Another sure-shot for you—David Owen's 1982 Esquire piece on the late, great Murray Kempton:
Born and raised in Mencken’s Baltimore, Kempton has journalism in his blood. He was weaned on the sort of newspapers that people tuned their lives to, and the fact that such newspapers don’t exist anymore has never entirely daunted him. Murdoch’s Post isn’t Mencken’s Sun, but Kempton has learned to make do with what’s available.
“I like outrageous newspapers,” he explains. “And I loved working for the Post. I enjoyed all that nonsense. The Post‘s headlines are like those signs in restaurants that say HOME COOKING: nobody believes them. My only objection to the Post is that it has that British view of political coverage. If you have a job like mine, you have to go around a lot, and it gets kind of embarrassing if the paper is knifing somebody. It was the kind of paper I’d rather read than write for.”
“But why write for newspapers at all?” I ask.
“I really do like newspaper reporting,” Kempton says. “I suppose it’s the fraternity of journalism that I love. And there’s also the fact that you’re paid a living wage. This is just the perfect life. You get up in the morning, look at the AP schedule, and just go out and do something. I expect to do this until I drop dead.”
“What about books?” I ask. Kempton has written four: Part of Our Time in 1955, America Comes of Middle Age in 1963, The Briar Patch, which won a National Book Award in 1973, and a book about the 1950s, which has not yet been published.
“I’ll never do another one,” he says. “I can’t see the possibility. And I can’t work as a free-lance magazine writer because, one, there isn’t that much money in it, and two, it takes so long. I’ve never wanted to be a syndicated columnist. I’m not a good familiar essayist, and I never have been, and I’m not about to become one now. I think I’m fairly smart, and if I see something happen and think about it awhile, my mind absorbs it; but I have to have something to react to. It’s the difference between a heavy hitter and a counter-puncher.”
[Photo Credit: Philippe Halsman; Esquire]