How Gay Talese Would Have Handled Jayson Blair

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Much has been said about Gay Talese’s elegantly constructed sentences. David Halberstam once referred to Talese as the best writer of his generation. Talese, who helped define literary journalism, thinks that too many young writers today rely on a steady diet of email and electronic media, which is ruinous to great writing. Observer editor Peter Kaplan adds, in a conversation with Michael Gross, who has edited the superb Bergdorf Goodman magazine for the last four years, writers of Gay’s generation looked to the nineteenth century novel for inspiration.

Talese, who has both written for and chronicled The New York Times, grows particularly animated about the role of electronic media in the Jayson Blair scandal. From BG Conversation:

”GT: I remember reading the apologia from the management of the Times with regard to Jayson Blair. If I remember, one of the mid-level editors, Jon Landman, who has now been elevated, was on the same floor as the then-executive editor, Howell Raines. And Landman sends an e-mail, something to the effect that we must stop Jayson Blair from writing again for the New York Times, after he’d done thirty terrible stories. Isn’t this crazy. What would I have done if I was that mid-level editor?

“I would have gotten up from my desk and walked across and knocked on the door and said, ‘Mr. Raines,’ as I would probably call him, ‘Look at me. I have something to tell you. Look into my eyes. I am not going to have this man on my staff, and we’re going to get rid of him. And if we don’t get rid of him, we’ll get rid of me. Now, which is it?’ That’s the way you talk about things that matter. You don’t use e-mail in a city room! Do you know what would have happened?Howell Raines would still be the executive editor at the Times. And Blair would have gotten out of there sooner. You don’t use e-mail when you can walk over and hit the guy over the head with a newspaper!”

Gay Talese is old school like that.

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