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The Opposite of Internet Journalism

I just read John McPhee's New Yorker reminisce about memorable interactions with editors, both at the New Yorker and at his lifelong publishing house, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. The piece has many virtues, including (1) McPhee's trademark wit; (2) McPhee's trademark prose; and (3) setting a new record for number of appearances of the word "fuck" in a New Yorker article. But I was particularly struck by his account of the editorial collaboration on his famous 1965 profile of Princeton basketball star Bill Bradley, "A Sense of Where You Are" (which would turn into his first book, under that same title). The collaboration was with New Yorker editor William Shawn, whose lifelong indifference to basketball and comprehensive ignorance of it did nothing to dampen his editorial devotion to the profile. McPhee writes of Shawn:

[H]e understood the disjunct kinship of creative work--every kind of creative work--and time. The most concise summation of it I've ever encountered was his response to a question I asked him just before we closed my first New Yorker Profile and he sent it off to press. After all those one-on-one sessions discussing back-door plays and the role of the left-handed comma in the architectonics of basketball--while The New Yorker magazine hurtled towards its deadlines--I finally said in wonderment, "How can you afford to use so much time and go into so many things in such detail with just one writer when this whole enterprise is yours to keep together?"

He said, "It takes as long as it takes."

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Robert Wright is the author of The Evolution of God and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He is a former senior editor at The Atlantic.

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