I think it is safe to presume most people, when they were young, were asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” For me, there was a list:
- Video game programmer
- Video game tester
- and a whole bunch of other things
As I grew older, that list changed. Some things remained on the list, like author, but most, like archaeologist, are long gone. If there’s one thing I can safely say that I want to be, it is that I am good at what I do. Good enough for others to put their confidence in me.
I’ve never heard the name Ben Bradlee before. If perchance I did, it never sunk into my memory bank. This past week, on Tuesday, Ben Bradlee passed away. It is only now that I’ve learned what who this man was, what he was like, and why I want to be like him.
Peter Osnos talks about him in his article on theatlantic.com. Osnos worked with Bradlee for 18 years during his time at the Washington Post. Ben Bradlee, in his time at the Post, served in numerous positions, including deputy managing editor and executive editor, according to Osnos.
Ben Bradlee. Photo courtesy of cnn.com.
Who he was
Osnos describes Bradlee as having “an unfailing sense of what made a story stronger.” He went on to say that Bradlee’s credo for the front page “was that stories carry impact, preferably had exclusives, and were written with flair.”
What Osnos says later really stuck with me, and still does. “Whatever pressure Ben may have felt from the powers that be in Washington, he made sure his reporters felt secure. As long as a story was solid to the satisfaction of Ben and his editors, he would go with it and accept the consequences.”
The author goes on to talk about a story involving Bradlee literally saving his life. Osnos had to be on a helicopter in Vietnam near its border with Cambodia. Bradlee, however, had arrived at the airport, and Osnos and one of his colleagues canceled their plans to go and pick Bradlee up at the airport. When they returned to the office, Osnos learned that the helicopter he was scheduled to be on had exploded on takeoff and everyone on board had been killed.
My personal takeaway
The traits Osnos describes Bradlee having are traits I would like to gain. Having an affinity for what can make a story stronger, having the strength to back up my writers and give them confidence, and the creativity to make a news publication something everyone wants to read are something I feel every writer and editor should strive for.