When the Writer Has to be Really Persistent to Help the Editor See the Potential in a Story

By Jack Limpert

Forty years ago, after the shooting of President Ronald Reagan by John Hinckley Jr. as the president walked out of the Washington Hilton Hotel, John Pekkanen, a writer, approached his editor at the Washingtonian magazine and asked his okay to do a story about the shooting and the president’s treatment and recovery at DC’s George Washington University Hospital

The writer estimated it would take him about eight weeks to do the reporting and writing. He suggested a payment in the $5,000 range for the story.

The editor said no—the newspapers will be all over the story and a magazine piece that came out months later would have little interest.

Pekkanen persisted, pointing out that he had done a previous story set inside the hospital and he thought he could get more cooperation from the doctors and staff than newspaper and television reporters who would call as strangers.

The editor finally relented, giving Pekkanen the okay, and the magazine cover story, “The Saving of the President,” won the 1982 National Magazine Award for Reporting and was made into a television movie.

The editor learned a valuable lesson: Don’t be too quick to say no to a reporter who really knows a subject and has the connections to get information other reporters can’t. It’s also a reminder that those kinds of journalists—hard-working, relentless, and well-connnected—are the ones who do most the great journalism.

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