Jim Bellows, editor was 86

BellowsBellows died Friday at a nursing home in Santa Monica after suffering from Alzheimer's. He had been an editor in New York, then the overseer of the features sections at the L.A. Times and editor of the Washington Star, before he took over the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1978 and turned it into a feistier, more entertaining paper that became a launching pad for many journalists. From the LAT obit by Elaine Woo (one of those journos:)

Over two decades beginning in the 1960s, Bellows transformed the New York Herald Tribune, the Washington Star and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner into showcases of sophisticated writing and spunky reporting that often shamed their more formidable rivals.

Bellows could not save the papers, which ultimately sank under long-standing financial pressures. But he helped them shake their bones in their twilight years and revived a spirit of competition in what essentially had been one-newspaper towns. Along the way, he created an early platform for the innovative brand of nonfiction called New Journalism and saw his best ideas copied by the stronger paper across town.

I have been the luckiest guy in the newspaper business," he wrote in his 2002 memoir, "The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency." "I am never happier than when someone hands me a newspaper that is either not very good or in deep financial trouble."

[Jimmy] Breslin, the Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and author whom Bellows unleashed on New York 50 years ago, said Friday, "He had confidence, excitement, all the things newspapers survive with and don't have now."

According to [Tom] Wolfe, the pioneering literary journalist and bestselling novelist, what made Bellows different was a love of battle. "If a week went by and he hadn't caused some trouble somewhere, he was disappointed," Wolfe said.


Believing that a newspaper's main job was to "print the news and raise hell," Bellows zeroed in on local news and delighted in stories that challenged establishment views. He attracted talent and let it bloom, cultivating writers who became journalism and literary luminaries, notably Wolfe and Breslin as well as Dick Schaap, Judith Crist, Richard Reeves, Gail Sheehy and Maureen Dowd.

He also was an advocate for women in the newsroom, becoming an early booster of Diane K. Shah, one of the first female sports columnists, and Mary Anne Dolan, who succeeded him at the Herald Examiner and became the first female editor of a big-city daily.

David Halberstam, writing in "The Powers That Be," a history of the Washington Post, Time magazine, CBS and the Los Angeles Times, said that Bellows' success was due in part to the fact that he "was a writer's editor, he loved talent and style, he was at ease with talented people as not many editors were. The more talented and more creative the reporter, the happier Bellows became."

After newspapers, Bellows helped shape the direction of "Entertainment Tonight," worked at ABC's "World News Tonight," and later helped guide the editorial content for the online service Prodigy and the search engine Excite. From today's New York Times obit:

Mr. Bellows made perhaps his most significant mark in New York, at “The Trib.” He was in his third year at the paper in 1963 when he hired Clay Felker, a former features editor for Esquire magazine, and told him to start planning a new Sunday supplement. First appearing in 1964 and called New York, the supplement outlived the newspaper and became New York magazine.

With Mr. Bellows’s support, Mr. Felker, who died last year, embraced the use of novelistic techniques to give reporting new layers of emotional depth. New Journalism’s admirers — and there were detractors — believed that it presented the news more truthfully than traditional objective reporting.

Previously on LA Observed:
The original LAT Magazine?
Last great newspaper editor?
The three book amigos
Jim Bellows grabs another honor

More by Kevin Roderick:
Standing up to Harvey Weinstein
The Media
LA Times gets a top editor with nothing but questions
LA Observed Notes: Harvey Weinstein stripped bare
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
Recent Obituaries stories on LA Observed:
LA Observed Notes: Photos of the homeless, photos that found homes
LA Observed Notes: Trump's new war, media notes and more
Dick Gregory
Gary Friedman, 62, longtime LA Times photojournalist
Kelly Wong, 29, Los Angeles firefighter
John Severson, 83, founder of Surfer magazine
Cecilia Alvear, 77, trail blazing NBC News producer
Rosie Hamlin, 71, writer and singer of 'Angel Baby'
Previous story: LA Observed on KCRW

Next story: One more day on the road


LA Observed on Twitter