Tales of a Washington TV Reporter: “I’m Very Offended by Your Letter.”

By Arch Campbell

TV pals Arch Campbell and Bob Ryan having fun at DC's Palm restaurant.

TV pals Arch Campbell and Bob Ryan having fun at DC’s Palm restaurant.

I worked in television news for more than 40 years and had the most fun in the 1980s and ’90s doing the late news at WRC-TV in Washington. Monday through Friday, right before the Tonight Show, I reviewed new movies and theater performances. Some nights I brought back footage of a premiere or celebrity event. It was designed to be the light ending of the day’s news.

Don’t You Hate It When Writers Try to be Your Best Friend?

By Jack Limpert

Washington Post columnist Petula Dvorak, this morning trying to beat readers into submission with this fusillade of false intimacy:

“We can’t look away when bad things happen to rich people….No wonder we’re riveted….We want to know just as badly as the police….We shouldn’t place more value on a life if the victim was pretty or wealthy or white….But our curiosity always gets the best of us when tragedy goes upscale….If only we weren’t always scraping by and worrying about money….If only we won the lottery, we’d be happy….If only we were rich, our problems would go away….But we already knew that, right?”

What an Editor Can and Can’t Learn from a Great Sushi Chef

By Jack Limpert

Reviews of Chef’s Table, a popular new Netflix Original series directed by David Gelb, have mentioned one of Gelb’s earlier documentaries, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. It’s a wonderful film that shows how Jiro Ono runs what’s considered the world’s best sushi restaurant. What interested me as an editor was how Jiro Ono trains his staff to do great work and what an editor could learn from it. It inspired this post in December 2012.
Jiro Dreams of Sushi is a charming documentary film about an 85-year-old chef who runs a Tokyo restaurant that serves the world’s best sushi. The visuals and music are wonderful to see and hear, but I couldn’t help thinking about what an editor could learn from how Jiro Ono produces such consistent high quality. I kept thinking that running a restaurant is 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.

“I Dare You to Read This”—Why Editors Have to Control the Look of the Publication

By Jack Limpert

I love the comment that came in today from journalist Bob Kelleter about an earlier post titled, “An Editor Tries to Make Sense of Editorial Design: What Are They Thinking at SI and the Atlantic?”

“Too many designers,” Kelleter says, “would prefer working in cyrillic, in which case readability is irrelevant. The page is just a blank palette on which they may arrange beautiful shapes and colors. I’ve seen too many pages with 7 point red type on a black background.”

Fewer Less and More Fewer

By Mike Feinsilber

I write this in memory of William Zinsser, 92, whose obituary was in the papers Wednesday. He wrote On Writing Well, an inspirational and well-titled book.

Zinsser’s book doesn’t discuss the distinction between fewer and less, but a young lady selling vegetables at the New Morning Farm truck that twice a week in summers visits my Washington neighborhood from southern Pennsylvania did. (Did have something to say about fewer and less.)

The farm truck is busy enough to keep cashiers at work at several tables. A few deal with purchasers of huge quantities of rhubarb, tomatoes, corn, pies, eggs, broccoli and the like. And one table takes care of purchasers of small quantities.

William Zinsser, the Element of Surprise, and the Joy of Journalism

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 9.48.03 AMWilliam Zinsser died yesterday in New York. Here’s the New York Times lead on his obit: “William Zinsser, writer, editor and teacher whose book ‘On Writing Well’ sold more than 1.5 million copies by employing his own literary craftsmanship to urge clarity, simplicity, brevity and humanity, died on Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 92.”

When Journalists Are Sued: Endless Questions, Answers, and Objections. And Very Large Legal Bills.

Screen Shot 2014-12-10 at 9.47.41 AMThe Washington Post reported today that Nicole Eramo, a University of Virginia associate dean of students, has filed a multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against Rolling Stone and Sabrina Rubin Erdely, the writer of the now retracted magazine story about a sexual assault on the campus in Charlottesville, Virginia.

The editors at Rolling Stone will find out, as I did, that a lawsuit is unlike any other editorial problem. You have to deal with it—with more than a few sleepless nights—for as long as the plaintiff wants to pursue it. Weeks and months go by, you have conferences and motions and interrogatories and depositions and your legal bills keep going up.

Will John Hinckley be at the CNN Table at the 2016 White House Correspondents Dinner?

By Victor Gold


–Headline, Washington Post, May 1, 2015

The medical official charged with custody of John Hinckley, arguing that he be released from a psychiatric hospital, says that requiring Hinckley to wear an ankle monitor if set free would be “stigmatizing” the would-be presidential assassin “for no good reason.”

Question re political correctness: On reading that quote in the Post, was it appropriate to (1) laugh, (2) cry, or (3) simply wince?

How Do Editors Decide Yes or No

By Jack Limpert

I’ve talked with a lot of editors about how they do their jobs—looking for talent, managing their time, dealing with publishers—but rarely about how do you decide whether to say yes or no to a story proposal.

So I asked Dick Babcock, a long-time editor at New York and Chicago magazines, now writing books and teaching at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism, how he decided. He came back with this:

For my students, I’ve tried to dissect what makes a story (a feature or narrative story), and I came up with these four criteria:

What Writers Want from Editors

By Jack Limpert

The annual conference of city and regional magazine editors is coming up at the end of May—at last year’s conference I sat in on a Sunday morning panel discussion that asked three writers—Jason Fagone, Molly Young, and Joseph Guinto—to talk about what editors can and should do better in dealing with writers.

Surprising was how little they talked about the way editors edit and how much they complained about editors being too distant. Some quotes:

“When they turn down a story, you can’t find out why.”

“Editors are conflict avoiders. They won’t tell you why they don’t like a story.”