Monday, October 20, 2008

Fading ink stains

A busy week after returning from Bouchercon in Baltimore Monday, where I pontificated about THE WIRE and the death of newspapers and downed much red wine. The week since was punctuated by a wonderful Matthew Ryan performance within the intimate confines of The Saint in Asbury Park. Ryan, with violinist/keyboardist Molly Thomas, played an acoustic set to an enthusiastic crowd of about 75, taking requests much of the night (and venturing, unplugged, into the audience to play those requests up close and personal).

Back to Bouchercon: The mystery/crime field is full of current and ex-journalists, so another regular topic at the convention - in addition to the economy and the election - was the painful straits the newspaper industry is in, and many were curious about the future of The Star-Ledger. At the moment though, much remains in doubt, including my own involvement with the paper going forward.

But I would also be remiss in not mentioning the passing of former Newsweek editor Osborn Elliott, who died Sept. 28 at age 83. A staffer at Time who jumped ship to Newsweek in the late-1950s and rose to the top post there, Elliott eventually became dean of Columbia University's journalism school and - for a time - a $1-a-year deputy mayor in charge of economic development for New York City.

I never met Elliott (though a journalism professor of mine at Rutgers once chastised me for not interviewing Elliott personally when I referenced him in a thesis paper), and in fact knew him most through his 1980 book THE WORLD OF OZ, one of the best - and funniest - memoirs of life in journalism ever. It's a wonderful look at the rough-and-tumble world of New York newsmen, from the late 1950s into the Watergate era, sort of a MAD MEN for the ink-stained wretch set. It's also filled with priceless insider details, such as that when Elliott joined Newsweek in the late 1950s, there were so many alcoholics on staff that it was known throughout the industry as "Boozeweek." Or that Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee commonly referred to Elliott and his staff as "those f**ks in New York."

And, finally: I haven't commented on the upcoming election and the campaigns so far, and I won't, on general principals. However, I have to say that, here in New Jersey, if you come across someone named "Joe The Plumber," it's probably in a RICO indictment.

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