Stories that Magazine Editors Are Afraid Of

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“It’s probably worth saying that there are editors at all sorts of magazines (myself included) who know they should never assign a story on a certain kind of subject—a Phish tour, say, or Mitt Romney, or what’s up with Cuba?—and yet they do so despite their better judgment. A writer tells you he or she is interested, you convince yourself that it’s all going to work out despite the pre-digested conclusions or the limited access or the fact that what you’re talking about is a generality rather than a specific idea. And it never, ever does, unless something remarkable and unexpected happens in the reporting or the writer brings some stunning originality to it. And these things work in a kind of horrible tandem—the lack of interesting subject matter inspiring the writer to scat out thicker and thicker layers of word jazz—resulting in so many bad magazine stories.”

-Joel Lovell (formerly GQ, now The New York Times Magazine), in conversation with John Jeremiah Sullivan on how they worked together—specifically on this story. Read more from GQ in the Longreads Archive.

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Photo: thomasleuthard, Flickr

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