Getting the Reader’s Attention: How Magazine Covers Do It

By Jack Limpert

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October 1976: The most controversial Washingtonian cover.

In the 1970s, Dick Stolley, founding editor of People magazine, came up with his laws of magazine covers. The laws included:
1. Young is better than old.
2. Pretty is better than ugly.
3. Rich is better than poor.
4. Movies are better than television.
5. Movies and television are better than music.
6. Movies, TV, and music are better than sports.
7. Anything is better than politics.
8. Nothing is better than a dead celebrity.

What Henry Fairlie Would Say About Saturday Night’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner


Henry Fairlie: “Celebrity has become the main threat to journalism, especially in Washington.”

From a Q and A with British journalist Henry Fairlie in the April 1989 Washingtonian:

Q. Why are more members of the media now stars?

A. This comes from journalism in Washington, not elsewhere. Washington journalism has created something that to me is absolutely embarrassing and outrageous: an arrogant elite. It started with Watergate. The idea that the Washington Post did something so very remarkable in Watergate swelled the heads of Washington journalists. They soon learned that if they appeared on these television talk shows, they got invited to lecture to trade associations at enormous fees.

Making It as a Freelancer: 12 Timeless Tips from John Bartlow Martin

By Ray E. Boomhower


John Bartlow Martin on life as a freelancer: “Champagne today, crackers and milk tomorrow.”

With his horn-rimmed glasses, bow tie, and mild manner, John Bartlow Martin looked more like a schoolteacher or a laboratory technician than a nationally known writer. He believed in hard work more than talent, saying, “Hell, I’m just a reporter.”

The Indiana-raised Martin had honed his observational skills as a police and city hall reporter on the Indianapolis Times in the late 1930s and as a contributor to such true-crime periodicals as Official Detective Stories and Actual Detective Stories for Women in Crime.

A Pulitzer Prize Winner on Getting Sources to Talk

What’s your secret to getting reluctant sources to talk?

I try to persuade people that the public has a right to know. I try to appeal to their loftier instincts. I tell them, “This story is going to come out. You’re going to be affected by this story. You need to talk to me. You have to talk to me. You don’t want other people who are critical of you to be quoted and for you to say ‘No comment.’ ‘No comment’ is never a good answer.”

Newsrooms Were a Lot Noisier and a Lot More Fun

By Jack Limpert

One of the generation gaps in journalism is between those of us who remember, and mostly loved, the sounds of typewriters, teletypes, and ringing telephones and those who started in the much quieter digital age.

From Ron Cohen, who was UPI’s managing editor before going on to work for Gannett:

“The clackety-clack of the teletypes, although doubtlessly the cause of premature hearing loss in many journalists, did provide an atmosphere of excitement in newsrooms. Their replacements, virtually silent, made newsrooms more like insurance offices.

This Headline Made Me Spill My Coffee

By Mike Feinsilber

This headline appeared April 22 on the top of page one of the Washington Post:

GOP camps
game out
picks for
No. 2 slot

It was in the off-lead position—top of the page, left hand column, a place reserved for the day’s second most important story. (The top right is where the day’s top story appears because that’s where the eye goes first, or has been trained to go first.)

What’s wrong with the headline is that it is hard—for me it was impossible—to figure out what it is saying.

Big News: More On Flashes, Bulletins, and Urgents

By Mike Feinsilber

In my piece earlier this week about flashes, bulletins, and urgents—labels put on important news to catch the attention of editors at the other side of the wire—I wrote: “News that was noteworthy, but not all that big, was called an URGENT and rang no bells.”

Two wire service veterans with memories better than mine—Mike Sniffen of the Associated Press and Ron Cohen of United Press International—have corrected me: Urgents also took bells.

Wrote Cohen: “Reading your blog post on flashes, bulletins, and urgents, I made a mental note to tell you that at UPI urgents got three bells, bulletins five bells, flashes ten bells.”

Wire Service Stories: The Presidential Candidate Picks His Vice President

By Carl Leubsdorf

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Eagleton looked like the perfect running mate for McGovern.

I was interested to read Mike Feinsilber’s account of how his intuition helped him be ready to flash the news that President Johnson wouldn’t run again in 1968. I had a similar experience while with the AP when Senator George McGovern made the ill-fated choice of Senator Thomas Eagleton as his 1972 running mate.

“The Article Didn’t Live Up to the Headline”

By Jack Limpert

Here’s the end of an interesting piece, “Can the web save the press from oblivion?” in the Guardian:

What works on Blendle itself is somewhat counter-intuitive. Klöpping finds that in our attention-deficit times there is a growing market for reading things at length. “The stories that work well on Blendle are hardly ever the ones that crop up on the most-read lists of newspapers. It is opinion pieces that have special insight, great writing, big interviews, profiles, deeply researched reporting.”

Flashes! Bulletins! When Bells in the Newsroom Really Meant Something

By Mike Feinsilber


President Johnson about to deliver news that deserved a flash.

Cable television swoons “breaking news” onto the screen whenever anything happens—a candidate sneezes. Or a candidate stops sneezing. The news alert lingers on the screen until another news burp comes along. On cable, life is one excitement after another. That’s not the way it was in the grand old days of the Associated Press and United Press International.