Tom Huang

Tom Huang is Sunday & Enterprise Editor at The Dallas Morning News and Adjunct Faculty member of The Poynter Institute, where he oversees the school’s writing program. He has worked at The Dallas Morning News since 1993, first as a feature writer, then as features editor, and now as the Sunday Page One editor. During Huang’s time as features editor, the newspaper’s features coverage was named one of the nation’s best by the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Awards and by the American Association of Sunday and Feature Editors. His reporting has taken him from Bosnia and Vietnam and the Athens Olympics to the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing and the 9/11 attacks in New York. At Poynter, he teaches seminar sessions in ethics, diversity, writing and leadership issues, and he was co-editor of Poynter’s Best Newspaper Writing book for 2008-2009. Before moving to Dallas, he worked at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, where he covered courts, city hall, demographics and general assignments. He is president of the Society for Features Journalism Foundation and serves on the national advisory board of the Asian American Journalists Association. He is a 1988 graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and engineering.


What movies, comic books & songs teach us about writing powerful scenes

Scenes are the building blocks of dramatic storytelling and narrative nonfiction.

As Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark explains in “Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer”: “From childhood, we inhale scenes. We experience them from literatures and news reports, from comic strips and comic books, from movies and television, from advertising and public service announcements, from our memories and dreams.”

Why do scenes hook us into stories? Because scenes transport us out of our known worlds and into others. We get to visit people and places we’re less familiar with. “What we gain from the scene,” Clark writes, “is not information, but experience.”

Journalists can bring the power of the scene — always based on strong reporting of the facts — to nonfiction stories both long and short.… Read more

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5 ways to effectively oversee a project involving multiple journalists

For the past four months, I shepherded a Dallas Morning News project on the lasting impact that the 9/11 terrorist attacks had on North Texans and the rest of the nation. The eight-day series includes several Page One stories on topics ranging from 10 years of war and the security state, to reader experiences and attitudes in the Muslim community, culminating in a commemorative section on Sept. 11. We’ve also got a blog and photo galleries online, and a section devoted to 9/11 stories on our iPad app.

Beyond acknowledging the feelings of sadness and grief many of us will have on the 11th, I’d like to reflect on lessons learned in overseeing a project involving dozens of journalists across several departments.

Don’t be afraid of getting a lot of ideas from across the newsroom.Read more

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How introverts can strengthen their presence, roles in the newsroom

I am a quiet leader, fumbling and stumbling along, barely able to figure out how to do the leadership thing some days.

Writing has always been my solace — the best way for me not only to lose myself, but to express myself. It’s not a big stretch, then, to understand why I became a journalist, right?

Now that I’ve been in the management racket for a few years, things are harder. Sure, if mimes ever needed a world leader, I’d throw my hat in the ring (or at least make a silent gesture to that effect). But, alas, there are very few mimes here.

And so I’ve been challenged to exercise my vocal cords more and more. I try to speak up at meetings (at least every so often); I network and make small-talk with complete strangers; I give presentations to large audiences.… Read more

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Tips for finding your voice as a newsroom leader

Finding your voice. It’s one of the hardest things to do, whether it’s developing your writing style, establishing your role in a relationship or leading others through difficult times.

Finding your voice in the chaos of the newsroom is especially hard if you’re the quiet type.

I know from personal experience. I grew up in a family where we were encouraged to listen to others and not interrupt. Try behaving that way in a news meeting and you’ll never get a word in edgewise.

Finding your voice is hard because it requires you to know some important things about yourself — what you value, what you love, what you will stand up for. And it requires that you be comfortable with yourself, warts and all.

A strong voice doesn’t always have to be loud, but it has to be authentic, honest and clear.… Read more

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6 questions that can help journalists find a focus, tell better stories

As an editor, I try to ask good questions. That’s because I’m a curious person, overflowing with sentences that end in question marks.

It’s also because, as Poynter’s Roy Peter Clark once wrote, “Teachers and editors best operate as resources for writers, by conferring with writers, not telling them what to do.”

I don’t mean to say that I never give writers suggestions. But I try to start with questions that spark a writer’s imagination. I push the writer to think harder about the story’s theme. I encourage the writer to try fresh approaches to storytelling.

We know the basic questions that journalists strive to answer when chasing a news story — questions starting with “who,” “what,” “where,” when,” “why” and “how.”

Here are a few other questions I like to ask writers — usually right before they start their reporting, and then right before they sit down to write.… Read more

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Coverage of Japanese citizens’ ‘stoic’ response to tragedy both accurate, stereotypical

A master narrative has developed around the media’s coverage of Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster, leading us to believe that there are cultural roots in the Japanese citizens’ stoic response to all the horrors of the past few weeks.

In The Christian Science Monitor, Gavin Blair writes: “Amid all the destruction, shortages and despair, one thing stands out: the character of the Japanese people, which remains almost unflinchingly respectful, honest and conscientious through these darkest of times.”

In Canada’s National Post, Kathryn Blaze Carlson describes how lines “for water and fuel are single-file. Shoes are neatly arranged in the shelters. … There have been no reports of looting, as there were in earthquake-ravaged Haiti or after Hurricane Katrina or in a flood-riddled England in 2007.”

Even my journalism hero, Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times, opines: “So maybe we can learn something from Japan, where [the disasters] haven’t caused society to come apart at the seams but to be knit together more tightly than ever.… Read more

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11 ways for editors & reporters to communicate better when working from afar

Working with reporters from afar is something I’ve often struggled with. Not seeing each other on a daily basis makes it harder for the editor and reporter to communicate. E-mails get misinterpreted. Periods of silence — we all get busy — can create anxiety: Have I done something wrong?

It’s even more complicated if you don’t know the other person very well. You may not understand when he or she is being serious or joking. You may think a curt e-mail signifies frostiness rather than someone trying to meet a deadline on another matter.

While on the phone, you may need to talk through an idea at length, while the other person may need time to think. Such differences in communication styles can lead to misunderstandings, especially in long-distance editor-reporter relationships.… Read more

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6 questions for reporters & editors who want to build their relationship

In a previous column I wrote about how, as an editor, it’s important to build your relationship with a reporter before critiquing his or her stories with candor. You want to lay down a foundation of trust, so the reporter knows that the criticism is about the work, not the person. You want reporters to know that you’re rooting for them.

Some editors exude not only competence, but compassion, and (at least to the observer) appear to forge their relationships with ease. Other editors stumble; they get wrapped up in their work or authority, holding staff members at arm’s length.

Then there are editors (often newly minted) who are eager to please. They forget to set boundaries with their staff and get drawn into one personal drama after another.… Read more

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10 tips for working with reporters who are sensitive to criticism

Your first few months as an editor can be tough. A couple of things dawn on you. You realize that editing is really an art (perhaps even a dark art), not a science. And you realize that you can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach. The way you edit stories and offer suggestions might work for one reporter, but not for another.

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One question that comes up a lot: How do you work with reporters who are particularly sensitive to criticism? I still have my good days and bad days in this realm, but here are 10 tips.

Build your relationship first.

Avoid offering blunt criticism when you’re just getting to know a reporter. As a coach, you’ll want to develop your relationship with the reporter and read their stories over time to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses are.… Read more

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3 key moments to identify when coaching writers

For the editor, coaching means engaging the writer in an ongoing conversation about the story, from the conception of the idea to the final edit. The more the editor can invest time and thought in this conversation, the less work she’ll likely face in “fixing” the story when it comes in.

Let’s focus on three key moments in coaching. The editor can reduce or expand these questions depending on the scope of the story and the amount of time she has for the conversation.

Key moment #1: After the idea, before reporting

In this conversation, you can help the reporter sharpen the idea, develop an initial premise for the story and prepare for any potential minefields in the reporting. Here’s a set of questions that you can use to guide the reporter:

  • Why are we doing this story, and why will the reader care?
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