“Who Are the Three Editors You’d Most Like to Have Dinner With?”

By Jack Limpert

On today’s early morning walk with the old golden retriever I met another dog walker, Jordan Posner, who is a digital guru, and we talked about why I started this editing-writing website. I told him it mostly was because there didn’t seem to be much written about how editors actually work and the reason for that probably was the fact that most the work we do isn’t very interesting.

He then asked, “Who are the three editors you’d most like to have dinner with?”

I immediately said, “Harold Ross, who founded the New Yorker, and Harold Hayes, the great Esquire editor.”

Who’s the third, he asked. Have to think about it, I said.

Ben Bradlee, the legendary editor of the Washington Post? Or Abe Rosenthal, the legendary editor of the New York Times? Maybe Al Neuharth, who probably made more money than any other newspaper editor and who founded USA Today, a brilliant idea in the pre-digital age.

On the TV side, Don Hewitt, who created Sixty Minutes?

Magazines? Ross and Hayes seem slam dunks. Henry Luce, who founded Time magazine, seems like he’d talk too much and wouldn’t do much listening. Would Clay Felker, Anna Wintour, and Graydon Carter also be talkers, not listeners? William Shawn might not talk at all.

I’d probably go for Dick Stolley, who founded People magazine and did a lot of other terrific work at Time Inc. Or Osborn Elliott, the great Newsweek editor. Dennis Flanagan, who created the modern Scientific American? Helen Gurley Brown of Cosmo? Ruth Whitney of Glamour? John Johnson of Ebony and Jet? John Mack Carter of Hearst? Charlie Peters of the Washington Monthly? One of the guys (were they all guys?) at Mad magazine, the National Lampoon, or Spy? Hot editors of the moment: Adam Moss, the editor of New York, or David Remnick of the New Yorker? Chris Anderson of Wired? Ed Thompson, the great Life editor who founded Smithsonian magazine? Ed Kosner, a real pro at three magazines—Esquire, New York, and Newsweek? How about Frank Crowninshield, editor of the original Vanity Fair, who went out on the town every night in search of fun and stories? Or Theodore Dreiser, who edited women’s magazines before becoming a novelist.

On the city-regional magazine front, Bill Broyles, the founding editor of Texas Monthly, a magazine that was great from its first issue in 1973. The best city magazine editor? Alan Halpern, editor of Philadelphia magazine from 1951 to 1980—Philadelphia was the first really good city magazine, showing that great reporting was what made a city magazine worth reading. Dick Babcock, ex of Chicago, and Lee Walburn, ex of Atlanta, both were terrific editors but we’ve already had dinner.


  1. Mike Feinsilber says

    I nominate:
    Hodding Carter Jr., editor of the Greenville Delta Democrat-Times, and a former white supremacist who became a persistent critic of the KKK and the White Citizens Council, its unhooded counterpart. His attack on the WCC was denounced on the floor of the Mississippi House of Representatives as a “willful lie by a nigger-loving editor.” Carter responded in a front-page editorial: “By vote of 89 to 19, the Mississippi House of Representatives has resolved the editor of this newspaper into a liar because of an article I wrote. If this charge were true, it would make me well qualified to serve in that body.” Carter won a Pulitzer in 1946 for editorials attacking the treatment of Japanese-American soldiers returning from World War II.
    William Allen White, who bought the Emporia Gazette of Kansas for $3,000 in 1895 and became known nationally for his progressive, common-sense editorials. He opposed Franklin D. Roosevelt in his four runs for the presidency but consistently supported much of the New Deal. At FDR’s behest, he rallied support for the Allies before the U.S. entered World War II and headed the interventionist Committee to Defend America by Aiding the Allies, fighting isolationism. He was so mad at the KKK’s inroads into Kansas that he ran, unsuccessfully, for governor.

  2. Two editors: former Washington Post Executive Editor Leonard Downie and current Senior Editor Marc Fisher.

    Why? To see what the heck they think is going on with newspapers and the Internet — particularly The Washington Post. Some smart people at TWP seem to think normal paywall analysis doesn’t work for TWP, because it has a hybrid local/national market. Since getting promoted out of his Metro column, Mr. Fisher doesn’t do chats anymore. Mr. Downie was present at creation — edited WaPo from 1991 to about 2008. His tech-expert successor lasted, what, four years? What do they think is going on?

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