The Age of Innocence

Young writers yesterday sending tweets to one another about what they want from an editor:

“My favorite dynamic with an editor is when they are trying to help me achieve my vision of a story instead of their own.”

“I think, at heart, what a writer wants from an editor is belief. Not blind praise. Just a calm belief behind all the work.”

What I got back after sending the tweets to several old editors:

“We have to treat them like adults even when they behave like children.”

Notes on Texas Monthly Suing the New York Times For Up to $1 Million

jake silverstein

Will Jake Silverstein cost the New York Times an extra million dollars? Photo courtesy of Vimeo.

Texas Monthly editor Jake Silverstein, working under a three-year employment agreement that expires February 28, 2015, decides to leave Texas to become editor of the New  York Times Magazine. Emmis Communications, owner of Texas Monthly, plus city magazines in Indianapolis, Los Angeles, Cincinnati, and Atlanta and a number of radio stations, then sues the Times Company for up to $1 million for “its interference with the Employment Agreement.” Emmis says, “While Jake leaves with our best wishes in his future endeavors, Texas Monthly has been damaged by the Times and expects to be fairly compensated.”

What Editors Should Look for in Writers

By Jack Limpert

When I became a magazine editor, I had no clue what to look for in a writer. As time went on, I began to think about left brain-right brain types of writers–left brain types being better at logic and analysis, right brain better at imagination and creativity. The split seemed to play out most noticeably with art directors–we went through lots of them and it seemed that we’d go from one that was creative and disorganized to another that was well-organized and not very interesting.

Yes, We Used That F—ing Word. And Not Always Wisely

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 10.06.09 AMBy Jack Limpert

Here’s how this week’s profanity brouhaha started:

Metro:US, a free daily newspaper, published a story about people on the island of Madagascar (in the Indian ocean off the coast of Southeast Africa) eating lemurs (a small primate). The story called lemurs “adorable creatures,” said poverty on the island was causing people to eat them, and then ran an interview with actor Morgan Freeman on the subject.

Freeman, who did the voiceover for a nature documentary about Madagascar, is asked, “So people are actually eating lemurs now.” He answered, “It’s not f—ing OK. Yeah, people are poor. I don’t know what we’re going to do about that.”

If You Want to Sell Magazines, Don’t Think Like a Journalist

By Jack Limpert

The new Washington Post Magazine says it’s “bigger and bolder” and on Sunday I looked at what bigger means in an era of ever-smaller magazines. What did the Post editors mean by bolder?

The magazine’s cover photo of Samantha Power is in-your-face bold and the cover head calls her an “INSIDER,” a generally meaningless word in Washington but better than foreign policy expert, which is what she is. The cover story is 10 pages and well-written with great pictures.

Let’s Hear It for Bigger and Bolder—and to Hell With the Accountants

Screen shot 2014-04-06 at 12.37.07 PMBy Jack Limpert

The Washington Post has redesigned its Sunday magazine—making it “bigger and bolder.” The measurements haven’t changed all that much. It was 7 1/2 by 10 1/2 and now it’s 8 1/4 by 10 13/16. A small increase but the magazine does feel a lot bigger.

That 8 1/4 by 10 13/16 page size is the same as lots of other magazines, including The Washingtonian, my home for many years. How did we arrive at that page size?

How to Get People to Talk a Lot and Tell You Plenty

By Jack Limpert

In the April 7 New Yorker, the writer John McPhee has a wonderful piece, titled “Elicitation,” about how to do good interviewing. The article’s longest and most entertaining sections are about the reporting he did for profiles of Jackie Gleason and Richard Burton.  For the New Yorker? No, he did both stories for Time back before he joined the New Yorker staff in 1965.

The part of the piece I found most interesting was his strategy for getting people to talk, and his preference for taking notes rather than using a tape recorder. Here is some of what he said:

Read All About It—On Thursday

By Mike Feinsilber

“No matther whether th’ constitution follows th’ flag or not, th’ Supreme Coort follows th’ election returns” wrote turn-of-the-20th century humorist Finley Peter Dunne in 1901, speaking through his fictional Irish bartender/philosopher Mr. Dooley. Let’s hope the justices follow th’ election returns in Thursday’s newspapers, not Wednesday’s.

Having written about elections in even numbered years for five decades, I’ve learned that Thursday morning’s paper—or website—is the place to go if you want to learn what happened on election day and what that may portend. It’s okay to scan Wednesday’s headlines to find out who won, but that’s about all you’ll learn. Wednesday’s stories are written, in a hurry and with incomplete knowledge, on Tuesday night.

Three Interesting Paragraphs

English teacher Susan Jonas of the Bronx, New York, in a New York Times letter to the editor about the pressure put on students to win good grades and get into college:

“It breaks my heart to see students depressed, stressed, ill, exhausted, neurotic and unable to appreciate an honest, well-earned B or B+.…We need to teach students to love learning, to take risks and know that failure is part of growing… “
Sportswriter Barry Svrluga in the Washington Post on the toll taken on the bodies and minds of professional baseball players:

Hey, Kids! Remember Goldilocks and the Bears? What’s That All About?

By Jack Limpert

The American Scholar, the magazine of the Phi Beta Kappa academic society, has a website that posts often about the craft of writing, and the site’s big draw has been the essays of William Zinsser, a journalist-writer-teacher. Zinsser’s essays have been pulled together into a book, The Writer Who Stayed, with a foreword by Robert Wilson, editor of The American Scholar. 

Wilson says he asked Zinsser to do a weekly column about writing after seeing the text of a talk, “Writing English as a Second Language,” that Zinsser gave to an incoming class of international students at the Columbia J School. Zinsser asked “What is good writing?” and he described how writing in English is different than writing in Spanish, Arabic, or other languages.