This blogger skimmed the book, “Writing Places” by William K. Zinsser, published in 2009. It is a career memoir. Zinsser details the twists and turns of his writing and teaching, starting with his adventures in journalism in the New York City of the mid- to late 1940’s through the late 1950’s.
The author says that the New York Herald Tribune served as a role model for his writing, instilling lifelong values in him. Two older editors in the newsroom “…went out of their way to help me [gain experience.]” Unfortunately, by the late 1950’s, for various reasons, the newspaper was unable to uphold the values it originally held as part of its corporate culture.
Zinsser fell into freelance writing for magazines such as Life and the Saturday Evening Post. His generation saw lots of human-interest stories in a slew of weekly publications. “It was also,” he writes of the early 1960’s, “the last historic moment when it was possible for a magazine writer in America to be a generalist.”
For, television gobbled up a large chunk of consumer advertising at the expense of publications. It also competed for readers’ leisure time. Excuse the cliche, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Television showed consumer products in live-action scenarios against which magazines could not compete. Zinsser’s work slowed to a trickle because there arose topical specialization in periodicals; contributors were required to be experts on, say, hunting or cats or wine or brides, etc.
Another trend of the 1960’s was the lax teaching of writing by American high schools. Teachers allowed students freedom of expression with little regard for grammar or syntax. Excuse the cliche, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”
Read the book to learn how Zinsser adapted to the changing times. One hint is that it involved the “…American National United Allied General Corporation.” So as not to have biased the reader, this blogger is providing the following info at the end of this post:
Zinsser admittedly is a WASP-y Northeastern elitist, whose father was a Yale graduate. He himself is a Princeton graduate. He also confesses that memoir writers tend to be “…masters of retroactive blame. The hard job is to get beyond the ancient grievances and arrive at a larger point– some moment of acceptance and healing.”