An editor-in-chief

An editor-in-chief

: Former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Henry Grunwald died this weekend. I respected Henry, because one had to. But I came up against him more than once.

He rejected my proposal for Entertainment Weekly because, in his view, one magazine could not possibly serve people who read and people who watch TV because people who watch TV do not read. Considering that everyone watches TV, he apparently did not see much of a future for reading.

Just as soon as I become TV critic of People, I gave a rave review to Concealed Enemies, a PBS miniseries about Whitaker Chambers vs. Alger Hiss. I’ve told this story before: I said that I liked the mini and also mentioned that it portrayed Chambers as a fat wimp. One of the old-timers at People said there’d be trouble to pay, for Chambers was Grunwald’s mentor. “Henry lived under Whittaker’s desk,” the old pro said. I shrugged. But sure enough, my review came back from the 34th floor with the scribblings of Jason McManus — then No. 2 to Henry — utterly rewriting my review. They turned it into a negative review, making incredible changes. I went to my boss, Pat Ryan, managing editor of People, and said I could not allow this to appear under my byline. Bless her, she stood by me. She sent an edit back up with all the worst of the distortions taken out. We waited by the phone. It rang and Pat said she was going to lose either her critic or her job; she was prepared for the latter. But Henry was out at some social event, so the deadline passeed and the review went in. Jason the next day said there’d be hell to pay. But Henry, to his credit, knew he had gone overboard and allowed his personal history to influence his editing. “He came as close as he ever will to apologizing,” Pat reported to me. That was the end of it. I kept my job and so did Pat.

When Henry retired, Jason took his place and he green-lighted EW. He still had no spine, wimping out when my magazine dared to give entertainment negative reviews just as his journalistic company was merging with an entertainment company.

Henry was a formidable, albeit short, presence. He used to hold occasional cocktail parties (those were the days, my friend) to get to know editorial staffers and I remember when one colleague at People was invited and had to borrow another colleagues shoes and socks.

Henry Grunwald was one of the last of the scary editors. The New York Times had its share, but they’re gone, too (a cup of coffee with the current editor sounds like fun). Ditto the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker. Now big-time editors are as often scared as scary.

  • Rick M

    What kind of man writes for a women’s mag?

  • Derek

    Hey Jeff, do you think the demise of the editor-with-spine was the first step in the decline of quality in elite journalism or just an early (and grave) symptom? Maybe it was the inevitable result of journalism as entertainment. But it does seem that the two went hand in hand.

  • http://thebronxblogger.blogspot.com/ Matthew Goggins

    Jeff,
    Talk about speaking truth to power! I’m glad you didn’t get fired.
    You are precisely the kind of Democrat the Democratic party needs right now: a person with integrity and respect for the truth.
    I personally would like to see you switch over to the Republicans though.

  • http://www.buzzmachine.com Jeff Jarvis

    Rick: It was a DUAL magazine, damnit, DUAL. Or at least that’s what they told us guys.

  • Rick M

    It seems like you’ve spent most of your career in low-brow media venues.
    Anyway, it’s good to see that the Passion didn’t win anything tonight. And, Sideways just got best screenplay. How could you ever believe that the Madsen character would ever go to bed with that schlump Giamatti?
    Aviator looks like the big winner.

  • http://youngcurmudgeon.typepad.com Eric Deamer

    in his view, one magazine could not possibly serve people who read and people who watch TV because people who watch TV do not read. Considering that everyone watches TV, he apparently did not see much of a future for reading.
    You realize, of course, that by posting these completely accurate lines, you’re opening yourself up for a zillion comments from the “look at me, I’m so intellectual” crowd claiming that they never watch TV/don’t own a TV etc. Not that they’re trying to say that that makes them superior or anything. Oh no, of course not. They’re just mentioning it, just like they make sure to mention it at least 15 times a day. It’s no big deal at all to them, which is exactly why they talk about it as often as possible.

  • Rick M

    I don’t own a tv, and I do read books unlike a certain tv critic turned blogger.
    How could anyone spend the time to “read” a mag that’s all about this Hollywood drivel. It’s definitely for the beauty parlor set.

  • http://www.scaredmonkeys.com Tom

    Rick M
    HUH! I think that people who do not own a television are experiencing the disconnect, and living in a pretentious and sanctimonious world.
    How about them apples.
    From a guy who has 3 TVs and still finds time to read.

  • http://youngcurmudgeon.typepad.com Eric Deamer

    I don’t see how anyone could hope to possibly understand the world around them without watching at least a little bit of TV.

  • Rick M

    ED: If your understanding of the world is based on TV, then you’re seeing geopolitics as it relates to corporate interests.

  • richard mcenroe

    “and I do read books unlike a certain tv critic turned blogger.”

  • Rick M

    Look, for all those who choose to watch MSM in its death throes, don’t. Boycott it, ignore it, encourage others to do the same, and it will suffer its deserved fate sooner.

  • http://healthy-elements.com Lynn

    Jeff,
    This mention of Whittaker Chambers caught my eye.
    “I’ve told this story before: I said that I liked the mini and also mentioned that it portrayed Chambers as a fat wimp.”
    I post online, weekly articles written by our local Pastor. A few weeks ago, I posted one called “About Turn” involving Whittaker Chambers at http://healthy-elements.com/chambers.html
    As Chambers didn’t come across as a wimp in that one, I’d be interested in reading more about how you see him.
    Would you have a link to where you “told the story before”?
    Thanks, …Lynn