Curious about what goes into great magazine journalism? Aspen Words offers an unusual opportunity to go behind the scenes at its annual Summer Readers Retreat (June 18–20 ), led by Bruce Handy, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair and writer for the New Yorker, Time, and Spy.
The retreat, now in its fifth year, gives avid readers a chance to engage more fully in the larger Summer Words program, which is held at the Gant in Aspen and aimed primarily at aspiring and working writers. This retreat appeals to both readers and writers, says Jamie Kravitz, director of Aspen Words, as Handy will cover how to craft and edit a good magazine story while offering insights on how to distinguish quality reporting from today’s overhyped “fake news.”
“I’d be thrilled if participants learn to be smarter consumers of journalism and assess if the writer is coming with an agenda,” says Handy. Referring to the “literary mayhem” that takes place as writers and editors labor to capture the essence of a story, he adds that “insatiable curiosity” is behind great reporting, along with the willingness to explore every angle. Especially important, he says, is for a reporter to have empathy for his or her sources—“even if reporting on a scumbag”—to understand perspective and ideology, and remain objective.
Through years of covering cultural trends, politics, and Hollywood, Handy has had plenty of experience with power plays and gamesmanship. “Many times, you start with an idea and then something happens to make the finished product completely different,” he says.
To that end, he recalls a Vanity Fair story during the George W. Bush administration for which a source would not speak on the record until the last moment, causing a rewriting scramble. In this case, notes Handy, the piece ended up being better reported and more successful because of the late addition. Yet the source got the last word. “There was some calculation there, I’m sure,” he says.
Expect more revealing stories and examples, and maybe even some juicy Hollywood gossip, as Handy guides readers toward an even deeper appreciation of the power of the written word.