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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2002 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

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For the week of April 17 - 23, 2002

  Opinion Column

Tributes finally for 
‘The Master Editor’

Commentary by Pat Murphy

For more than a half century, Jim Bellows has been creating a monument to his life’s work, and much better than granite.

Bellows’ perpetual memorial are thousands of writers and journalists who’ve come under his spell and been shaped and inspired by Bellows’ ideas and codes. His imprint also is in innovations in newspapers and television that remain even today.

As if to serve as an exclamation point to a career that few American journalists can equal, Bellows’ memoir—"The Last Editor"—is out and a PBS documentary has been produced from the book (Idaho Public Television has yet to schedule the program). CNN also is excerpting the book’s first four chapters.

Those who’ve known Bellows may find this hullabaloo casting him as something of a celebrity to be a contradiction. Bellows is a man of few words, whose mentoring was achieved with hand signals and sparse verbiage.

Bellows has another rare and admirable quality: He never abandoned friendships.

I met Bellows 53 years ago in 1949 on our first newspaper job—he, about 26, was a reporter on the Columbus (Ga.) Ledger, and I, at 20, was an on-the-job information specialist trainee for the U.S. Army concealed under civvies and learning the craft of reporting.

Years later, after meeting him for a drink in New York City in the mid-1980s when he was with ABC television and I’d earned my spurs as a newspaper publisher, we didn’t see each other again until the late 1990s, when I moved to Ketchum and where Jim had helped create the annual Writer’s Conference, once again stirring dormant creative instincts of yet more potential writers. He faithfully pops over from his Los Angeles home every year to mentor attendees at the conference.

Just scan Bellows’ bio. After reporting and editing posts at the Columbus Ledger, Atlanta Journal and Detroit Free Press, Bellows was hired by Jock Whitney to be editor of the prestigious (but now defunct) New York Herald Tribune.

From there to the Los Angeles Times as associate editor, editor of The Washington Star (now defunct), editor of the now-closed Los Angeles Herald Examiner, managing editor of the trendy ABC television program Entertainment Tonight, then executive editor of ABC’s World News Tonight, editorial director of the online Prodigy, executive producer of USA TODAY on TV, west coast bureau chief of TV Guide, executive editor of the online service Excite!, and media consultant.

With that job-hopping, one unfamiliar with the Bellows energy for new challenges might conclude erroneously he couldn’t keep a job. In 1992, Washington Journalism Review called Bellows’ career "the longest resume in the history of journalism."

He was always restive to take on new problems and try new ideas.

He introduced graphics and better page design, brighter writing, and sharper editing to brighten dull looking newspapers. He also made "gossip" a trademark—such as the voraciously read "Ear" column in The Washington Star that chronicled the doings of the mighty.

ABC’s Entertainment Tonight’s audience remains one of the largest on television.

Feisty, street-wise New York columnist Jimmy Breslin and novelist Tom Wolfe were relative unknowns until Bellows made them part of his stable.

Bellows is a serious man, well-read, aware of the larger world around him. But he also had the intuition to understand that news media needed a mix of the serious, light-hearted and provocative to satisfy appetites of Americans, whose yearning for information was expanding faster than the imagination of editors.

Summer is almost here. Bellows will again be in Sun Valley treating pros and novices at the Writers Conference to stuff that makes him the master.


The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.