Bulletin Board Notes About Being an Editor

“Don’t ever get to feeling important about yourself, because an editor at most releases energy. He creates nothing.”

—Maxwell Perkins
“Ben talked about how serving as the assistant damage control officer on the USS Philip during World War II had shaped him as a newspaperman. ‘In that job, one is charged with thinking about trouble and how to handle trouble before it handles you. I’ve often thought that ability to control damage is one of the essential skills of an editor.’”

A Question About Harold Ross and His Asking, “What the Hell Do You Mean?”

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Harold Ross was passionate about clarity but did he ask the “What the hell” question?

By Jack Limpert

Last week I put up a post about barbed comments editors sometimes write on galley proofs and said: “Harold Ross, the legendary New Yorker editor, liked to write ‘Who he?’ or ‘What the hell do you mean?’ on galleys.”

Then I got an email from longtime journalist Mike Feinsilber asking, “Are you sure those are Ross’s exact words? I’ve read every Ross book ever published and ‘What the hell do you mean?’ doesn’t sound right. For one thing, his comments were addressed to the editor, not the writer so ‘you’ wouldn’t be right. Can you check it out?”

Frank and Ben: Serious Men Who Didn’t Take Themselves Too Seriously

By Norman Sherman

Two extraordinary people left us this past week. They were stars in the Washington sky. They stood alone from their colleagues. Yet, Frank Mankiewicz and Ben Bradlee had nothing in common.

Ben Bradlee defined what a WASP really was: Well off, Ivy League educated, old roots, an insider family. The other, Frank Mankiewicz, was the anti-WASP: Jewish, Hollywood, fleeting fame.

But in quest and style, they were alike: Both sought powerful positions; they enjoyed being in charge; they were skilled under pressure; they were quick to recognize clay feet; they saw life with humor and irreverence.

The Minnesota Comedian? Too Local.

By Jack Limpert

Frank Mankiewicz, one of the most interesting characters ever to come through Washington, died yesterday in DC at age 90. He was best-known as press secretary to Senator Robert F. Kennedy—he told the world of Kennedy’s death after the senator was assassinated in Los Angeles in June 1968. Frank then had a long and lively Washington career in media, politics, and public relations.

In 1977, he became head of National Public Radio and over the next six years he increased NPR’s audience and profile. With a smile, he liked to tell the story of the comedian from Minnesota who wanted a show on NPR. Frank listened, decided the guy was too local, and told him no.

Editors at Work: It Was More Fun With Colored Pencils

By Jack Limpert

In a Sunday New York Times review of Steven Pinker’s new book, The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’s Guide to Writing in the 21st Century, Charles McGrath wrote:

Pinker is not as pithy as Strunk and White: There’s nothing in his book to rival their succinct, often-quoted dictum “Omit needless words.” But his book is more contemporary and comprehensive than “The Elements of Style,” illustrated with comic strips and cartoons and lots of examples of comically bad writing. His voice is calm, reasonable, benign, and you can easily see why he’s one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers.

Ben Bradlee in 1974: A Combination of Finishing School and the Street

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Ben Bradlee died today in Washington, D.C. at the age of 93. This post was first published on October 11.

By Norman Sherman

When I look at this 1974 picture of Ben Bradlee, here’s what I remember about him: He never looked or acted like the WASP he was—there was nothing reserved about his style or appearance. Some who worked for him disliked him, others loved his passion for high-impact journalism. He was not quite an enigma; he was a combination of finishing school and the street.

Forty years ago, I interviewed Bradlee for a Washingtonian profile—Woodward and Bernstein were national heroes and they were that mostly because Bradlee pushed them, scared them, inspired them, and printed them.

A Magazine Where We Were More Than Just the Girls

Screen Shot 2014-10-20 at 3.13.13 PMBy Jenny Mead

Graduating from Northwestern in 1955, I was surprised when some friends headed west to San Francisco. I never considered going anywhere but New York City—the center of everything.

On the first day of my first adult job I peeked from the elevator at 575 Madison Avenue onto the editorial floor of Mademoiselle magazine. The center of everything was bigger and faster than anything I had imagined. Women buzzed, gals swung around in desk chairs, phones rang, typewriter keys clicked. After a few weeks I got used to the speed of the place and had a desk, phone, and typewriter. And I noticed more. Occasionally there was a stop to things. The editorial department would quiet down, seeming to catch a message. Someone was coming.

Life as an Editor: “If You Want to be Loved…”

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Pat Collins: A very good reporter who can do it funny or serious.

By Jack Limpert

Pat Collins is one of the old pros of DC journalism—after graduating from Notre Dame, he worked as a reporter for both the tabloid Washington Daily News and the more sober Washington Star. Then seven years at Channel 9, the CBS affiliate in DC, and since 1986 he has been at Channel 4, the NBC-owned station in Washington. He covers breaking news but is also famous for his offbeat features. He guesses he’s done about 10,000 stories.

Bulletin Board Notes About Journalism

The best stories make the reader laugh or cry.

The more reporters at an event the less news.

More good journalists have been ruined by self-importance than by alcohol.—Frank Cobb, New York World

It’s not journalism if it’s not catered.

The indecision of the editor is final.

My First Day in Journalism: “What the Hell, Cohen!”


Two UPI legends: Ron Cohen toasts Helen Thomas.

Ry Ron Cohen

January 15, 1960, my first day as a professional journalist. Very nearly my last.

It happened in Champaign, Illinois, where six months earlier I had received a journalism degree from the University of Illinois.

After six months active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I learned enough Morse Code dahs and dits to qualify as a radio operator for my National Guard unit, I needed a real job.