The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency

By Chance, Jean | Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Summer 2003 | Go to article overview

The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency


Chance, Jean, Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly


* The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency. Jim Bellows. Kansas City: Andrews McPeel Publishing, 2002. 349 pp. $28.95 hbk.

Resist the urge to pass this book by because of the cute title. Go ahead and launch your search for the source of the inside humor. It is worth the effort.

Jim Bellows has "the longest resume in the history of journalism," according to Washington Journalism Review. His newspaper careers began in 1937 in Columbus, Georgia, and ended in 1981 when he was editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. From newspapers he made his mark on television entertainment and news programs, did some pioneering work with early Internet database operations, and became a consultant for a pair of dot.com ventures.

Focus on those newspapers that Jim Bellows helped guide-Atlanta Journal, Detroit Free Press, Miami News, New York Herald Tribune, Los Angeles Times, Washington Star, Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. With only a couple of exceptions, he chose the second-read papers, the city's second paper that struggled to overtake the paper with the bigger name and circulation. Being the underdog seems to have been a lifetime framework for Bellows' career ladder. His prep school yearbook in 1940 reveals his nickname: "They called me Maggot . . . Is it any wonder I grew up feeling like an underdog?" He had to gorge himself on bananas to make it to the required 130 pounds to enlist in the Naval Air Corps in 1942. But the experience of flying Navy F6F Hellcat fighter planes and learning to make nighttime carrier landings aided his journalistic expertise, he claims. "This was the precursor of the way I practiced newspapering-my brand of 'kamikaze journalism'-landing a speeding fighter plane on the truncated deck of an aircraft carrier at night. Aiming for a tiny target."

The moment you flip the cover of The Last Editor you are met head-on with the names, names, and more names of the writers Jim Bellows influenced: Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap, Gail Sheehy. For the next 349 pages you are inundated with a multitude of tributes, anecdotes, and behind-the-scenes stories from many of America's newspaper industry competitors. The manner in which these boxed asides are injected into Bellows' storytelling is likely to distract, annoy, and generally come across as a nuisance when you begin reading. Develop your own style of rhythm that will permit you to follow Bellows' train of thought in the chapter, but do not bypass what is in the boxed inserts from the Bellows files: New Yorker editor William Shawn's letter to Jock Whitney protesting Tom Wolfe's profile of the New Yorker in 1965; a letter from J.

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