Berkeley biologist Daniel Koshland, who served for many
years as the editor of Science, recently asked me what I
enjoy most about being an editor. My spontaneous answer:
I like working with writers. Although true, that answer
soon didn’t seem quite adequate to me, and a glass
of Pinot Grigio later, I revised my comment. What I really
enjoy, I told Dan, is how the work feeds my curiosity. The
longtime creative director for Harper’s Bazaar, Alexey
Brodovitch, famously repeated to his staff his mantra—“Astonish
me!”—until it was no surprise to hear it. Like
him, I love to be astonished.
Of course, it’s both things: The joy of being an editor
is to work with writers, but particularly those who have
something revealing to say, and a fresh way of saying it.
The greatest reward is to encourage the talented, and to
see their work through to the printed page, even when getting
there agonizes both editor and writer. Simple praise can
be helpful, or the ticket to mediocrity. Yelling, crying,
sulking, and begging are not unknown to occur. If done well,
the reader never notices.
As the writers featured here attest, no one mastered the
push-and-pull intensity of editing better than Clay Felker.
Together with artist Milton Glaser, whose sketch of Felker
graces our cover, he founded New York magazine in 1968,
which under his leadership became not only a nucleus of
great writing, but also the progenitor of an entire genre
of writing that came to be known as the “New Journalism.”
This genesis has been so obscured (and, sadly, sometimes
degraded) by the many subsequent iterations of the form
that its original genius can be overlooked. Inspired by
influences as diverse as new psychological theories and
the innovative films of the period, New Journalism was emotion
ally charged and cinematic; its writers crafted dramatic,
often socially portentous scenes for readers. They trash-canned
what they regarded as the pseudo-objective third person
of traditional journalism in favor of a deeply reported
and boldly colored style of first-person writing. They took
sides in the cultural conflicts of the time, and aimed squarely
at the big social issues. No minimalism here.
Contemporary magazine features that employ fictional techniques
of dialogue and description trace to this period, and especially
to the writers that clustered around Felker’s magazine.
Even the snarky meta-voice of blog culture owes a debt to
the no-sacred-cows innovations pioneered by Tom Wolfe in
works like Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers
and by Gloria Steinem, whose Ms. magazine (birthed with
Felker’s assistance) popularized the idea that “the
personal is political.”
As Nora Ephron here points out, New York magazine did more
than that. By inspiring the growth of city magazines, it
changed the way people lived. The community of readers and
writers it created—and creating such a convergence
is what great magazines do—brought a new criticality
and aesthetic to what they ate, watched, listened to, consumed,
In 1977, Felker moved to California, first to create New
West magazine, and then, to our great fortune, founded the
Felker Magazine Center at Northgate Hall. There, he has
inspired and cajoled new generations of journalists to greatness.
I’m sure that were he to comb through our lineup of
articles on writing—which includes stories on the
psychological treacheries and physical limitations of war
reporting, on science fi ction, and (my favorite) recently
translated essays on wartime Shanghai by Eileen Chang—he
would trim this, blow up that, and add something ineffable,
as he always has, to the magazine.