Profiles

The first excerpt comes from a section of the New Yorker called "Profiles." Calvin Trillin and other writers for that magazine write some of the best, most thoroughly researched, and longest profiles of any publication. Calvin Trillin wrote one about Edna Buchanan, a crime reporter for the Miami Herald in the 1980s.

In the newsroom of the Miami Herald, there is some disagreement about which of Edna Buchanan's first paragraphs stands as the classic Edna lead. I line up with the fried-chicken faction. The fried-chicken story was about a rowdy ex-con named Gary Robinson, who late one Sunday night lurched drunkenly into a Church's outlet, shoved his way to the front of the line, and ordered a three-piece box of fried chicken. Persuaded to wait his turn, he reached the counter again five or ten minutes later, only to be told that Church's had run out of fried chicken. The young woman at the counter suggested that he might like chicken nuggets instead. Robinson responded to the suggestion by slugging her in the head. That set of a chain of events that ended with Robinson's being shot dead by a security guard. Edna Buchanan covered the murder for the Herald—there are policemen in Miami who say that it wouldn't be a murder without her. Her story began with what the fried-chicken faction still regards as the classic Edna lead: "Gary Robinson died hungry."

Calvin Trillin

"Covering the cops," New Yorker (February 17, 1986)

New York magazine also runs many profiles and sketches written in a creative way. Tony Schwartz, who covers the media waterfront so diligently and so well, wrote a profile (or is it a sketch?) about Dan Rather:

The son of a ditchdigger, he wants above all to hold on to what he's got. But he also wants to do it on his own terms. He is determined, for example, to be seen with CBS as a company man and head cheerleader. But he also sees himself as heir to Ed Murrow, the conscience of a corporation he increasingly doubts has the best interests of the news division at heart. He is zealous about protecting his Evening News turf and his authority as managing editor. But he is also, by nature, deeply reluctant to confront his adversaries and extremely eager to get along. He sees himself as a fierce guardian of traditional journalistic values. But he is also committed to winning a ratings battle in which non-journalistic values such as promotion and pizzazz are more and more a factor.

Tony Schwartz

"Dan on the Run," New York magazine (February 3, 1986)

A weed—in the vernacular of groundsmen in England—is known as a volunteer, and there are no volunteers in the Centre Court at Wimbledon. Robert Twynam, who grows the grass there, is willing to accept a bet from anyone who is foolhardy enough to doubt this. Twynam's lawn—nine hundred and thirty square yards, one fifth of an acre—is the best of its kind, and Twynam has such affection for it that he spends a great deal of time just looking at it. He takes long, compact walks on the Centre Court. At times, he gets down on his hands and knees and crawls on it, to observe the frequently changing relationships among the various plants there. Twynam keeps a diary for the Centre Court ("February 4: very sunny spells, Centre Court fine," "February 5: cooler, little sun, Centre Court O.K."), and, in the words of one member of Wimbledon's Committee of Management, "Mr. Twynam regards each blade of grass as an individual, with its own needs, its own destiny, and its own right to grow on this blessed piece of lawn." Twynam has been at Wimbledon forty-four years. Nearly all of the greatest stars of tennis have played under his scrutiny, and—while he knows a great deal about the game—his appraisals of all of them seem to have been formed from the point of view of the grass. "When Emmo puts his foot down.," Twynam will say, in reference to Roy Emerson, of Australia, "when Emmo puts his foot down, he is stepping on forty or fifty plants."

John McPhee

"Twynam of Wimbledon," A Roomful of Hovings

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