When Small Newspapers Were Great—And Many Communities Had Two of Them

By Jack Limpert

Here’s a 1960 letter sent by the editor of the Middletown Daily Record to United Press International, telling the news service that the newspaper’s readers expected good coverage of both spot news and serious issues. Middletown is a community in the Hudson River Valley north of New York City; its population is 27,000. The city’s surviving paper is the Times Herald Record.

The letter asked UPI for better coverage of:

America’s economic progress, in broad terms as it applies to the individual. Income distribution. Automation and other technological changes.

Learning to Write: Read Good Writing and What Else?

By Jack Limpert

Going to work as a journalist without having been to journalism school, I tried to learn about writing by reading good writers. While on vacation in 1987 I read Scott Turow’s novel Presumed Innocent. You couldn’t wait to turn the page to find out what happened next. How’d he do it? I reread the book: He had two intertwined narratives, with both pulling the reader along.

When a Story Has “Flu-Like Symptoms”


In July Anthony Rendon was a late scratch from the Nationals’ lineup due to “flu-like symptoms,” MASN Sports reported.

By Jack Limpert

In the baseball world, the reason given for a player not being in the lineup often is “flu-like symptoms,” an umbrella phrase that might cover everything from a bad hangover to repeated visits to the bathroom. Sometimes teams think it’s best to not always be too honest with the media and fans.

Editors face a similar dilemma when telling a writer “No, we’re not buying this.” The editorial equivalent of flu-like symptoms is something like “This is interesting and well-written but it doesn’t meet our needs at this time.”

Bill Garrett: “He is variously described as vain, charming, and bulldog-like, and almost always, by enemy and friend, as an editorial genius.”


Former National Geographic editor Bill Garrett pets a young jaguar.

Bill Garrett, one of the extraordinary magazine editors, died on August 13. The lede of his obit in today’s Washington Post:

Wilbur E. “Bill” Garrett, a well-traveled photographer and onetime picture editor of National Geographic magazine, who was abruptly terminated as the magazine’s top editor in a policy disagreement, died Aug. 13 at his home in Great Falls, Va. He was 85. The cause was a stroke, said a son, Kenneth Garrett. Mr. Garrett left in 1990 after 10 years as editor in a widely publicized dispute with the president and chairman of the National Geographic Society, Gilbert M. Grosvenor, scion of the family that had managed the society for a century.

Clarity vs. Letting the Reader Think: Not Always an Easy Decision

By Jack Limpert

As an editor I was a disciple of New Yorker editor Harold Ross who liked to write in the margin of a writer’s copy: “What the hell do you mean?”

The virtues of clarity, of avoiding confusion, of not slowing the reader down.

But there are times, especially in feature writing, when the writer may try to do too much thinking for the reader. I had one writer who wanted to preface every quote with guidance for the reader on what the quote meant. It was too much.

When Joe Bob Briggs Made Fun of The McLaughlin Group: “It’s Dyslexic Free Association”


John McLaughlin always ended his show “Bye-Bye.”

Two good Washington Post pieces today on the passing of TV talk show host John McLaughlin: An obit by Erik Wemple and an appreciation by Paul Farhi. As an irreverent complement to the Post stories, here are excerpts from an April 1988 Washingtonian article, “Brunch of the Living Dead,” by Joe Bob Briggs.

The Washingtonian had asked Joe Bob, who made a name for himself as a Texas redneck movie reviewer, to watch Washington’s four weekend political talk shows: The McLaughlin Group, Washington Week in Review, Inside Washington, and This Week With David Brinkley.

“Your Lede Goes Here” and Other Mostly Irreverent Advice for Editors and Writers

By Jack Limpert

A light-hearted 1994 note about how to edit a newspaper story by Ralph Blumenthal of the New York Times (posted today on Facebook by Melinda Henneberger):

1) Your lede goes here. Write what you think you know about the subject, what you feel happened, what your gut tells you.

2) Move reporter’s second graf down to the bottom, where it can be bitten off in the composing room.

3) Fashion new second graf from material deep down in story, preferably with a mysterious second reference to someone not introduced yet.

When Arianna Huffington Was Trying to Become Well-Known in Washington


Arianna Huffington on Capitol Hill in 1994.

From Recode yesterday:

Arianna Huffington surprised the media world this morning when she announced that she was leaving the Huffington Post, one of the most powerful properties in digital publishing.

Huffington’s press release says she left because she had decided she couldn’t work at both HuffPo and also launch Thrive Global, her new “corporate and consumer well-being and productivity” startup.

“I thought it would be possible to build a startup and continue as editor in chief of the Huffington Post,” Huffington says in a statement. “Today, it’s clear that was an illusion.”

Being a Writer: “Our larger talents are not so immediately evident but must be developed and honed.”

By Jack Limpert


Frank Deford: “Sometimes just throw the sonuvabitch.”

“It is my experience, with ballplayers and all other human beings, that skill is a gift of God, but that great skill demands perseverance. It may, in fact, be a curse to be naturally too good at something, because then the possessor of that bounty tends to coast.

“Of course, precocity is fine and dandy, and we have Mozart and Alexander of Macedon to prove it, yet I suspect that most our larger talents are not so immediately evident but must be developed and honed. Otherwise, you are just pretty good at something, but never grow to beauty.

John Oliver Took a Passionate Look at the Decline of Good Journalism. Here’s Some of Why It’s Happened.

By Jack Limpert


The “Show me the money!” scene in Jerry Maguire.

Everyone in journalism seems to have loved last night’s John Oliver segment on how journalism is going to hell and more people should be willing to pay for the good stuff. But it’s not news that in the digital world it’s very hard to get people to pay for good journalism. There’s just too much pretty good stuff free.