Editor-Writer Conversation

Editor: “How’s the story coming along?”

Writer: “It’s almost done. I just have to write it.”

Editors, Writers, and the Power of Mutual Enthusiasm

By Jack Limpert

Bill O’Sullivan, senior managing editor of the Washingtonian, once posted his five tips for editors on working with writers. This was my favorite:

2. A compliment goes a long way. After a session of questions, suggestions, and proposed fixes, an editor might expect to hear the writer say, “I’ll get right on it.” But at least as often the response is “Was there anything you liked about the piece?” It’s amazing how well “nice job” can grease the wheels—better yet, pick out something more specific: maybe the writer’s knack for catchy subheads or an overall strong structure. I’ve received heartfelt thank-you notes for something as simple as that. And because it’s easy to forget, I always make sure to lead with the compliment.”

“Wishing I Could Be Out in the Cold Again”

By Walter Mears

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Walter Mears covered 11 presidential elections for the AP.

As the New Hampshire primary approaches every fourth year, I find myself wishing I could be out in the cold again, covering candidates and reporting the stories. Since I can’t—my last campaign coverage there was in 2000—I think back to the campaigns and election nights I covered beginning in 1964. Here are a few of those memories.

The 1964 Republican campaign was classic right versus left, Barry Goldwater against Nelson Rockefeller. Each man campaigned intensively—Sen. Goldwater was my assignment, but I saw a bit of the New York governor, too.

What an Editor Can Learn from Two Super Bowl Winners

By Jack Limpert


Vince Lombardi won the first two Super Bowls with the same fundamentals that create good journalism.

Sunday is Super Bowl 50. Winner of the first two Super Bowls was Vince Lombardi, and editors can learn something from him.

His philosophy of winning: “Football is two things. It’s blocking and tackling. I don’t care about formations or new offenses or tricks on defense. You block and tackle better than the team you’re playing, you win.”

Translated to editing, the keys to winning journalism are good reporting—find out things that are important or interesting or useful to readers—and clarity, present the reporting clearly so nothing confuses or distracts the reader.

Howard Cosell Could Have Told Them No

The NBA’s Sacramento Kings were planning to celebrate the Lunar New Year last night by giving away “Year of the Monkey” t-shirts at its game with the Milwaukee Bucks. After DeMarcus Cousins and other Kings players saw the t-shirts on the first day of Black History Month, they protested and stadium attendants went through the arena, removing the shirts from the seats.

On September 5, 1983, the Washington Redskins were hosting the Dallas Cowboys on ABC-TV’s Monday Night Football. During the first half, Redskins wide receiver Alvin Garrett, an African-American who at five-foot-seven was short for an NFL receiver, caught a pass. Howard Cosell, part of the MNF announcing team along with Frank Gifford and Don Meredith, said: “That little monkey gets loose doesn’t he?”

Let’s Meet in My Office in Ten Minutes

By Jack Limpert

I am reminded of what Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote about his time in the gulag, where he was able to think: “Because, and this is the main thing, there are no meetings. For 10 years you are free from all kinds of meetings! Is that not mountain air?”

—From Amy Leach’s review of the book, A Field Philosopher’s Guide to Fracking, in the New York Times Book Review of December 13, 2015.
In my 40 years at the Washingtonian, many thousands of meetings were inflicted on the editorial staff—most of them convened by me. What I learned:

When Journalists Phoned in Big Stories

Working With Writers: Coming Up With the Right Amount of Money

By Jack Limpert

The best move I ever made as an editor was convincing the publisher, the boss, that I could be trusted with money. When I started at the Washingtonian, I felt hemmed in by bureaucratic inertia: We paid about this much to staff and about that much to freelancers. It’s the way we do it.

The feeling I got was that the magazine’s business side didn’t trust editors with money. Give them an unlimited budget and they’ll exceed it.

“The Writer Must be a Loner and Thus Always an Outsider”

9780593075401_1From the preface to The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue, a memoir by the novelist Frederick Forsyth:

After all, writers are odd creatures, and if they try to make a living at it, even more so. There are reasons for this.

The first is that a writer lives half his life inside his own head. In this tiny space, entire worlds are created or erased and probably both….In children, daydreaming is rebuked; in a writer, it is indispensable….

Sports as Metaphor: How Pickup Basketball Changed Along With Washington

By Jack Limpert

Ruben Castaneda has a nice story in Sunday’s Washington Post Magazine about the closing of DC’s downtown YMCA and how a diverse group of basketball players will miss the camaraderie of the noontime games. Here’s how Castaneda, a former Washington Post reporter and a player from 1989 to 1998, describes the games:

It’s no revelation that sports can bring people of disparate backgrounds together, but the Y’s courts became something of a public square, where a diverse community formed across racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, generational and political lines.