Archives for November 2012


Editors at Work: What You Can Learn from 60 Minutes

By Jack Limpert

One of the great storytellers in American journalism was Don Hewitt, who created 60 Minutes for CBS television. He approached the weekly television show like a magazine or newspaper editor. In his 2001 book, Tell Me a Story: Fifty Years and 60 Minutes in Television, he described how he operated:

If 60 Minutes is anything, it’s a loose shop….We make it work not with meetings and memos, but with ideas and an open-door policy. Any member of our extended family—our on-air reporters, our executive editor Phil Scheffler, our off-air reporters-producers, the assistants and secretaries—can weigh in. When Mike [Wallace] gets an idea, he storms into my office with a “Hey, kid, why don’t we…”

Editors at Work: Painful Experiences With Lawyers (Part Three)

By Jack Limpert

Here’s an expensive, exhausting, almost-got-me-fired lesson I learned the hard way: As an editor, don’t get in between a man and a woman who went through an angry divorce.

It was a lawsuit involving a Washington man who was a very public figure. He and his wife had met overseas, had gotten married, had been a fairly high-profile couple in Washington, and then got divorced. The woman came to us wanting to tell her story, which included a somewhat unusual courtship and many visits to the White House. We did the story, co-authored by the ex-wife and a staff writer, and we used quotes from letters the man had sent to the woman early in the relationship. The lawsuit was for copyright violation and invasion of privacy.

Editors at Work: When a Writer Gets an Agent

By Jack Limpert

We had a very talented freelance writer at The Washingtonian who couldn’t meet deadlines. If he hadn’t been so good we’d have cut ties with him months earlier, but we kept trying to be positive, giving him monthly payments of $2,000 to keep his rent paid, promising him even more money if he could get his stories in on time. You’ll get $2000 a month now, we said, but in six months we’ll raise it to $2200 and in a year even more. Please keep writing.

Editors at Work: Painful Experiences With Lawyers (Part Two)

By Jack Limpert

Nothing can intimidate an editor like a lawyer. A phone call, a letter—it can make your heart skip a beat and ruin your day, month, or career.

In the early 1970s I got a call from Edward Bennett Williams, the best-known litigator in Washington. He had founded the Williams and Connolly law firm, and was famous for representing some of the nation’s  most colorful people—Frank Costello, Jimmy Hoffa, Frank Sinatra. And he represented the Washington Post and was close to publisher Katharine Graham and editor Ben Bradlee.