Jim Bellows, RIP


The L.A. Times, fittingly enough, has the obit on the Zelig of postwar newspaper editors:

Jim Bellows, a legendary editor who built a career resuscitating underdog big-city newspapers from Los Angeles to New York and helped turn Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin into stars, has died. He was 86. […]

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, each of 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 had been essentially 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 crossed paths with Bellows a couple of times, including on a newspaper project that never got off the ground, and though he'd lost a step or three, he had more journalistic passion and mischief in his left pinkie than you'll see in some newsrooms. He certainly wasn't much of a writer, didn't have a reputation for line-editing, and was a world-class mumbler, but he could pick talent with the best of 'em (including female talent back when that was a newsroom no-no), and just loved the idea of competing against the big dogs. As I wrote at the end of a long media-bashing piece for Reason a few years back, "Read Bellows, and you'll want to stomp out into the world, launch new publications, and, in his simple motto, 'do your best.'" He'll be missed.