William Turkington was a student of my JOUR330 (Newspaper and Magazine Feature Writing) class for spring 2017 semester. In this class, every student must report and write one query letter and more than 10 feature stories in different genres. Each story must not exceed 500 words. Then the student must expand whatever story of their choice into a polished, ready-for-publication long-form magazine article of 1,200 to 1,500 words.
Turkington came to my attention because he is a superstar on the rise.
Like me, Turkington is an immigrant. He came from Malaysia and is a sports broadcasting major at Western Illinois University (WIU) Department of Broadcasting and Journalism. The seemingly taciturn young man can speak English, Mandarin, Malay, Penang Hokkien fluently. I once chatted with him in Chinese in front of the whole class. No one in the room understood what we were talking about. His mandarin fluency really surprised me.
What surprised me most are his reporting and writing abilities. Actually he is one of the best student writers I have ever taught since I came to WIU six years ago. I am not saying his writing is perfect. Like most students in this class, he often fails to describe what main characters look like and at times cannot resist the temptation to take sides in the story as if he were an editorial or commentary writer. Except that, his reporting was very thorough, his observation was very insightful, and his writing was nearly impeccable. After reading his feature stories, I can’t help crying, smiling, laughing or wondering how powerful words still are in this world increasingly dominated by excessive video images and superficial information graphics.
I believe Turkington will go far. He will probably become another alumnus-turned Pulitzer Prize winner (already four Pulitzer Prizes are proudly associated with our great department). Or he will probably become another alumnus-turned Emmy Award recipient (already four Emmy Awards are proudly associated with our department).
With his permission, all William Turkington’s assignments written for my feature writing class are published here on my blog in three installments. You already had the chance to read his full-length first-person story in the first installment. I suggest you try his business story, hobbyist story, how-to story, number story, overview story, profile story and unfamiliar visitor story published in the second installment. Hope you will enjoy his query letter and historical story published in this third and final installment:
Syllabus instruction: Write a one-page letter to a magazine editor. Specify a real publication and an editor’s name in your letter. This is a letter that sells your story idea and you to a publication. Before writing the letter, you must refer to Step Writer’s Market, study selected issues of targeted magazine, and conduct reference check at Reader’s Guide to Periodical Literature for duplication.
By William Turkington
Editor, Time Magazine
225 Liberty St
New York, NY, 10281
March 29, 2017
Dear Ms. Nancy Gibbs:
With increasing numbers of Muslim immigrants from the Arab world to Western countries like Sweden, Germany, and the United States, the subject of Islam’s compatibility with Western culture is a hot-button issue. In August of 2015, Maajid Nawaz co-authored a book titled “Islam and the future of tolerance.” Nawaz is a British-born politician of Pakistani descent, and a self-proclaimed activist in favor of reforming his own religion, Islam.
There is nobody better qualified in the Western world to explain to Westerners what Islam really is and what changes are needed to come about to avoid a massive cultural clash that has already been boiling to the surface. Nawaz can explain the intricacies of Islam to his Western counterparts and make distinctions that non-Muslims may not be familiar with, such as differences between spiritual Islam and political Islam, as well as Muslims and Islamists, points he regularly makes.
I propose a 2,000-word piece on Nawaz, who not only is a politician, activist, and author, but also a columnist and a radio host. Nawaz faces challenges from all sides of the political spectrum. Leftists like Glen Greenwald have called Nawaz derogatory terms like “porch monkey” while he’s also been the target of far-right hate groups, one of which nearly killed him as a child in Essex, England. The response and attention drawn from a piece on Nawaz will certainly cross partisan lines and promote healthy dialogues on the subjects he often talks about.
As somebody who grew up in a Muslim theocracy, and whose father is American, I am in a unique position to ask Nawaz pertinent questions about Islam and the West, and convey Nawaz’ messages to the global audiences. Nawaz has showed great openness to various platforms in which he uses to spread his messages, appearing on shows like Bill Maher’s Real Time, and Megyn Kelly’s show on Fox News.
The time is simply right for Nawaz and this discussion.
I could produce a rough draft to you within two weeks of acceptance of my proposal. I am anticipating a question and answer format for the interview, but am certainly open to other ideas which may better fit your magazine.
I also ask that you take a look at my resume, attached. I am an experienced writer and editor, having written for the award-winning Western Courier at Western Illinois University, where I earned my bachelor’s degree in Journalism.
Thank you for this opportunity.
Yours in writing,
Historical Story: 100 Years Later, We’re Right Back Where We Started
Syllabus instruction: These types of stories are also usually pegged to a breaking news event and allow the feature writer to do some historical research that shows how the community or the world has changed. For example, if a work crew erecting a skyscraper uncovers the remains of several wooden ships while digging a foundation, there could be a good story on how the ships got there and what once was located on that spot, such as a dock that may have been covered with landfill in the 19th century.
By William Turkington
In Edwin Starr’s 1970 classic “War,” he uttered a line that remains in pop-culture until this very day. “War, what is it good for? Absolutely nothing.”
On April 6, 1917, the United States entered World War I. On April 6, 2017, the United States launched 59 tomahawk missiles against a Syrian government air base. Spine-chilling.
The combined total of military and civilian casualties in WWI is widely estimated at 38 million. A horror that we, the human race, had hoped to never repeat again. A hope that has died 1,000 deaths.
President Trump ordered the missile strike on the Syrian airbase because president Bashar al-Assad had reportedly used sarin gas against his own civilians, killing 80, in the ongoing Syrian civil war that has claimed anywhere from 200,000-400,000 lives and has caused a massive refugee crisis.
Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky did not approve of the airstrikes. “Military action in Syria needs congressional approval,” said Paul in a statement he made shortly after the bombing. “While we all condemn the atrocities in Syria, the United States was not attacked. Our prior interventions in this region have done nothing to make us safer and Syria will be no different.” Senator Paul is a staunch Libertarian Republican who has been consistently anti-war and anti-intervention.
Even Trump’s millennial supporters have denounced this move. Right-leaning provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos, who generated untold amounts of young support for Trump, came out against his airstrike. This is “not why people voted for [Trump],” said Yiannopoulos. Paul Watson, who generated similar support among young people for Trump called him a “Neo-Con puppet” and adding that he was “officially OFF the Trump train.”
Even with a huge grassroots movement widely condemning this airstrike, establishment politicians from around the United States from both parties supported it. Politicians like Hillary Clinton ran on platforms saying that President Assad needed to be overthrown by whatever means necessary.
Since WWII, the United States has been involved in numerous international military conflicts. The United States military is currently involved in seven wars. In 2016, bombs funded by US taxpayers were dropped in seven countries: Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, according to the National Interest Foreign Policy Experts Roundtable.
The message is clear. The people oppose war, the government can’t wait to get into the next one.
With WWI exactly 100 years in the rear-view mirror, one can only hope that the world superpowers learn from their mistakes. The 38 million that died in WWI will be nothing but a footnote in history if escalations in the middle-east continue. With improving weapons technology around the world, we are forced to trust the men and women in power to not let their egos and geo-politics lead us all off the cliff.
And so far, they’re not doing a very good job.