Trying to create the next generation of news: This week was a hard one for the newspaper business, with layoffs from L.A. to Boston. In the eye of the storm, from opposite sides of the revolving door, were  newly-departed Chicago Tribune editor Anne-Marie Lipinski and Katherine Weymouth, who last month succeeded her grandmother Katherine Graham as publisher of the Washington Post.

Last week, the 52-year old Lipinski announced her resignation just as as the Tribune’s parent corporation was declaring the imminent loss of 80 newsroom jobs. Even before then,she’d been deciding whether to move on, Lipinski told Editor and Publisher, adding that the vertiginous pace of change in this Internet-and-bottom-line-driven age was tiring:

Lipinski, who has spent her entire career at
the Tribune and serves on the Pulitzer Prize Board, said running the
newspaper — or any newspaper — has changed significantly in recent
years. "It is a complicated time for this company and this industry,"
she added. "I think the pressures go well beyond those facing this
paper and this company. It is a golden age of journalism in some ways."

The married mother of a 14-year-old daughter adds
that: "I do need some rest, I need to reintroduce myself to my family;
I have a garden that is in desperate need of me. I really do need time
with my family."

Friends and colleagues who know Lipinski well said it
is likely she left on her own, but perhaps after realizing how much the
job had changed and the company would seek to continue downsizing.
Several others also said it is obviously difficult for her to leave the
Tribune having spent so much time there.

Meanwhile, a long profile in Portfolio magazine introduces the Washington Post‘s 42-year-old Weymouth, "a divorced mother of  three," who’s quite aware of the realities of modern newspapering, but determined to do her  late grandmother proud, even if it requires "hard choices." (The flagship paper has already cut a third of its reporters in the face of plummeting ad sales.)  Portfolio points out that when Weymouth’s grandfather Philip Graham killed himself in 1963, his wife had to learn from scratch how to run a national media company:

Rejecting handsome offers from various media conglomerates to buy the
company, Katharine took over as president. Shy and awkward, she felt
inadequate to the task and, as she later admitted, terrified, but she
was determined to keep the Post in the family. She’d spent
her adult life as a wife and mother, driving a car pool for her four
children, and knew little of business and nothing about management. But
she steeped herself in expert advice and, with the help of a small
group of executives who’d been hired by her husband, she presided over
the newspaper and its related enterprises with increasing
self-assurance and authority.

An outwardly
correct and reticent lady (who displayed a wicked sense of humor and
cursed eloquently in private), she formed a seamless partnership with
Bradlee, whom she hired in 1965 as managing editor after he famously
told her he’d give his “left one” to edit the Post. Together,
they faced down Richard Nixon’s White House in publishing the Pentagon
Papers in 1971, when government intervention could have jeopardized the
Post Co.’s plans to go public. They pursued the Watergate investigation
at a time when vindictive Nixon operatives were actively considering
pulling the company’s broadcasting licenses.

[Graham’s] descendants still seem to enjoy an almost mystical bond
with their employees. When Weymouth made a heartfelt acceptance speech
in the company auditorium on the day her promotion was announced, some
Post traditionalists, such as former managing editor Bob Kaiser, were
teary-eyed. Wearing her grandmother’s pearls for luck, Weymouth told the crowd
about a recent conversation she’d had with a coworker in the
advertising department, where she’d spent the previous three years as
vice president and director.

The colleague “poked her head in my
office,” Weymouth explained, “and said that there was a story that she
thought I would want to hear. She asked me if I had ever noticed that
often the elevators stop on the lobby floor when you have not pressed
the button for the lobby. And the doors open, and no one gets on or
off. I said yes, I had noticed that. She said, ‘Well, my girls think
that is your grandmother getting on the elevator.’ I got chills when
she told me that. And this morning, it happened to me. I was riding up
from the garage level, a nervous wreck. And the elevator stopped on the
lobby floor, the doors opened, and no one got on.”


Success in circuit lies:
Kay Ryan, just appointed poet laureate of the United States, is well known for folllowing that maxim from Emily Dickinson, with her deceptively simple yet muscular verse.

Dana Gioia,
a poet and the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, was an
early supporter of Ms. Ryan’s work, describing her as the “thoughtful,
bemused, affectionate, deeply skeptical outsider.”

“She would
certainly be part of the world if she could manage it,” he said. “She
has certain reservations. That is what makes her like Dickinson in some

Poets, editors, critics and academics around the country offered advice to James H. Billington, the librarian of Congress, about whom to choose to succeed Charles Simic
as the nation’s 16th poet laureate, who was appointed 2007. Ms. Ryan’s
work has “this quality of simplicity; it’s highly accessible poetry,”
Dr. Billington said. “She takes you through little images to see a very
ordinary thing or ordinary sentiment in a more subtle and deeper way.”

Perhaps that’s because Ryan treats the writing of
poetry with the dogged persistence of  a good ambulance driver: as
serious as an emergency room, but unafraid to use humor when need be.

Today, the "outsider" is smiling broadly. Yet what may
resonate most with other poets is the courage she has shown, year after
year, to embrace those "emergencies" and follow them wherever they’ve
led, even when it seemed that no one but her life partner, Carol,
seemed to care.

… She didn’t stop writing even when her first two books – one
of which was privately printed by friends – drew no critical attention.
Instead, she maintained her work routine, which she wryly describes as
breakfast, reading the paper, and then "a lying session," since she
writes in bed, with an old black cat holding down the covers. On her
nightstand sit several yellow pads of paper and a stack of "difficult
books," which she dips into before starting to work, to "help get my
mind up to speed." (Recently she has been reading "Anathemas and
Admirations," by E.M. Cioran; Walter Benjamin’s "Illuminations"; and
"The Rings of Saturn," by W. G. Sebald.)

Week after week, month after month, she continued with
her distinctive approach, writing short poems even when long narratives
became the fashion. She also stuck with her signature style, which is
complex, multi-layered, and sometimes sly, rather than trying to write
more conventional lyrics.

Her poems, she says, don’t begin with a simple image or
sound, but instead start "the way an oyster does, with an aggravation."
An old saw may nudge her repeatedly, such as "It’s always darkest
before the dawn" or "Why did the chicken cross the road?"

For a quick sampling of her work, click here  or here.
As each Poet Laureate puts their own distinctive stamp on the position,
it’s too early to know what Ryan’s will be like, though she shyly told
the Times that she’d like to "celebrate" the Library of Congress, where
she’ll be in residence:“Maybe I’ll issue library cards to everyone,”
Ryan said.

A typically stealthy slice, which makes you giggle until its multi-layered last line:

A cat can draw
the blinds
behind her eyes
whenever she
decides. Nothing
alters in the stare
itself but she’s
not there. Likewise
a future can occlude:
still sitting there,
doing nothing rude.

if you’d like to hear her talk about the poems  first, in the clip
below Ryan’s far less "reclusive" than the papers make her out to be:

By  Chris Lombardi


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  • Julia July 18, 2008 at 11:36 pm

    Friends and colleagues who know Lipinski well said it is likely she left on her own, but perhaps after realizing how much the job had changed and the company would seek to continue downsizing. Several others also said it is obviously difficult for her to leave the Tribune having spent so much time there.