By John Woodford / Ann Arbor, Mich.
Like many an opinionated ink-stained scribbler, I wondered if I’d enjoy having a column through which I could vent my views, whether fair, fierce or foul.
Maybe that yen was on my subconscious bucket list. If so, it was a mighty shallow bucket and, thanks to Andrea Sachs, I was able to fill it with a few thimblefuls of columns for The Insider. So, for my short-lived Game On! column, it’s game called on account of darkness.
Despite The Insider’s demise, Andrea’s founding in March, 2020 of the first publication born out of the Covid pandemic will be added to her other achievements recorded in the annals of journalism. I first noticed her when I was executive editor of an alumni publication for her alma mater, the University of Michigan, since part of my job was to be on the lookout for outstanding graduates.
Andrea had segued from being a government attorney to becoming Time magazine’s reporter on the publishing beat in 1995, after having joined that publication in 1984. Time Inc. has always valued the craft, or art, of wordsmithing very highly, and Andrea was recognized as an especially gifted practitioner.
Andrea is exceptionally resourceful, quick-witted and observant — and more than a little bit persistent, qualities that have served her well as a writer and editor.
There was the time she had to interview the hyper-prolific author Joyce Carol Oates with less than a day’s notice, about an Oates novel that had clearly been inspired by the Jon Benét Ramsey case involving the disappearance of a child whose parents had made her a prepubescent sex object. When Andrea linked Oates’s plot to the Ramsey case, Oates became indignant, maintaining that her forthcoming novel was not about that case at all. “Haven’t you read the book?” Oates challenged.
Somehow Andrea mollified Oates and completed her assignment. But she remembers her mortification at the time and how she’d come back at Oates in her own mind: “No, I can’t read a 600-page book in one night. You’re the only one who can do that, Joyce!” She could not, of course, have replied thusly out loud or she would not have racked up yet another scintillating interview of the sort she's known for.
Andrea was in attendance when an octogenarian Philip Roth received the Legion of Honor from a French diplomat in New York City. What could have been a ho-hum news item became a Woody Allen-style vignette in her report.
As the Frenchman, approaching Roth from behind, attempted to fasten the medal around Roth’s neck, it slipped from his hands and fell to the floor. “So quickly?” quipped Roth, suggesting the impermanence of fame. And moments later the ceremony was again interrupted by three tolls of a cellphone.
Andrea notices everything, and as the saying goes, everything is in the details, especially the juicy ones that make stories delicious. That’s why I’m hoping for another Andrea Sachs journalistic reincarnation in the near future (which is the only future in the offing for me).
But, as Andrea has informed her Insider readers, it’s very hard these days to finance any enterprise that requires its target audience to read thoughtful, civil prose at any length beyond a paragraph. And few nonideological, nonpolitical publications these days have published arguments that challenge the government line on the Russo-Ukrainian war. But The Insider has exercised our freedoms of speech and of the press by publishing incisive pieces on that subject by Andrea’s brother, the economist Jeffrey Sachs.
So, in view of economic realities and iconoclastic independence, it was remarkable that Andrea could sustain a publication like The Insider, which fits no known genre and fills no identifiable niche, as long as she did: three-and-a-half years! And the wonderful illustrations that she and tech manager Matt Nadelson expended considerable effort to find, acquire, adjust and place in just the right spot always embellished contributors’ stories.
And as for writing errors of all imaginable sorts: Andrea is a clean-up, paint-up, fix-up miracle worker. Embarrassment is never cute, but it can be acute, and, believe me, Andrea saved me from that woeful feeling every time I contributed.
Perhaps the most noteworthy attribute of The Insider, however, was its serving as a sort of journalistic omnium-gatherum of articles and columns by an array of writers plus an interviewer who presented recorded conversations with experts on classical music and opera.
Movies, cooking, Detroit history, college life, book and movie reviews — the variety of the content Andrea offered to her readers was usually surprising, always informative and regularly included humor. So I’ll take my final bow by stealing this nugget from The Insider’s Lydia Hope Wilen:
An elderly couple is sitting on their patio. While sipping her glass of wine, the wife says, “I love you so much, I don’t know how I could ever live without you.” Her husband hears that and asks, “Was that you or the wine talking?” She answers, “It’s me, talking to the wine.”
Bada-boom! Thanks, Andrea!
John Woodford lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where he retired after two decades as the executive editor of Michigan Today, a University of Michigan alumni/ae publication. His career in journalism includes editing and/or reporting duties for Ebony magazine, Muhammad Speaks newspaper, the Chicago Sun-Times, the New Haven Register, the New York Times and Ford Motor company publications.