Chicagoans might remember Wall Street Journal columnist Jeffrey Zaslow from his 14 years in the Windy City. As a successor to Ann Landers, Zaslow doled out advice on all sorts of life questions through his column in the Sun-Times. Thousands of people are still making his mother’s chicken soup, he says. Since then, Zaslow has written or co-written three best-selling books, including The Last Lecture , Highest Duty the story of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger’s plane landing on the Hudson and The Girls from Ames, a record of female friendship. His Journal column, “Moving On,” focuses on life transitions.
Oy!Chicago: How do you choose which stories to focus on?
Jeffrey Zaslow: I like to write things that are accessible. I’ve gotten many letters and e-mails saying that they think about themselves when they read it, which is what you want your writing to do. All of my books are about the same thing: love.
What advice would you give budding journalists in a world where newspapers are potentially dying?
I wish I had easy answers. All I can say is that if you want to write, you should. On one hand, it’s hard to get out of school and get a newspaper job like I did. On the other hand, when I was young (I’m 51), you had to get someone to print your stuff. And now Internet sites will run your stuff and it looks great. There are chances to write and be read. You don’t have to wait for somebody with a printing press to print what you’ve written.
How does modern media influence your work?
The Last Lecture [co-written with Carnegie Mellon Professor Randy Pausch] was a confluence of all different types of media. First there was this four-minute video online. People e-mailed it to each other by the thousand. Then the whole lecture was put online, and then there was the book. Years ago, if I had written about it, I would have quoted a few lines from it and it would have come and gone in one day.
The Girls from Ames is a story of female friendship. What was it like for you as a male reporter to get to know these women and some deeply personal things about their lives?
I have three daughters, so I was prepared from that perspective. I know women need strong female friends throughout their lives. It keeps them healthier and happier—all the research shows that. I approached the book as very much an outsider. I didn’t assume anything about these women. The Ames girls rolled their eyes at me when I asked a silly question, but in the end, I was like an outsider reporting on this sociological phenomenon of women’s friendship.
Catch Jeffrey Zaslow this Monday June 7 at the Standard Club for JUF’s Non-Profit and Educators Division dinner .
Also this week, David Gergen, Senior Political Analyst for CNN, will speak June 3 at JUF’s Government Agencies and Lawyers Division dinner at the Hyatt Regency Chicago.