Remembering Clay Felker

Clay Felker, a visionary editor who created the template of the modern magazine, died on July 1. He was 82.

It’s important to take time to remember great people. Clay fit that bill in spades. There have been many amazing remembrances of Clay over the last few days. Kurt Anderson wrote a great one in New York magazine. The New York Observer also put together a fine collection of stories, including a poignant letter from his wife Gail Sheehy on Clay’s last weeks.

Here’s mine: I was fortunate to come to know Clay when I attended graduate school at Berkeley from 1993-1995. Clay had just become a professor, and he started a class about making magazines. Even though Clay had just become sick, he poured an incredible amount of passion and energy into the class. Everyone loved it. We felt like we were learning from the feet of a master. And he didn’t disappoint. He took a very personal interest in each and everyone of us. And he taught us several key concepts of journalism that have stayed with me throughout my whole career.

One was magazines are about tribes. Think of yourself as an anthropologist studying a tribe. What are their rituals? What are their values? Who are the movers and shakers? New Yorkers were the ultimate tribe.

Another keystone concept was magazine journalism is all about POINT OF VIEW. POV is what distinguishes a newspaper story from a magazine story. It’s not a collection of facts about a topic; it’s a story that’s told from a unique angle.

Ever since then, I have remained in touch with Clay and I considered him one of my most important mentors–like dozens, perhaps hundreds, of other journalists whose lives he touched over a remarkable career. In fact, Clay was the person who inspired and encouraged me to write Creative Capital. About five years ago, I asked him what I should with my career. “Write a book,” he said. “It can separate you from the pack.”

When I told him the idea for book, he encouraged me to do it. Clay knew Doriot. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Clay was a voracious soul who seemed to know anything and everything that was important. His curiosity knew no bounds.

Thanks for being such a great teacher Clay. Although you’ve left this world, you’ll never be forgotten.

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