Fresh look at some trend-setting journalism that was built to last; Reporting, by Lillian Ross. (Reissue with new Introduction by the author). New York: Dodd, Mead. $12.95 in hardcover, $8.95 in paperback.
The name Lillian Ross may not click immediately. Even longtime devotees of The New Yorker, for which Ross has been a staff writer since 1949, often can't place her. She couldn't care less. "To go on a television talk show to sell myself and my books . . . would be the ultimate foolishness," says Ross, who admires the reclusive author J. D. Salinger as "uncorrupted." "It would be a betrayal of the force within me that made me want to write in the first place."Skip to next paragraph
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Like Salinger, Ross has been a figure of both stature and controversy, who rarely speaks for the record about the process and product of her craft. Thus, the third launching of "Reporting", first published in 1965, becomes more eventful with inclusion of her pithy new introduction. Sensible ("Write as clearly and simply and straightforwardly as possible"); opinionated ("Staying for very long on a news magazine . . . may also lead you to forget that you ever learned the meaning of the word 'responsible'"); or gentle ("Hold on to the quietness in your life"), Mrs. Ross offers tough advice to blooming writers and a provocative glimpse of the presonality forbidden to intrude while the reporter is at work.
"Reporting" is an omnibus of seven of Ross's best-known byline pieces from among the scores of profiles, features, and "Talk of the Town" columns she's produced. Though nothing in this collection is less than 20 years old, its impact belies the eroding effects of time.
TWo chapters in "Reporting" carved notches in journalism history. "Portrait of Hemingway" precipitated an unbelievable furor when it appeared in 1950. In some quarters, Ross's cinema veritem interview style was blamed for "devastating" the legendary novelist's image. Hemingway himself stood by Ross, but as late as 1972 the issue was still hot enough to generate print debate.
Arguably, "Picture" (1952) marked the debut of the "fictionalized" documentary. Ross spent 18 months tracing John Huston's movie "The Red Badge of Courage," from location-scouting to the tallying of box-office receipts. She captured a remarkable freeze-frame shot of an industry on the cusp of two eras, between the halcyon days of studio moguls and the coming of conglomerate control.
"Reporting" illustrates that there is no "new" or "old" journalism, only that which was built to last.