When There Were Tough, Crazy Reporters—and Newspapers Who Loved Them

By Barnard Law Collier

Columnist Peggy Noonan said “I miss the tough, crazy beat reporters of yore.”

For almost two years Jimmy Breslin and I sat at adjoining battered, cigarette-scarred desks in a corner of the New York Herald Tribune newsroom on Manhattan.

When the newsroom cleared out after eight p.m. we searched together for the right words and eccentric ideas that remained in hiding. We discussed and compared the personalities and characters he covered on his “beat” in the demi-monde of The Other Four Burroughs, and I covered the romantic dangers of Latin players in South and Central America. Our badinage made way for some earthy and dramatic reportage that found its way onto the breakfast tables of Trib readers.

We thought of ourselves as free roaming “reporters” who had miraculously lucked out. We reported to a top editor who was guilty as charged for being the bravest and most original newspaper editor in the nation. He was a philosopher by training and he saw reportage as an art form. Reporters knew that sharp eyes and keen ears were sincerely appreciated and applauded by James “Jim” Bellows, known in the newsroom as “The Blue Darter.”

Jim’s curiosity, perspicacity, and classical philosophy were largely responsible for an especially energetic epoch in American newspaper reporting that later was nicknamed “New Journalism”.

I miss the tough, crazy editors of yore.

I also miss the tough, crazy publishers who let tough, crazy editors and tough, crazy reporters get away with it.

John Hay “Jock” Whitney, the Trib’s publisher, was a man for whom the epithet “high class” was created. He actually believed in philanthropy, sportsmanship, art, science, and honor. A significant part of his family fortune was dedicated to funding his causes, including the presidency of General Dwight Eisenhower.

Behind the tough, crazy Trib reporters and editors gently loomed “Jock,” whose moniker was known throughout the then-civilized world for wealth and power. That Mr. Whitney sponsored and published our work is what made our work possible.

I miss the tough, crazy publishers of yore.

Barney Collier describes himself as cultural anthropologist, writer, former New York Times correspondent and bureau chief, and publisher.

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