A Thank You Looking Back, a Few Questions Looking Forward

By Jack Limpert

About Editing and Writing started 18 months ago with this:
In 50 years as an editor, I often wished I could talk more with other editors about how they did their jobs. Back in the 1980s, the American Society of Magazine Editors ran a panel discussion called “Tricks of the Trade.” Top editors talked about mistakes they had made and what they had learned. Rick Smith, then editor of Newsweek, confessed to this one: “Don’t leave the payroll sheets in the Xerox machine.” John Mack Carter of Hearst said, “Go out to lunch,” making the point that it’s important for editors to get out of the office and not just talk to people on the staff.

My Favorite Lawyer Moment

By Jack Limpert

While editing The Washingtonian from 1969 to 2009, I had one really tough year—it was 1989 and we were hit with two lawsuits. The magazine then was at its most profitable, averaging 332 pages each month. Were we a legal target because we looked so successful, was it because we were doing good journalism, or were we not paying enough attention to the legal risks that are part of  journalism?

Looking back, the answer is probably yes to all three questions.

This Year’s Most Popular Post: Tom Shales on My Life With All Those Damn Editors

By Tom Shales

People sometimes told me they couldn’t imagine the Washington Post’s Style section without me, which was flattering in a way, but what came to pass was considerably more surprising: the Washington Post without the Washington Post. Yes, the paper still exists and appears daily, but its golden age fades further and further into the mists of memory.

If Typewriters Could Talk: The Day I Found Out They No Longer Needed Me

Well, it finally happened. On Saturday morning Jack came into his office, took me off the desk, carried me out to a car that was double-parked on L Street, put me in the backseat, and drove me away. I’m now on a beat-up typewriter table in what seems to be a basement office in a house. Very different. No car horns, lots of birds singing and a big dog that looks at me and occasionally barks.

Not a big surprise but still kind of sad. I knew I was being used less and less but I still felt useful.

ICYMI: What the Matzo Ball Spelling Bee Mish-Mosh Says About Yiddish and English

By Mike Feinsilber

DISCLAIMER: I’m no mavin about Yiddish. I don’t speak Yiddish. I don’t understand Yiddish beyond the handful of words that everyone knows. When I was young, my parents used Yiddish to say things they didn’t want the kids to understand. But I wasn’t interested enough to demand that they teach me Yiddish. What did I need this ancient, guttural language for?

Detroit Was Doing Well, and So Was UPI, When a Ship Went Down

By William B. Mead

My journalism resume may have peaked in 1965 when I was named Detroit bureau manager for United Press International. I was 31 and had been working the overnight shift—11 p.m. to 7 a.m.— in the Chicago bureau, writing stories for afternoon newspapers. The Detroit promotion was a big one and I jumped at it, though my wife Jenny and I loved Chicago, where we had met at Northwestern University.

When Editors Have to Say No, No, No

By Jack Limpert

In yesterday’s post about what it takes to be a great editor, I said one requirement was having a good boredom detector, with the editor saying things like “No, that’s kind of interesting, but we’ll pass” and “Yeah, we’d run it, but at 2,500 words, not at 6,000.” I also mentioned the need for an editor to have an interesting mind, and came up with 14 names .

One of the 14 promptly emailed me to say: “I  used to have two rubber stamps that I metaphorically—and sometimes literally—applied to queries and, sometimes, manuscripts. One read LTS (Life’s Too Short) and the other SOS (Same Old Shit).”

An Editor Who Can Make a Magazine Truly Great?

By Jack Limpert

Capital New York has a story on the search for a new editor for the New York Times Magazine. The piece, by Matthew Lynch and Joe Pompeo, tries to build some drama—ads have been down a little, but mostly because T, a sister Sunday magazine at the Times, is doing better, and the Times is doing more magazine-style stories.

They toss out a few names—Lauren Kern, Joel Lovell, Bruce Headlam, Sam Sifton, Nicholas Thompson, James Bennet, Jodi Kantor—but the main point of the story comes at the end: “What the magazine needs at the moment… is the very thing that has always made the great magazines truly great: An editor who can infuse the whole package with his or her point of view.”

Our Annual Story: The Oldest Surviving Confederate Soldier

By William B. Mead

Many news operations have an annual story, sometimes the anniversary of the birth or death of a prominent citizen. At UPI in Richmond, where I worked from 1958 to 1961, the date was May 15, and the prominent citizen was John B. Salling, hailed as the oldest surviving soldier of the Confederate Army.

“Uncle John,” as he was known, or so we were told, lived in Slant, Virginia, an outpost in the Appalachians of southwest Virginia. We didn’t have to arrange coverage because we knew we’d get a collect call from Bill Perry, a local school teacher. He claimed to be John Salling’s best friend. His annual phone call went something like this:

Ted Williams Goes to Washington—And Says a Lot of Bad Words

By Jack Limpert

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 10.06.09 AM

One of December’s big books is The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams, by Ben Bradlee Jr. The book, written by the son of former Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee, has “strikingly precise and colorful reporting,” according to the New York Times, and “provides documentary evidence on every page to bolster the book’s presumption that Williams was, to use the cliche, larger than life.” The Boston Globe, where Bradlee Jr. worked as a reporter and editor for 25 years, says the 784-page book “is packed with great moments” and “For every high point, there’s a spectacular low.”