Why This Website?

By Jack Limpert

In 50 years as an editor, I often wished I could talk more with other editors about how they did their jobs. Back in the 1980s, the American Society of Magazine Editors ran a panel discussion called “Tricks of the Trade.” Top editors talked about mistakes they had made and what they had learned. Rick Smith, then editor of Newsweek, confessed to this one: “Don’t leave the payroll sheets in the Xerox machine.” John Mack Carter of Hearst said, “Go out to lunch,” making the point that it’s important for editors to get out of the office and not just talk to people on the staff. At the 2006 annual meeting of the City and Regional Magazine Association, I did a Tricks of the Trade discussion.

In any discussion of editing, I’ve always made the point that writers are more important than editors. In 1978 I read a wonderful biography of book editor Maxwell Perkins by Scott Berg. Perkins was maybe the greatest book editor of them all (F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, James Jones). The book gave me a sense of how effective a good editor can be without getting in the way of the writer.

I’ll also confess to being mostly a 20th century editor. I’m not oblivious to the Internet: We created a Washingtonian website in 1995 and it’s an important part of the magazine’s future. I know the digital world changes everything—I just don’t have many answers as to how it’s all going to work out for newspapers and magazines. I do think good writing and editing always will be important.

While much of the website at the start will reflect what I’ve thought and learned and written, I hope I’ll be able to get other editors to talk about how they help writers do better work, and also to get writers to talk about the role of a good editor.

Finally, it’s a website with no big ambitions. Just a labor of love, an attempt to help younger journalists and to pay back the journalists who helped me over the years.

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