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Nora Ephron's new edition of essays questions the high-minded notions of good journalism
Newsweek published its last print issue last month, and while the newsmagazine format is very much around, the sway of the big two had diminished long before. The era of the big cover stories in which it and its rival Time retained inordinate shelf life had ended in the previous century. It was not just the financial difficulties of publishing in a digital age, the fragmentation of news outlets had deprived them of their pre-eminent role in signalling the arrival of a social trend or a person in a manner that the rest of the world stopped and took notice.
That is an overstatement, but it's helped along with a new edition of Scribble Scribble, Nora Ephron's collection of writings on the media from the 1970s, long before her novel Heartburn and her films When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail established her firmly as the smartest, wittiest storyteller. The wit, clearly, was always there.
Take her essay "How to write a newsmagazine cover story" from the October of 1975. It was, she'd have it, as easy as following her six rules, and reading up examples from, where else, Time and Newsweek.
Rule 1: "Find a subject too much has already been written about… Any name mentioned more than four or five hundred times in the last year is a suitable subject for a newsmagazine cover."
Rule 2: "Exaggerate the significance of the cover subject."
Rule 3: "Find people who know the subject personally and whose careers are bound up with the subject's. Get these people to comment on the subject's significance."
Rule 4: "Try, insofar as it is possible, to imitate the style of press releases." One of her examples from Newsweek on Robert Redford (February 4, 1974) demonstrates this very well: "There are many things gorgeous about Robert Redford. The shell, to begin with, is resplendent. The head is classically shaped, the features chiseled to an all-American handsomeness just rugged enough to avoid prettiness, the complexion weather-burnished to a reddish-gold, the body athletically muscled, the aura best described by one female fan who says: 'He gives you the feeling that even his sweat would smell good'."