audience, and then reach and engage them with online-savvy choices on everything from structure to tone.

Magazine feature writing: Make the leap. Magazine features play by their own rules. What makes for a successful one? Richard Just, editor of The Washington Post Magazine, will break down how magazine features work–including how they differ from news features and other forms of nonfiction writing–and how to conceive, pitch, plan, report, structure and fact-check them to satisfy the most demanding editor.

How to get people to read what you write–and then do what you want. Think persuasive writing is just for the op-ed pages? If you’ve ever crafted a lede hoping people would read on, sent a story pitch or query aimed at sparking interest in your idea or manuscript, or fired off an email seeking a reply, you’ve engaged in persuasive writing (or at least tried). Trish Hall, the author of “Writing to Persuade” and former op-ed editor of The New York Times, will share her tips on how to break through and get the response you want — or at least get your point across without blowing your chances. Learn how to understand your audience, how to identify what tools to use to reach them, and how to persuade tough targets by using techniques such as speaking from the value systems of those with whom you disagree.

3 pm

How to bulletproof your story when “fact” is a four-letter word. Want to make sure your stories don’t unravel under scrutiny? Yvonne Rolzhausen, research chief at The Atlantic, will share her insights on how magazine fact-checking works, what accuracy looks like in a “post-fact” era and how to make sure your stories pass muster, including: false equivalency and how to “weight” information fairly; accurate facts, false narratives; and when both sides are right–and wrong.

How to collaborate without losing your voice (or your mind). These days, nonfiction writing is rarely a solo act. Come learn how to collaborate effectively, whether you’re working with a “hands-on” editor; co-bylining a story or co-authoring a book; or negotiating over headlines with a social media team. Julia Wallace and Kristin Grady Gilger, co-authors of “There’s No Crying in Newsrooms: What Women Have Learned About What It Takes to Lead, will share insights from their work together and their years in newsrooms including the Atlanta-Journal Constitution and The Arizona Republic.  

Writing tips you’ll use forever. Straight-to-the point advice you can put into practice now–and use your entire career. Steve Padilla, editor of the Los Angeles Times showcase feature Column One, shows how to strengthen your writing technique, with practical tips on crafting anecdotes, using verbs, capturing dialogue, writing descriptions and more. These tips work for long-form stories as well as quick dailies for the web.

4 pm

When you really are the story. You haven’t set out to write from personal experience–you’re there to tell the story, not be part of it. But then suddenly something consequential happens to you. What do you do? Washington Post national correspondent Wesley Lowery, who was arrested in a McDonald’s while covering the Ferguson protests, will share his thoughts on when and why to break the frame, how to do it effectively when you’re not used to writing about yourself–and how to manage the potential fallout. (POSTPONED)

How to write for an audience of listeners. What makes writing for the ear different from writing to be read? Whether you’re in or aspire to radio, you’re thinking about starting a podcast, or you just want to make yourself heard, Michael Freedman, former general manager of CBS Radio Network News, will help you understand how to work with words that evaporate. Learn where to put the attribution in a spoken sentence, how to write simply but not simplistically, how to create a “driveway moment,” and more.

How to get out of the weeds and back on track. You’ve lost your way, and you know it. Now what? Steve Padilla, editor of the Los Angeles Times showcase feature Column One, will share concrete tools to help you diagnose and fix the problem—as well as strategies for focusing ideas and choosing the right story form to help you avoid the problem in the first place.