The Writer Who Saved Rolling Stone

Hunter Thompson made a “solemn promise to sell his soul to Rolling Stone.”

From Joe Hagan’s new book Sticky Fingers—The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine:

In August 1970, he [Jann Wenner] and Jane [Wenner’s wife], gunning to recruit [Hunter] Thompson, came driving up the dirt path to Thompson’s cabin in Woody Creek, Colorado, both tweaking on speed after driving seventeen hours straight from 38 Ord Court. “We were trying to take a rest in the car.” said Jane. “I said, thank God for drugs.”

Before Today’s Fake News: Learning to Love Enthusiasm in Your Stories

From the book Fakers: Hoaxers, Con Artists, Counterfeiters, and Other Great Pretenders, by Paul Maliszewski:
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Otto Friedrich came to understand the high value assigned to narrative while working, in the early 1950s, for the United Press in its Paris bureau. While France fought for lost causes in the colonial uprisings of Algeria and Vietnam, Friedrich and his fellow reporters stayed well clear of both conflicts, the better to keep the cost of news-gathering to a minimum.

Instead, the writers were charged with taking bland press releases from the French government—so many insurgents killed, the terrorists on the run now—and transforming them into dramatic news articles. But editors found Friedrich’s work wanting.

Writer’s Block: What to Do When the Words Won’t Come

From Joe Hagan’s new book Sticky Fingers—The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine:

“…a new hire at Rolling Stone was a former Los Angeles Times writer named David Felton who was part of the Pulitzer-Prize-winning team that covered the Watts riots in 1965. A talented comic mind with a blond nimbus of hair and a brush mustache, Felton was assigned a report on the Summer of Love….But then he developed a speed habit, grew a long beard, and fell apart. Colleagues famously dubbed him “the Stonecutter” because he was so slow to finish a story.

December Story Idea: Help Keep Drunk Drivers Off the Road

Back in 1999 the Washingtonian did a story about what it takes to get drunk and arrested—it’s one of my favorite pieces because it changed my life. The story:

We asked seven Washingtonian staffers to take part in an experiment to see what it takes to get to a blood-alcohol level (BAC) of .08, the DC legal limit for driving. Our four female participants—ranging in age from 26 to 59 and in weight from 105 to 175 pounds—drank five-ounce glasses of white wine. The three men ranged in age from 25 to 65 and weighed between 160 and 170 pounds. One man had white wine; two drank Budweiser. Everybody ate lunch at least two hours before the test.

More on Writing and Thinking: You Sure You Can Teach Someone to Think Better?

If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.

–George Orwell

By Barnard Law Collier

When I introduce writing to a young person, I recite the George Orwell quote and most quickly grasp the point.

Good writing is a sign of power because the good writing is the transcription of good thinking and good writing is powerful because it does not easily die.

Writing well thus begins with thinking well, and as one 12-year-old asked, “Why don’t we have thinking classes in school?”

Orwell on Writing and Thinking

If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.

–George Orwell

By Barnard Law Collier

When I introduce writing to a young person, I recite the George Orwell quote and most quickly grasp the point.

Good writing is a sign of power because the good writing is the transcription of good thinking and good writing is powerful because it does not easily die.

Writing well thus begins with thinking well, and as one 12-year-old asked, “Why don’t we have thinking classes in school?”

Dear Loyal Subscriber: We Have a Special Deal Just for You!

There was a time, a decade or so ago, when magazines saw their readers as smarter than average and richer than average, a combination that helped convince advertisers to buy ads. The circulation departments of monthly magazines typically offered introductory subscriptions at, say, $18 a year with the renewal rate rising to $29 a year, with the rates for weekly magazines at least double that. Most readers renewed. Successful magazines had renewal rates of around 75 percent, meaning three of four subscribers renewed.

Editors still see readers as smart people but magazine circulation departments increasingly see loyal readers as lambs to be fleeced.

Making a Print Newspaper or Magazine Successful in a Crowded Digital World

The Washington City Paper has had a 36-year history of hiring great editors—Jack Shafer and David Carr among them. It did a lot of good journalism but like many alternative weeklies it’s now dying. Here’s a graf from a Washington Post story about rumors that Armstrong Williams, a conservative of dubious reputation, might try to resurrect the liberal weekly:

Favorite Books: One I Read as a Boy Made Me Want to Be a Journalist

By Wesley G. Pippert

My reading habits since I was a boy in a one-room country school in Iowa have always been eclectic and this reading list probably illustrates that. I volunteer usher in several Washington theaters and whenever there is a Shakespeare play I always read it first—to get a better grasp of the plot and especially  to capture some of Shakespeare’s vocabulary as his words go speeding by. Here are other books I’ve liked:

Hamilton, by Ron Chernow. Was Hamilton the greatest of the Founding Fathers and maybe America’s greatest political mind?

Les Whitten RIP: A Boyish Face, a Big Smile, But at the Typewriter No Friends

Les Whitten: He loved the truth, he loved his work.

The Washington Post has posted a terrific obit, “Les Whitten, investigative reporter arrested by FBI and spied on by CIA, dies at 89.” The obit’s lede, written by Harrison Smith:

Les Whitten, an investigative reporter whose skill at cultivating government sources and securing secret documents—sometimes through threats or the use of a paid private investigator—made him a top legman of muckraker Jack Anderson and an enemy of President Richard M. Nixon, died Dec. 2 at an assisted-living community in Adelphi, Md. He was 89.