A Thank You Looking Back, a Few Questions Looking Forward

By Jack Limpert

About Editing and Writing started 18 months ago with this:
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.

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 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.
The website continues to be a labor of love, trying to help younger journalists by telling stories of how editors and writers work.  From 1969 to 2012, I had gone every morning to the offices of The Washingtonian, doing lots of editing, trying to help writers, getting all the rewards that come from working with interesting people trying to do good journalism.  With this website it’s been possible to stay active and connected. Now in the morning I go downstairs to a home office in an enclosed porch where Danny, our old golden retriever, watches the birds in the backyard and I try to come up with something useful and interesting about editing and writing.

This 12/31 post is the website’s 249th—many thanks to Mike Feinsilber, Bill Mead, and others who’ve written some of the best pieces. And thanks, too, to those who have sent in interesting comments. In 2014, please help the website continue. What have you learned? Any good stories that show editors or writers at work? Any memorable moments in your life as a journalist? Any regrets? What would you tell a bright kid who is interested in journalism?

Each month up to 8,000 people visit the site and I think you’ll find there’s a lot of satisfaction in writing something that helps people better understand journalism. No money but I’ll buy you a cup of good coffee if we can meet somewhere in Washington.
Always reachable at [email protected] or [email protected]


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