Authors In The Media With Greg Stone

New Information about Upcoming Book Related News

Authors In The Media With Greg Stone 

For my next Authors In The Media Q&A, I have the pleasure and opportunity to do this one with author & former journalist Greg Stone. I recently did a regular Q&A with Greg discussing his book and briefly discussing his journalism career. In this Authors In The Media we will go more in depth with his past life as a journalist before becoming an author!

Q: Greg, what made you want to pursue journalism as a career?

A: I always wanted to write novels and I figured that journalism would teach me how to use the language more effectively. I suppose that plan both worked and did not. Non-fiction is a different challenge altogether. When composing a novel, you can simply let your imagination fly. If the sky reminds you of cotton, or elephants, or needles, you can say that. Hard to do that in a news story. And you find yourself wondering, where those cirrus clouds really are like needles? Can I say that? Is that going too far?

In short, news writing is inhibiting in many ways.

Q: In our Q&A you mentioned you’ve done over 10,000 interviews which make up governors, senators, CEOS, cops, thieves, murderers, and celebrities. Would you please tell the curious readers & I about some of these many people you’ve spoken with?

A: Let’s see I interviewed Michael Dukakis, Ted Kennedy, perpetrators of financial fraud, arrogant CEOS I’d rather not name, unscrupulous time share salesmen and brokers, etc. I tend to be unphased by celebrities, but two stand out in my memory: Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. I met “The Mick” at a baseball signing event in Minnesota that I was covering for the ABC station there. Awestruck, I said, “Mr. Mantle, I grew up in New Jersey and I want you to know that you were one of my boyhood heroes.” He scowled at me and didn’t answer. Very disappointing.

I later found out, however, that he had a tough childhood, so I didn’t take his unfriendly attitude personally.

I also had occasion to interview Yogi Berra at Yankee Stadium, and he was charm personified. A witty, humble man, and a superb baseball player, many of whose records still stand.

And then … there was my encounter with Donald Trump. It was back in 1989, when I was an intrepid TV reporter in Boston. He held a press conference when he took over the Eastern Shuttle and renamed it after himself. (Big surprise.) All the reporters there were going easy on him, so he paused and said, “C’mon, c’mon, gimme a tough question.” Bad challenge to pose to me. I asked, “Mr. Trump, aren’t you concerned about the debt?” (He was financing the deal with a $380M loan through a syndicate of 22 banks.) Everybody went “Oooooh.” Undaunted, The Trumpster said, “No, it’s OK, it’s OK, it’s a fair question. I’m not worried because we own the banks.”

At the end of the news conference, I buttonholed him and asked him precisely which banks he owned. He gave me a fierce look and barked, “WHO ARE YOU?” I recited my credentials, but he never answered my question.
Here’s the postscript, from Wikipedia: “Trump Shuttle never turned a profit. The high debt load incurred in the company’s formation unnerved Trump’s creditors as his other high profile, highly leveraged interests failed. In September 1990 [one year later] the loans were defaulted on, and ownership of the airline passed to its creditor banks, led by Citicorp.”

Q: For anyone wanting to pursue a career in journalism like you have, would you advise them to go to school for a degree, and for how long? A journalist who I did a Q&A with months back said you don’t have to have a journalism degree, but I wanted to know what your process was like. 

A: I was privileged to attend the Journalism School at Columbia, an outstanding place. In a very short nine months we all earned master’s degrees under extreme stress. The first draft of our master’s theses was due by Christmas and practically no one did any writing until after Thanksgiving break. I don’t think I slept more than four hours a night in those first few weeks of December.

I graduated more than 40 years ago and our class is still tight-knit. At least two members won Pulitzers and our ranks include James McBride, an acclaimed novelist, and all manner of documentary producers, newspaper editors, and TV correspondents. We all take care of one another and take pride in anyone’s accomplishments.

Formal training in journalism is certainly not a requirement, but it’s helpful to make mistakes in a classroom rather than in print or on the air. I suppose it’s a tossup: spend a year in the classroom, or in a newsroom. Each alternative has advantages. These days, I suppose, a lot depends on finances. Graduate degrees are a lot more expensive than they used to be.

Q: I know right now you recently published your first novel Dangerous Inspiration & you’re writing the prequel book to it now. Would you ever return to journalism or are you solely focused on just writing fiction now?

A: In a word, no. I’d never return to journalism. It’s a young person’s game. Moreover, opportunities (and salaries) have shrunk. There is still room for good reporters and writers, but it’s harder and harder to make a living. Those who are fortunate enough to find jobs often receive minimal salaries. 

I am entirely focused on fiction now, and on running my communications business, though my third business book will be forthcoming later this year. I co-authored it with two European professors. After that, I plan to say good-bye to non-fiction and rely solely on my imagination.

Q: In your opinion, what does it take to become a great journalist? 

A: The ability to ask questions, even simple ones. For my money, the late Larry King was a great interviewer. He’d often pose very simple questions, e.g., “So what happened then; how did you react; what did your mom say,” etc.

By the way, I don’t think there is any such thing as a dumb question. It’s permissible to say, “What does X mean?” even if you think you should be familiar with the subject. Most people love to explain what they do.

You also need to be able to explain complicated stories clearly and succinctly. To this day I think I’m better at “getting to the heart of an issue” than most.

Q: Whenever interviewing celebrities, CEOS, senators & governors were you ever starstruck when you had to talk to them? When interviewing the thieves & murderers, were you scared to death? 

A: Starstruck, no, for the most part. I was always worried about getting the information I needed to advance the story.

I was rarely scared, though I was tear-gassed when I covered the infamous Hormel meatpackers strike in Minnesota. One day the police warned the strikers that they were going to bring on the gas. I was with a young cameraman who had more energy than ten thoroughbreds. “I’ll stay if you will,” I said, and he nodded.

When the cops launched the tear gas one of the strikers picked up a streaming canister and hurled it back. I was amazed that he got that close to it, because almost everyone had sprinted away, including the cameraman and I. Tear gas is horrible! We coughed and gagged and our eyes, as the name implies, filled with tears. I mumbled “Can you focus?” to the cameraman and he said “Yeah, I think so.” He proceeded to shoot me as I said a few words on tape. That night someone called the station and asked why I had been crying during the scene!

Those were tears brought on by chemistry, not emotion.

I once interviewed a group of convicts in a special jailhouse program that allowed them to produce software for corporate clients. One murderer told me that I would think he was a great neighbor if he lived next door. I asked another if the work program helped him forget that he was in jail. I’ll never forget his response, delivered with quiet emphasis: “No, because I know that at the end of the day I’m going back to a cell.” I swear I could hear the bars clanking shut when he said that.