Wednesday, April 16, 2014

When the first female executive editor of one of the world's greatest newspapers recommends a book...'s a no-brainer. You have to pick it up. And that's what I have done (in a manner of speaking).

Now, while I am waiting for Flipkart to deliver Journalistas, an anthology of "the best writing by women journalists over the past 100 years", I am savouring (again) some of the masterly writing in Jill Abramson's book review, which also gives us a peek into the personality of the woman who made history at The New York Times in September 2011:

I worked for many years as an investigative reporter in Washington, digging into all manner of government grubbiness for The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. ... By long tradition, this was men's turf. It was telling that one of my colleagues once anonymously described me in a published profile as having "balls like cast-iron cantaloupes."

I first picked up the volume with annoyance I hated the title and still do. It sounds silly and is redolent of all sorts of dopey words for female journalists, including one of my least favourites, editrix. And I'm not a fan of anthologies. Reading them is often like feasting on a meal of hors d'oeuvres. ...

But most of the pieces collected by Eleanor Mills (an editor at The Sunday Times of London) and Kira Cochrane (a novelist and former journalist) are so marvellous that I quickly cast aside my doubts.

The brightest jewel is Martha Gellhorn's utterly chilling account of Dachau in the earliest days of the liberation in 1945. Gellhorn's writing is emblematic of many of the fine articles in this volume striking in its spare style, full of moral authority, but utterly lacking any surplus emotion or distracting detail. Perhaps the British roots of the anthologists led them to a preference for journalistic crispness in the English style. It serves their readers extremely well.

Most of the writers in Journalistas do have a special eye for intricacies, but they are also full of brave judgments and passion for political life in all its dimensions. Mills gets it right when she puts forward a simple justification for this book: "This is not just a women's collection; it reflects the great dilemmas and struggles of humanity in the last century from an often new point of view."
  • Jill Abramson wrote this review in January 2006, when she was the managing editor, or No. 2, at The New York Times. Five years later, she became the executive editor, the first in the newspaper's 160-year history. Who better to recommend Journalistas?

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