FBLA Followup: Terry McDermott

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Earlier this week, FBLA wrote about journalist Terry McDermott and today, we’ve followed up. He’s just finished a series of stories on the bio-chemistry of memory, scheduled December publication. About which he told us:

After dealing with fundamentalist terrorism for four years, brain science was a walk in the park.

FBLA asked if thoughts of Pulizers, etc. weren’t always in back of any editor’s mind:

TMcD: As to the prizes, for much of the time we were reporting the stories we weren’t even sure there would be stories; we were prepared to fail. So unless somebody gives prizes for noble failures, I’d be hard-pressed to see how that would be a motivation. I guess it sounds pretentious or corny, but we really did think we were doing the right thing.

FBLA asked if he’d planned to do a book based on the series.


TMcD: I had no thought of doing a book on the hijackers. The subject had exhausted me, but when an agent contacted me about a book on another subject (believe it or not, the rap group, NWA), I told him I was too deep into 9/11 to even consider it. He suggested doing a book on that. I thought I had more to say, so when I finished the last of the pieces for the Times, he shopped a proposal, somebody bought it and, for the next year, I did more reporting and wrote the book.

FBLA asked how much more reporting was needed for the book.

TMcD: This subject was unusual in that the information was so sparse and hard to find, so it required quite a lot of additional reporting. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I did an additional seven or eight months of reporting on the ground, plus continuous reporting up to publication.

FBLA asked about the costs of his series.

TMcD: There are opportunity costs for everything and I suppose those are the toughest decisions news managers have to make, but one of the glories of having a robust staff like the LAT is that we ought to be able to do local, national and foreign – an awful lot of things – simultaneously. And we do. That’s the whole point of our complaints about reducing staff. We will increasingly be faced with either or decisions.

FBLA won’t sully this with mentioning that he’s dreamy.

Earlier:
Terry McDermott on Dean Baquet: The First Editor I’ve Ever Liked