November 12, 1922|
|Died||March 6, 2009
Santa Monica, California
Jim Bellows (12 November 1922 – 6 March 2009) has been described as one of the legendary figures in American journalism of the 20th century. Bellows has been credited with the inspiration and nurture of many leading writers of the New Journalism during the 1960s and 1970s.
Bellows was born to a successful Detroit salesman and his family in 1922. While he was a child, his parents moved to the Cleveland, Ohio area. Following a common practice of families with "aspirations", and with financial assistance from an aunt, he was sent at 13 years of age to attend South Kent School — a private college-preparatory boarding school for boys in South Kent, Connecticut, graduating in 1940. "We were not cradled through those years, and it (South Kent) was a wonderful place to build character." The 1940 yearbook shows his nickname as "Maggot", a fond reference to his 5'0" stature, to which he owed his success as coxwain for the SKS crew.".
Bellows went on to attend Kenyon College, before serving as a Navy aviator, training to fly the F6F "Hellcat" in World War II. Although he tried to accelerate his training, he didn't ship out until after the war, when he flew from a carrier based near Guam and Saipan. He returned to Kenyon after his service, and graduated in 1947 with a B.A. in philosophy.
Among the organizations Bellows served, Bellows had editorial positions at:
- The Columbus (Georgia) Ledger (1947-1950), where he received national attention after being assaulted by members of the Klan;
- The Atlanta Journal (1950-1957)
- his hometown paper, the Knight-Ridder Detroit Free Press (1957-1959)
- The Miami News (1959-1960)
- editor of the New York Herald Tribune (1961–1967) "We couldn't compete with the resources of the Times; we had to establish a niche for ourselves. The answer was to rediscover New York.";
- associate editor of the Los Angeles Times (1967–1974) which he described as "the velvet coffin"
- editor of the Washington Star (1975–1978) where Bellows launched the political insider gossip column— Diana McLellan's "The Ear";
- editor of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner (1978–1981)
- managing editor of Entertainment Tonight (1981–1983)
- executive editor of ABC News: World News Tonight (1983–1986)
Time and again, Bellows served as editor of underdog, "second" newspapers in large cities. He established a reputation as an innovator whose style of refined sensationalism challenged the leading rival newspapers—namely, The Washington Post and The New York Times. His eloquent, often humorous, and self-effacing style attracted, nurtured, and often inspired a new generation of young writers including Judith Crist, Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Denis Hamill, Gail Sheehy, Maureen Dowd and Tony Castro. At the Herald-Tribune, it was Bellows' initiatve to hire Esquire editor Clay Felker and create a new Sunday supplement focussed on local issues and events; within two years it became the still-popular New York magazine
Richard Wald, Fred W. Friendly Professor of Professional Practice in Media and Society at Columbia University (and former "ethics czar" at ABC News) said, “Jim changed the way a lot of newspapers look today, in the sense of making a page of newsprint more inviting and understandable. And just as he made great innovations in how newspapers looked, he changed the way they read.”
Bellows's acclaimed memoir, The Last Editor: How I saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency (2002), was also made into a PBS documentary. It chronicled his (mostly unsuccessful) fight to save the underdog papers at a time when newspapers were the dominant media in some of the most turbulent times of the United States. In the process, he claimed “The New York Herald Tribune made The New York Times a livelier paper than it was before... The Washington Star made The Washington Post a less institutional paper. And The Los Angeles Times was put on its mettle by The Los Angeles Herald Examiner..."
In April 1963, Bellows published Martin Luther King, Jr.'s letter from the Birmingham, Alabama jail on the front page of the Trib.
While editor of the Herald-Examiner, intrigued by the absence of coverage for the shooting death of a 39-year old black woman, Bellows initiated a major reporting examination of the conduct of the LAPD, a subject previously ignored or avoided by the area's news.
- Jim Bellows: The Last Editor, ISBN 0-7407-1901-7
- Hevesi, Dennis (7 March 2009). "James Bellows, Newspaper Editor Who Promoted New Journalism, Dies at 86". The New York Times. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- Woo, Elaine (7 March 2009). "Jim Bellows dies at 86; legendary editor of L.A. Herald Examiner". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- "Legendary Editor Jim Bellows Dies at 86". Editor & Publisher. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- Sullivan, Patricia (7 March 2009). "James G. Bellows, 86: Editor of Underdog Papers Pushed Writers to 'Raise Hell'". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- "Newspaper editor Jim Bellows dies in LA at 86". The Associated Press. 6 March 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2009.
- Saperstein, Pat (6 March 2009). "Newspaper editor Jim Bellows dies: Veteran worked for L.A. Herald-Examiner". Variety. Retrieved 7 March 2009.