Writers at Work: What Elmore Leonard Learned from George V. Higgins

By Jack Limpert

Screen shot 2014-08-29 at 11.00.33 AMToday’s Washington Post has a wonderful piece by Neely Tucker about novelist Elmore Leonard—the hook is a new Library of America volume of four Leonard novels from the 1970s.

Tucker says that Leonard had solid, if not spectacular, success in the first two decades of writing. “Then, in the winter of 1972, his agent told him to get George V. Higgins’s new book, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins’s characters were lowlifes and working-class cops, none of whom were the brightest guys you ever met.

ICYMI: Remembering the Noise and Fun of the Old Newsrooms

By Jack Limpert

The London Times this week is having the sound of typewriters piped into its newsroom in an attempt to boost the energy of its reporters. The noise starts out slow and then builds to a crescendo of typing. Here’s a post from a year ago about the life and energy of the pre-digital newsroom—and the importance of face-to-face conversation.
First posted on July 14, 2013

When Longtime Editors Talk About Their Sins

By Jack Limpert

One of the editors I’ve long admired is Dick Babcock, who left the practice of law to become a newspaper reporter, a key editor at New York magazine, and then for 20 years the editor of Chicago magazine. We’ve kicked around a lot of ideas over the years—here’s an exchange from today.

I’m tempted to write about the seven deadly sins of editors—though seven may not work. One I sometimes saw was editors treating writers differently depending on whether they liked or disliked them. Is that something you sometimes had to deal with? The number one sin, of course, is not preserving the wall between church and state—that will have to be explained to the youngsters as a quaint 20th century idea.

Writing Great Profiles: How Lisa DePaulo Does It

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Lisa DePaulo once said she marries them in the interviews and divorces them at the keyboard.

Before I start on a profile—before I do a bloody thing—I want to know if my editor wants the piece only if the subject cooperates. Most times the answer is yes we need cooperation (editors all want “access”; if I hear that word access one more time…).

Getting cooperation (groveling, begging, agonizing) on profiles sometimes takes more time than the reporting. But yeah, it’s usually worth it. For a really rich profile, you want to live in your subject’s world. I far prefer a hang-out piece—more fun, more material, more in tune to what I think I do best. But there are times when it’s a better piece without cooperation. Totally depends on the subject.

Trying to Understand the Grim Cosmic Jokes of Life

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 4.48.27 PMRussell Baker turned 89 last week and I wrote about An American in Washington, one of his funnier books, and mentioned Growing Up, his Pulitzer-winning memoir. Ever had a few words in a book strike you like a bolt of lightning and help you see the world in a new way? That was Growing Up.

Here’s Baker describing the day when his father was taken to the hospital and he was reassured that his dad would come back home. Baker was five and his best friend, Kenneth, was seven.

Against Editors? Also Against Paying Writers?

By Jack Limpert

Hamilton Nolan, a writer at Gawker, has posted a piece titled “Against Editors.”

David Carr, the New York Times media writer with 454,000 followers on Twitter, now has tweeted a link to Nolan’s piece:

“Against Editors bit.ly/1kPfrJ0 @hamiltonnolan assails those who would stand btw him and his audience.”

Nolan’s piece argues (1) there are too many editors, (2) too many writers are forced to become editors to make decent money, (3) being an editor is easier than being a writer, (4) writers are more important than editors.

Editors at Work: Four Words We Don’t Want to Hear

By Jack Limpert

When we wrote headlines for the magazine, we usually pulled together a half dozen editors and writers to see what we could come up with. Lots of puns and wordplay—it was fun. The challenge for the editor was to come up with a head and deck that might have some mystery or cleverness but still let the reader know what the story was about.

It was even more challenging on the design side. The tendency there was to be really creative, to impress other designers. Sometimes being really creative worked—it helped if the designer actually had read the story.

ICYMI: How Harold Ross Did It at the New Yorker

First posted on September 5, 2012

By Jack Limpert

There aren’t many good books that describe how editors actually do their jobs—the best I’ve read is Genius in Disguise: Harold Ross of the New Yorker, by Thomas Kunkel. Ross edited the New Yorker from its founding in 1925 to his death in 1951, and Tom’s book captures how Ross hired and fired, how he edited and motivated, how he built the magazine into something that lasted.

When Russell Baker Made Fun of the High Priests of Journalism

By Jack Limpert

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Growing Up is Russell Baker’s best book, but this one has lots of good journalism stories.

Russell Baker, a columnist for the New York Times from 1962 to 1998, turns 89 today. Along with his newspaper work, he wrote more than a dozen books—the best known is Growing Up. Both the New York Times columns and Growing Up won Pulitzer Prizes. From 1992 to 2004, he also hosted Masterpiece Theater on PBS.

“Hang on to the Phone and Get More Details”

By William B. Mead

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Harry Truman, at right, was elected President in 1948 with Kentucky’s Alben Barkley as his running mate.

On April 30, 1956, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky, a former vice president of the United States, strode to the rostrum at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, to keynote the University’s mock Democratic convention. “The old firehorse has heard the bell!” he proclaimed.

The auditorium was packed. The governor of Virginia, Thomas B. Stanley, sat in the front row alongside the university’s president, Francis Pendleton Gaines. Students were seated as state delegations, as real delegates would be at the Democrats’ presidential nominating convention that August.