Ward Just’s Washington: Looking Back at Life as a Reporter


Standing outside looking in, the reporter’s life was easy to disparage. Proximity to power: one’s nose pressed against the glass of the pantheon. At times Nicholson thought of himself as a collateral descendant of F. Scott Fitzgerald, his theme an endless and forever fruitless search for motive, the one fact always denied to reporters; of course Fitzgerald dealt with the very rich and Nicholson the very powerful. And he could not invent these characters; they were real people with ages and names and addresses. In his lifetime the powerful had become infinitely more interesting than the rich, the trappings of office and influence more subtle and complex that the distinctions bred by birthplace or money. The sources of power were usually elusive and their effects had consequences.

My God, you’ve got the best sense of place of any reporter in this town. Misfortune, misadventure—whatever you want to call it. You’ve never been an advocate of anything, that’s your great value. Damn near unique, a sweet and sour balance. I’m not blowing smoke at you. It’s a hell of a fine quality in a reporter, and I ought to know because I’ve got the same kind of hard-on.

In Washington it is possible to be unconnected and rootless, an entirely classless human being. It may be the only city in America where that’s not only possible but desirable.

This was one of the particularities I loved about Washington: all theories tend to collapse into detail.

Did Reagan Get Dissed in 1980 the Way Trump Is Getting It Now?

Back in 1980 I heard plenty of Washington journalists dissing President-elect Ronald Reagan as an empty-headed actor but that was inside talk and when the journalist went out to cover a story no one outside the newsroom was the wiser. There was no social media so Reagan didn’t get publicly attacked and ridiculed on Twitter and Facebook the way Donald Trump is now. Some Washington  journalists haven’t hesitated to use social media to tell 2016’s President-elect they don’t like him and don’t want him in the nation’s capital.

Back in 1980 there were television talk shows and Washington author Paul Dickson remembers Oprah:

Becoming a Writer: 25 Tricks of the Trade

By Barnard Law Collier

Barney Collier

The late Isaac Asimov was Earth’s most prolific and brilliant sci-fi and literary science writer and I was privileged to edit many of his non-fiction scientific articles for a few years. His was a marvelous mutant mind and he took easily and gratefully to editing after quickly learning to trust its perpetrator.

He confided that he was profoundly “in love” with writing and writing loved him back. Once Isaac was asked what he would do if he knew he was going to die in 24 hours.

His reply: “I’d type faster.”

Good Editing: It’s Not Just Choosing, It Is an Act of Assertion

Esquire’s Harold Hayes.

A passive, inert, dull magazine is usually made up of editors who sit around and wait for writers to send them queries, or pictures, or finished pieces upon which they can react and thus fulfill themselves. Magazine editing is not just the art of choosing, it is an act of assertion.
—Harold Hayes, editor of Esquire from 1963 to 1973.

Christopher Byron RIP: His Book The Fanciest Dive Is Funny and Great

Paul Farhi [email protected]
Sorry to hear of the passing of journo Christopher Byron. If you’ve never read his “The Fanciest Dive,” run, don’t walk. A great book. RIP.

Katy Byron [email protected]
My Dad & career hero Chris Byron died on Saturday. Tweet this ’11 piece he wrote on Trump. He would have liked that http://tinyurl.com/h26g9ba

Mark Potts [email protected]
Don Graham distributed a case of “Fanciest Dive” to WaPo senior staff to start discussion about “How do we keep this from happening to us?”

The January 11 New York Times obit: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/11/business/media/christopher-byron-financial-writer-and-author-of-martha-inc-dies-at-72.html?_r=0


STARTING A MAGAZINE: AN OFTEN

Stories Where You Check It Out—But Not Too Much

There’s an old joke in journalism: “Never let the facts get in the way of the premise.”

—Tweeted by Chris Wilson, director of data journalism at time.com.

Or as it’s sometimes said:

“Never overreport a good story.”

As an editor, I heard that one most often with gossip items. Check it out too much and often it’s no longer a good item.

When the Washington Post Has Some Wordplay Fun

The Style Invitational is a weekly humor/wordplay contest in the Washington Post. It runs in the Sunday Style section; the January 1 contest was week 1209. Here, from Pat Myers, the “Empress” of the contest, are its rules and guidelines.

The winner, the Post says, gets the Inkin’ Memorial, the Lincoln statue bobblehead that is the official Style Invitational trophy. Second place receives a battery-operated Donald Talking Pen; you push on Donald’s head and get any of eight actual recorded phrases, such as “I will be the greatest president that God ever created.” Other runners-up win their choice of a Loser Mug, the older-model “This Is Your Brain on Mugs” mug or our new Grossery Bag, “I Got a B in Punmanship.” Honorable mentions get one of our lusted-after Loser magnets, “Magnet Dum Laude” or “Falling Jest Short.”

On Writing: Getting the Reader to Read the Second Sentence

 By Mike Feinsilber

The purpose of the first sentence is to compel the reader to read the second sentence. Knowing that makes it harder to write sentence one.

Books about writing don’t help much: “The way to start writing is to start writing,” they say. Or: “Write down anything, just to get started. You can always get rid of it in revising.”

Maybe you can learn something by reading some first sentences. If nothing else, that might call attention to books whose second sentences you might want to read.

Trying to Find Out from Harold Hayes How to be a Great Editor

Harold Hays edited Esquire from 1963 to 1973 and it was the best 10-year run of any magazine I ever read.

After Hayes died, Tom Wolfe told the New York Times, “Under him, Esquire was the red-hot center of magazine journalism. There was such excitement about experimenting in nonfiction. It made people want to extend themselves for Harold.”

Carol Polsgrove wrote a good book about Esquire and Hayes: It Wasn’t Pretty, Folks, but Didn’t We Have Fun? And Vanity Fair once had a good piece, by Frank Digiacomo, about “The Esquire Decade.” The Vanity Fair deck: “Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe, and other stars of the nascent New Journalism recapture Hayes’s rise and reign, which cracked the code of a changing culture.”

How Prolonging a War Helped Richard Nixon Become President

In today’s New York Times, author John A. Farrell offers new proof that 1968 presidential candidate Richard Nixon sabotaged efforts to end the Vietnam War, hoping that prolonging the fighting would help him win the November 5 election.

Farrell writes:

Richard M. Nixon always denied it: to David Frost, to historians and to Lyndon B. Johnson, who had the strongest suspicions and the most cause for outrage at his successor’s rumored treachery. To them all, Nixon insisted that he had not sabotaged Johnson’s 1968 peace initiative to bring the war in Vietnam to an early conclusion. “My God. I would never do anything to encourage” South Vietnam “not to come to the table,” Nixon told Johnson, in a conversation captured on the White House taping system.