Newspaperman as Savior
Newspaper editor James Bellows died Friday aged 86 near Los Angeles. He made a career as the top editor at a series of failing newspapers -- the New York Herald Tribune during its last hurrah in the early 1960s, the Washington Star as it struggled as an afternoon daily in the late 1970s and then at also-ran Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1978 to 1981. He also worked on TV, helping revive the ratings of the puffy celeb program "Entertainment Tonight." Read Pat Sullivan's excellent obit here.
Bellows was often branded as the savior of whatever newspaper he happened to be working for -- a reputation that seems sort of misplaced in retrospect. On a more-human scale he was just trying to find good features and tactics to challenge the dominant newspapers in each city: the NY Times, the Wash Post and the LA Times.
He encouraged a more-literary style at the Herald Tribune (think Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin) and helped create a great and gutsy gossip column at the Star called the Ear (Diana McLellan was its author) that proved a continual annoyance to Post editor Ben Bradlee because it made him and his wife a frequent target.
Bellows also helped bring more women into reporting positions and fostered their careers. Among them was Maureen Dowd, late of the Star and now a columnist at the NY Times.
She once called Bellows "a newspaperman with verve and bravery in equal measure, who always backed up his reporters, and who loved nothing better than to do a joyous rain dance in a hail of criticism."
Bellows immodestly named his memoirs "The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency."
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