Gene Roberts Remembers His First Editor: “Make Me See. You Aren’t Making Me See.”

The best reporters, whatever their backgrounds and personalities, share that drive to get to the center of the story and then put the reader on the scene. They do what my first editor was teaching his staff members nearly 30 years ago. His name was Henry Belk, and he was blind.

Henry was editor of the Goldsboro, North Carolina, News-Argus, which then had a circulation of about 9,000. He was tall, 6 foot 7, he walked with an aluminum cane and wore a battered fedora that must have been a relic of the days when he could still see movies like “The Front Page.” Many is the day Henry would have a story read to him, and then call in a member of his staff, often called Roberts, and enjoin: “Make me see. You aren’t making me see.”

It took me years to appreciate it, but now I think that Henry’s demand may be the ultimate test of great reporting.

—From a story, “What Makes a Great Reporter,” by Gene Roberts in the Washington Journalism Review.

(The Washington Journalism Review was started in 1977 and in 1993 was renamed American Journalism Review. In 2011 the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland took over ownership of AJR. It ceased publication in 2015.)




    Dear Jack,

    As well as Henry’s Demand ~ “Write for the blind” ~ my motto was, “Write for your grandchildren.”

    Now that I have the ability to read online almost all the stories I wrote for newspapers, I find it very satisfying to know that the discipline and care required to write for one’s grandchildren (besides its optimism) mostly withstood the tests of time.

    A lot of the stuff still comes alive, as if it happened yesterday, and my grandchildren can read the words and not feel they are reading about the dead past.


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