Back in 2008, my pal Todd Drew wrote about going to see Jimmy Breslin speak at the now-closed Barnes and Noble on 66th street, across the street from Lincoln Center, and just a few blocks north from where bar-restaurants like The Ginger Man and Saloon and O’Neal’s Ballon used to stand:
“Would you be a newspaperman if you were just starting out today?” I ask.
“That’s a good one,” he says. “The game’s changed and there’s probably no room for a guy like me.”
He pauses for a moment and then really gets rolling.
“Pick up any newspaper in the morning,” Breslin says. “Count the words in the lead sentences. There will be at least 25 in all of them: Guaranteed. The writers just want to tell you how many degrees they have from this college or that university.
“Steinbeck would use 12 words in the first sentence,” he continues. “Mailer 15 words. Hemingway five. That’s because they had respect for their readers. It may sound like I’m being hard on colleges and that’s because I am. None of them have any idea how to teach people to write. They have wrecked the business.”
The business has certainly changed. And it is still changing. Here is Frank Deford, who along with Dan Jenkins was the most celebrated of the old Sports Illustrated writers, in an on-line interview:
Given the flux in the whole journalism industry, I’d be presumptuous to advise any young student quite what to do. It’s too fluid right now. All I could safely say is that if you have talent, you will succeed, but in what venue I have no idea. You got to be quick on your feet now and be instinctive in choosing the right journalistic path for you. And then it will probably require a switch somewhere down the road.
Nothing stays the same–the nature of business, art, the city. But that shouldn’t stop us from appreciating the great tradition of newspaper and magazine writing. The Star-Ledger has a wonderful, eight-part tribute to Jerry Izenberg’s 55 years in the business. Video clips are included along with Izenberg’s memory pieces. In the second installment, he talks about his mentor, Stanley Woodward, the famed sports editor for the New York Herald Tribune. (Woodward wrote a wonderful memoir, Paper Tiger, introduced by John Schulian. Roger Kahn devotes an entire chapter to Woodward in his recent memoir, Into My Own.) Check it out.
[Illustration by Kerry Waghorn]