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Thanks For The Train Wreck

from the New York Observer

PW‘s Sara Nelson Saw Book Crowd As Coolest On Earth

Laid-Off Editor Says, ‘ No Highs Match Falling in Love’

New York Times media columnist David Carr, who was hired at a few months after Ms. Nelson was, remembered an obsessively competitive reporter whose taste for scoops matched the uncommonly speedy metabolism that was aiming for.

saranelson.png“We were both smokers, and it would be 10:30 in the morning—we would have already filed—and we’d both be outside scuffing the ground and saying, ‘I’ve got nothing,’” Mr. Carr said. “You never saw a more hard-core competitive journalist than Sara Nelson. Freakish. Freakish. She would see something come up on her screen and just explode.”

Mr. Carr went on: “She was the rare trade reporter who could write and think and who could do real-time analytics. And so she took full advantage of the platform in terms of breaking a lot of news, and doing it so it was clear not just what happened but why.”

We used to report auctions in real time at Inside,” Ms. Nelson said. “We’d put up a story, you know, ‘Ann Godoff is up to $200,000! This one’s up to 300!” It was like a horse race. You know, ‘… Aaaand coming around the corner is …’ It was fun, but also it was new—nobody else had ever done it.”

Predictably, Ms. Nelson said, she saw the publishing industry from a rather different light as editor of PWthan she had as a beat reporter. Among other things, she noticed for the first time a hostility from the outside world directed towards editors, agents and all the rest of her people—a creepy chorus of eager detractors who snarled with glee whenever someone in the industry screwed up. The controversy around James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces, she said, is what set it off: “It opened the floodgates for people to say, ‘It’s all publishing’s fault! They’re all a bunch of insiders who scratch each other’s backs and don’t check their facts and keep the rest of us out and think they’re better than us!’”

This vinegary sort of scolding initially stunned Ms. Nelson (“I was like, what?”), but in the years since she has developed a clearer theory of where the vitriol comes from.

“I think it’s because many, many, many, many people think they can write and that they have a book in them,” she said. “And they are very, very resentful of someone else who has a book come out. … I think everybody thinks that there but for the luck of knowing a New York editor goes their memoir.”

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Posted on February 5, 2009 by Editor

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