Those Were the Days My Friend

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John Podhoretz recalls the halcyon days of journalism when an expense account really meant something.  I confess, my mind boggles at the notion that this was ever possible in a news organization:



Generally speaking, the World section ran  12 pages in the magazine. Nation, devoted to news within our borders, ran about the same or a page shorter. Think of that--an American publication, marketed to millions, that devoted slightly more of its attention, and vastly more of its budget, to news about events outside the United States.

Time Inc., the parent company of Time, was flush then. Very, very, very flush. So flush that the first week I was there, the World section had a farewell lunch for a writer who was being sent to Paris to serve as bureau chief...at Lutece, the most expensive restaurant in Manhattan, for 50 people.So flush that if you stayed past 8, you could take a limousine home...and take it anywhere, including to the Hamptons if you had weekend plans there. So flush that if a writer who lived, say, in suburban Connecticut, stayed late writing his article that week, he could stay in town at a hotel of his choice. So flush that, when I turned in an expense account covering my first month with a $32 charge on it for two books I'd bought for research purposes, my boss closed her office door and told me never to submit a report asking for less than $300 back, because it would make everybody else look bad. So flush when its editor-in-chief, the late Henry Grunwald, went to visit the facilities of a new publication called TV Cable Week that was based in White Plains, a 40 minute drive from the Time Life Building, he arrived by helicopter--and when he grew bored by the tour, he said to his aide, "Get me my helicopter."

These days, a reporter is far more likely to find himself explaining to accounting why he stayed in the Holiday Inn when there was a perfectly good Super 8 only 13 miles away.

There's little doubt that this inflects peoples' reporting.  Journalists these days live in a world where a degree, long experience, a solid work history and quite a bit of talent are no guarantee of income security.  It's little surprise that that's the world they portray in the pages of the nation's few remaining print outlets.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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