How to Write a Gossip Column

“The best advice I can give is collect info sober, write drunk, and edit after coffee.” 

—Advice to another gossip columnist from Diana McLellan, who died two years ago today. Diana was a gossip columnist for the Washington Star and Washington Post, then a feature writer for The Washingtonian.

Journalist-Historian Paul Johnson on the Media’s Seven Deadly Sins

By Jack Limpert

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“Journalists cannot perform their duties well without being moral individuals.”

Paul Johnson, the British journalist and historian, has long been interested in the United States and in 1995, while in Washington researching his book, A History of the American People, he talked with The Washingtonian about what was wrong with the U.S media and how to fix it.

Here’s some of what he found wrong:

Jack Fuller RIP: An Editor Other Editors Listened to and Admired

By Jack Limpert


Jack Fuller: “News values do exist and can continue to guide journalists.”

Longtime Chicago Tribune editor Jack Fuller died Tuesday at his home in Chicago. Here’s the Chicago Tribune obituary, and a tribute, “Jack Fuller—mentor, newspaperman, hero,” by longtime Tribune columnist John Kass.

Fuller, in his 1996 book News Values:Ideas for an Information Age, made the case that editors should continue to play a crucial role as journalism enters the digital age and readers can more easily pick and choose what they want to read. From the book:

Creeping Yiddish: One Man’s Gewgaw Is Another’s Tchotchke

By Mike Feinsilber


Rosten said a tchotchke also could be a sexy but brainless broad.

Yiddish words, it seems to me, are stepping up their pace as they creep into English. Perhaps the most popular Yiddish word that’s been Englishized is “tchotchke.” You probably have some of these around the house. Most commonly it means trinkets. But, according to Leo Rosten in his book, The Joys of Yiddish, it has eight other meanings, most of which were news to me:

1. A toy, a plaything.

2. An inexpensive, unimportant thing, a gewgaw.

3. A bruise.

The Defeat of Joe Tydings: When Pols Learned to Fear the NRA

By Jack Limpert

Screen Shot 2015-12-05 at 1.03.19 AMThe cover of the Washingtonian magazine in February 1970 had a picture of Maryland Senator Joseph Tydings with a target on him and the headline:

Will the Gun Lobby Get Joe Tydings?

The story, by Ernest B. Furgurson, Washington bureau chief of the Baltimore Sun, looked ahead to the November 1970 election. Democratic incumbent Joseph Tydings had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1964 with a 63-37 percent margin over J. Glenn Beall, the Republican incumbent. In 1970 Tydings’ opponent turned out to be J. Glenn Beall Jr.

A Movie About Max Perkins and His Writers: “The Tactile Feel of Typewriter Keys and Actual Words”

By Jack Limpert


Colin Firth as Max Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe in “Genius.”

The movie Genius, about book editor Maxwell Perkins and some of his famous writers, is out this week and Los Angeles Times book editor Carolyn Kellogg has a good Q and A about it with A. Scott Berg, the Perkins biographer, and John Logan, who made the movie.

Elmore Leonard: Never Use a Verb Other Than “Said” to Carry Dialogue


He also said, “If it sounds like writing, rewrite it.”

The Washington Post ran a good piece two years ago about Elmore Leonard—the hook was a new Library of America volume of four Leonard novels from the 1970s.

Post writer Neely Tucker said that Leonard had solid, if not spectacular, success in the first two decades of writing. “Then, in the winter of 1972, his agent told him to get George V. Higgins’s new book, The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Higgins’s characters were lowlifes and working-class cops, none of whom were the brightest guys you ever met.

As Writers Grow Old

“The theory of the book is you start out wanting the most toys, and then you move slowly to wanting the most longevity, and from that to wanting to retain the most marbles, and from that to having a posthumous reputation. Each one as you think about it makes the previous seem irrelevant.”

—Michael Kinsley, in Time magazine, describing his book Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide.

What Would Charles Dickens and Reed Whittemore Say About Politics and Journalism Today?

From an essay by Reed Whittemore in the book The Poet as Journalist: Life at The New Republic about Charles Dickens and the role journalism played in the political destruction of  Thomas Eagleton in 1972:


A 1972 media target.

Charles Dickens visited our country in 1842 and was impressed by our jails and hospitals but distressed by our newspapers and politics: “You [Americans] carry jealousy and distrust into every transaction of public life. By repelling worthy men from your legislative assemblies it has bred up a class of candidates for the suffrage who…disgrace your institutions and your people’s choice….For you no sooner set up an idol firmly that you are sure to pull it down and dash it into fragments….

Really Big News: A Flash Means This Is Likely to be the Year’s Top Story

A recent Mike Feinsilber post, Flashes! Bulletins! When Bells in the Newsroom Really Meant Something, said:

On a typical news day, the wires might cough out one or two bulletins, or none. To alert editors sitting close to the teletype machine, five bells rang—ding, ding, ding, ding, ding—when a bulletin moved.

News that was noteworthy, but not all that big, was called an URGENT and rang no bells. An urgent was transmitted in takes—two or three paragraph chunks. Often the writer was writing the second take while the first was moving on the wire. At the other end of the wire, editors were editing the first take while awaiting the second and third and more.