Talking About Journalism’s Good Old Days and When the Time Comes to Say Goodbye

I’m part of a group of retired Washington editors and writers who get together once or twice a month for a sandwich lunch—we talk about current events and what’s happening in journalism. Who could we proudly vote for in the next election? What’s happened to working together for the good of the country? Where have all the good jobs for editors, writers, and reporters gone?

We have lots of memories of good stories we wrote or edited, and we sometimes laugh about the less-than-great moments that are part of a journalist’s life. Mostly we know we were lucky to be editors and reporters before the digital revolution.

The Kind of People Going Into Journalism Has Changed: Are They Now Too Big City, Too Smart, Too Full of Themselves?

Budding journalists: It’s obviously exciting to feel career progress. But you don’t have to work or or or other names to be doing worthy work. Journalism is important and needed everywhere. —Tweeted by Theodore Kim, Director of Newsroom Fellowships and Internships at the New York Times.

While editing the Washingtonian magazine, I worked with probably 600 interns over the past 40 years and one of the biggest changes was seeing many more budding journalists coming from relatively affluent families and graduating from top colleges. While their parents may have made their money in business, their kids found business boring, they didn’t want to be lawyers—that also could be boring—and journalism sounded interesting.

Finding Good Story Ideas: Do More Listening Than Talking

By Lee Walburn

Good stories begin with good ideas.

While at the barber shop or hair stylist, listen to what people are talking about. Do it in the checkout line at the supermarket. Do it at the neighborhood saloon. Do it wherever people congregate and talk. What seems to be concerning them? What about their jokes and their stories? Has the news of the day had any impact on their lives? Are they excited about anything or anyone?

Use your own emotions as an idea factory by thinking in the abstract and writing in the specific. What makes you angry? What are you afraid of? What intrigues you?

How an Editor Can and Can’t Help Writers Do Their Best Work

Sukiyabashi Jiro is a Tokyo sushi restaurant that has been awarded three stars from the Michelin Guide and its sushi master, Jiro Ono, once starred in a charming documentary film, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. As an editor, I couldn’t help watching the film and thinking about what I could learn from how Jiro delivers such consistent high quality.

I figured that running a restaurant must be a little like running a magazine: You’re offering something to the public that you hope they’ll enjoy and they’ll think is worth the money, and your success depends on word of mouth and repeat business. So I watched the film a second time and took notes about how Jiro did his work:

Sy Hersh and His Editors: Some Good Stories and Then It Was Time to Move On

Sy Hersh’s autobiography, Reporter: A Memoir, is full of stories about editors, with some payback and side comments about journalists who got in his way. Four short excerpts:

Sy Hersh and Abe Rosenthal: A Writer-Editor Fight That Sent a Typewriter Flying Through a Newspaper Office Window

A writer-editor battle between writer Sy Hersh and Abe Rosenthal, executive editor of the New York Times, from Hersh’s book,  Reporter: A Memoir—it took place as the Times was editing a series of stories written by Hersh and Jeff Gerth about Hollywood lawyer and fixer Sidney Korshak:

When Andy Ferguson Wanted to Join One of Those Country Clubs Featured In the Kavanaugh-Ford Senate Hearings

Andy likes to smile at what he sees in Washington.

Some of the colorful behavior described in the Brett Kavanaugh-Christine Blasey Ford testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee took place at Washington area country clubs—the Kavanaughs are members of the Chevy Chase Club, the Blaseys of Columbia Country Club, and the patriarchs of the two families are members of the Burning Tree Club.

The Chevy Chase Club is known as the city’s WASP country club, Columbia, located just a few blocks away, as more of a Catholic club, with Burning Tree an exclusive men’s club where women are barred from entering. The initiation fees at all three are around $100,000, with Burning Tree the most expensive because it gets no preserving greenery tax break because of its discriminatory men-only policy.

It’s One Thing for a Politician to Be For Stronger Gun Control —But Don’t Do It Surrounded by Naked Women

The Washington Post has an obit this morning on former Senator Joseph Tydings, who was youthful and charismatic enough to be compared with President John F. Kennedy and be mentioned as a 1972 vice presidential possibility.

But he was defeated when he ran for reelection in 1970 and, as the Post obit points out, his advocacy of stronger gun control was a big issue: “In 1970, the NRA campaigned hard against him using slogans such as ‘If Tydings Wins, You Lose.'”

But the Post missed what really sunk Tydings—his coming out against guns by writing an article in Playboy magazine, leading to hundreds of thousands of bumper stickers saying, “Playboy Joe Has Got to Go.”

“Treating the Media As a Thing Can Be a Convenient Shorthand But It Also Can Make You Sound Dumb”

Andrew Ferguson, though a writer at the conservative Weekly Standard, is one of Washington’s independent thinkers and he’s always happy to make fun of pretty much everyone in the nation’s capital. Here’s Andy looking at the media in a piece about Trump-era books, with the focus here on Fox News’s “Judge” Jeanine Pirro, author of Liars, Leakers, and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy.

The judge believes, as so many Trump supporters do, that there is a thing called “the media,” much in the way that economists believe there is a thing called “the economy” or environmentalists talk about the thing called “the environment.” If there weren’t such a thing, if there weren’t this unitary object to concentrate on, they wouldn’t have much reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The Best Editors Ask Good Questions

By Barnard Law Collier

From longtime editor and writer Barney Collier on the October 5th post “Why Editors Are Not on TV Talk Shows and Are Mostly Silent on Social Media”:

I have a feeling that many editors come off as mediocre on TV because editors, mostly, are in the suggestion business, and questions are the most powerful form of suggestion.

When I edited good writers my role was to ask questions about their work and stimulate their minds into poking about until something better than what they’d done could be found. “Is there a better word? A better way to say this?” usually elicited better stuff. Good writers caught the drift. Lousy writers put their heels in the mud.