Learning to Be an Editor: What to Do When Trouble Comes From All Directions

When I started as editor at The Washingtonian, it was my first magazine job and after about a year it seemed there were many more problems and headaches than successes and I began to think I wasn’t cut out to be an editor.

Then I made a phone call that changed everything. Back then Philadelphia was the nation’s  best city magazine, and its  editor, Alan Halpern, was seen as very smart and successful. I called him and asked if I could spend a day with him to see how he did it. He said sure, and I took the train up to Philly and got some good tips and developed a lot of respect for Alan. But what I also learned was that as good as he was, he also had headaches and had to deal with problems that seemed to come from all directions.

Books I Love: Two Herman Wouk Novels That Resonate Today

By Nadine Epstein

In the wake of President Trump’s inauguration and the resurgence of white supremacist anti-Semitism, my son, then 24, mentioned that he had happened upon a wonderful book: “You should read it, Mom.” I asked what it was. He said, “Have you heard of Herman Wouk? The book is called The Winds of War.”

I laughed. I told him I had devoured that book one summer in my youth. “Well, then you know that it’s a great book,” he said.

The Time Inc. Editors—They Weren’t All Like Henry Grunwald

One of Dick Stolley’s cover laws: “Nothing is better than the celebrity dead.”

Having been an editor in Washington for 50 years, my contact with the Time Inc. editors in New York was limited but at times memorable. I never got to know Henry Grunwald, the “Order me a helicopter” editor described in yesterday’s post. But I did get to see some of their editors in action while judging the National Magazine Awards and being on the board of the American Society of Magazine Editors in the 1980s and ’90s.

Great Moments at Time Inc.—”She Was Speechless. Order Me a Helicopter!”

Joe Nocera has posted a nostalgia piece, “RIP, Time Inc. It Was Fun While It Lasted,” reminiscing about “the glorious excesses that once marked the company.” He mentions the time that Time editor Henry Grunwald ordered a helicopter to fly him from White Plains to Manhattan. It was a wonderful moment in the history of magazines and another Time Inc. veteran, Christopher Byron, wrote about it in his book, The Fanciest Dive. Here’s an About Editing and Writing post from 2012 that describes it.


Finally an Interesting, Believable New York Times List of Favorite Books

The “By the Book” feature in the Sunday New York Times Book Review asks interesting people what books are on your nightstand, what’s the last great book you read, what kind of  books bring you the most reading pleasure, etc. Lots of the recommended books are the classics you were supposed to read in college–Plato, Shakespeare, Jane Austen, T.S. Eliot, etc. Often the list may set off your b.s. detector: A Washington writer I know slightly suggested that the six volumes of Edward Gibbon’s “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” were a favorite and if you know that writer you wouldn’t believe it for a minute. So this week’s By the Book featuring chef and food writer Anthony Bourdain was a breath of fresh air.

Being Seduced and Sent Into Journalism by a Book

David Halberstam: “A touchstone of all that was possible in journalism.”

“I have never yet heard of a girl being ruined by a book,” Jimmy Walker, the mayor of New York City, said during a censorship debate in Albany. But the same can’t be said of journalists.  Lots of writers have been seduced and sent into their careers by a book.

Jack Limpert and I asked a bunch of people with a connection to writing to pick two books: One that had the most influence on them and one they would recommend to someone thinking about a career in the news business.

Merriman Smith, President Kennedy, and “The Greatest Lead Ever Written on a Breaking Story”

By Wesley G. Pippert


UPI’s Merriman Smith.

During its glory days, United Press International was fueled by a host of talented but underpaid correspondents, bonded by a sense of esprit de corps. The wire service’s brightest star was Merriman Smith. When Smitty, as he was  known, died, the UPI story identified him as “Merriman Smith, the dean of White House correspondents.” A UPI staffer said the lead should have identified him as simply “Merriman Smith, the White House reporter.”

Until You Write a First Draft, Writing Has Not Really Begun

From John McPhee’s book Draft No. 4: On the Writing Process
When Jenny was a senior at Princeton High School and much put out about the time it was taking her to start an assigned piece of writing, let alone complete it, she told me one day as I was driving her to school that she felt incompetent and was worried about the difficulty she was having getting things right the first time, worried by her need to revise. I went on to my office and wrote her a note.

Bulletin Board Notes for Writers

Do not use semi-colons. All they do is show you’ve been to college.
—Kurt Vonnegut

Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.
—Antoine de Saint Exupery

What is the ultimate impulse to write? Because all this is going to vanish. The only thing left will be the prose and poems, the books, what is written down.
—James Salter

It is my experience, with ballplayers and all other human beings, that skill is a gift of God, but that great skill demands perseverance.
—Frank Deford

What Would Mr. Shawn Think?

This week’s New Yorker has a long review of Tina Brown’s new book, The Vanity Fair Diaries, and earlier this week I posted some of the review’s insights into how Tina edited magazines. She edited Vanity Fair from 1983 to 1992 and then Conde Nast’s Si Newhouse moved her to the New Yorker, which she edited from 1992 to 1998.

My post didn’t include the opening graf of Nathan Heller’s review: