A Club That Sharpens Our Craft

Several authors came in to talk about their pieces, including the veteran Times reporter John Noble Wilford. He presented his historic front-page article from July 21, 1969 — written under pre-internet logistical constraints that are almost unimaginable in today’s world of instant news at your fingertips. Its quiet opening paragraph was thrilling, stunning in its simplicity: “Men have landed and walked on the moon.”

Then there was the urbane Gay Talese, who swanned in to discuss his legendary Esquire article “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” a New Journalism gem from 1966. He appeared in full Talese-ian regalia — the hat, the suit — and carried with him an arsenal of delicious anecdotes as well as the notebooks and storyboards he used for the piece.

“It was like a time capsule of journalism from the 1960s,” Naila said.

What came out of Pop-up Book Club? Romance: At least one marriage and one (that I know of) fling emerged from the excitement of those early-morning discussions. Podcast Club: a renegade spinoff whose participants switched their focus to that hot new medium. And now, This Is Good, essentially Pop-up Book Club under another name, moved to YouTube and repurposed for the pandemic era with a smaller cast of characters.

Every Wednesday, we talk to one another from our living rooms (or, in the case of Azam Ahmed, our bureau chief for Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean, from what appears to be a series of mysterious undisclosed locations) to discuss the work at hand. Once a month, readers can sign up to watch from home. The next meeting is on Aug. 12.

(Personal disclosure: I had to bluster my way in after discovering I had been left off the original list of This Is Good participants. Jason, who is now an executive producer in The Times’s TV unit, told me not to feel FOMO-ish. When I asked him how he chose the group, he said, “I have an algorithm.”)

I miss my colleagues, and it’s nice, when the world feels so uncertain, to have this little slice of time to consider together the things that made us want to be journalists in the first place. Our group comprises writers (like me) and editors (like Jason). We bring different perspectives to the table, by which I mean that the editors are meaner, more impatient and less forgiving than the writers.

So far, we’ve listened to a podcast, watched a TV episode and read articles from magazines, newspapers and online publications. One of our favorite things was “The Watcher,” a 2018 piece from New York Magazine.


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