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Personal history with food writing/editing

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#1 Malawry

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Posted 23 May 2002 - 09:14 AM

I note from your bio that you have worked in several different parts of the paper, including a lengthy stint with the Sports section. How did you end up at the helm of the Food section? What was your personal history with food and food writing before coming to the Food section, both during and before your tenure at the Post?

#2 Jeanne McManus

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Posted 31 May 2002 - 01:55 PM

I’ve been at The Post as an editor for almost 23 years. I’ve had no professional culinary training. I had no personal history with food writing.

Which brings up an interesting topic for discussion. What is food writing? I know that as a newspaper person I have a different perspective on this from many who write for specialized publications. I think newspaper writing, in general, is quicker, shorter, more accessible than many other forms. So I have to confess I’m not a huge fan of “food writing,” if it’s too narrowly defined.  I have tried and tried and tried but I cannot read MFK Fisher and Elizabeth David for a sustained periods of time, just in nice small doses.  Slap me on the knuckles but I feel the same way about Laurie Colwin.  Let me emphasize: they’re good writers but the genre wears thin quickly for me.

I’m a fan of good writing, and there’s lots of good writing about food, in all kinds of places.  I liked Malcolm Gladwell’s profile of Ron Popeil in the New Yorker and I use that as an example when I talk to writers about “food writing,” to prove that it can be writing about personality, commerce, media, family, economy and more. But these paeans to fried egg sandwiches? Not for me.

But back to me. In December of 1998 Nancy McKeon, who had been editor of Food for six years, wanted a change and became the editor of the Saturday Real Estate section. (She’s now deputy financial editor in charge of Real Estate, Home, Sunday Business and other parts of the daily financial section. And I think she’s another example of how editors here are really given a lot of latitude to grow and flourish and reinvent themselves, thanks to our bosses.)

I had been Deputy Sports Editor for eight years and had always wanted to be Food editor. My colleagues in sports thought I was insane when, after a particularly hectic day-turned-evening-turned-to night “day” in Sports I would  inevitably go home and cook.  (The rest of them seemed to always wind up at Timberlake’s). I have always found cooking to be relaxing and creative. So when the news of Nancy’s change was announced, I immediately went to Len Downie, the executive editor, and Steve Coll, the managing editor, and expressed my interest.

There were other worthy candidates and, as is often the case for top spots here at The Post, we each had to write a kind of “term paper,” expressing our plans and goals for the section. I got the job and have been editor since January 5, 1999.  I love the job.

#3 Steve Klc

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Posted 04 June 2002 - 05:26 PM

So you've been editing Food for over two years and you still love your job.  How fulfilling is it to contribute your voice as a writer?

I'm thinking especially of your Mother's Day piece "Searching for Lillian: You Can Learn a Lot About a Woman From the Recipes She Collects."

Do you expect to write more and do you harbor any tinge of regret at editing for so much of your career to date and not writing more openly, under your own byline?

Link to "Lillian" here:

Steve Klc

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#4 Jeanne McManus

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Posted 05 June 2002 - 01:35 PM

I really like to write, but I really like to edit too, and come up with ideas and get them in the paper. To get the section out, my first job is the editing part. And I try to fill in the little holes in the section, by writing short stuff.

When I have time, I write. But I never resent having to edit first.