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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 824

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This is the grave of Herbert Lipson.

Born in 1929 in Philadelphia, Lipson grew up in Easton, Pennsylvania. He grew up pretty wealthy. His father was a newspaper and then magazine publisher in Philly. Lipson went to Lafayette College and graduated in 1953. After graduation, he started working for one of his father’s magazines. This would evolve into Philadelphia magazine. This was a business-oriented urban publication that was basically an arm of the Chamber of Commerce. Not that interesting. But Lipson had bigger ideas for it. He took over the magazine himself in 1963. He started making it an actual magazine that was dedicated to real journalism in Philadelphia. In 1967, the magazine broke a huge story that a major reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer was taking payments from powerful people in exchange for not writing negative stories about them, which sent the guy to prison. This was the kind of story Lipson wanted. He didn’t necessarily see himself as a muckraker, but rather modeled his vision after The New Yorker.

Lipson was a tough guy, running through editors like water. I’m sure he wasn’t a great guy to work for. But he also had a reputation as a fearless publisher who didn’t care if someone he published a story about sued him. He went on to buy a sister publication in Boston in 1970. Boston magazine did a lot of the work his Philadelphia magazine did.

Later in life, Lipson became more conservative and published some pretty bad stories about being white under Black leadership in Philly and one column he wrote about how sexual harassment really wasn’t that big of a deal. Sigh.

Upon his death, there was this pretty interesting set of recollections from the people who worked for Lipson. It’s hard to summarize it in any useful way except to say that it portrays Lipson as a rich fashionable snob who probably got more intolerable as he aged.

The real reason to talk about someone such as Lipson is to muse a bit on the decline of local publications. Philadelphia is still being published and that’s great. But lots of these publications have gone away in the last 15 years or so. As a historian, this hurts bad. I’ve spent a lot of time in recent months reading old issues of the Portland version of this, Willamette Week. And as I read the kind of in-depth reporting on critical issues that publications such as this used to engage in, you realize just how hard it is going to be to write local and regional history in the future. The nationalization of all American politics means that it’s not going to be that hard to write about national politics. Even if some things disappear on the internet, there will be plenty around to produce histories. But who is going to have article after article about energy policy in whatever state, where you can really build a story? Who is going to explore the complexities and corruption of local politics? This is just gone from American journalism. It’s a real crisis for historians, but also for the general public who is losing the investigative reporters that could really change the local world.

Lipson died in 2017 at the age of 88 of heart problems.

Herbert Lipson is buried in West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania. I fully admit that I had never heard of this guy before, but chatty graves gain the interest of readers and here we go. This grave visit was sponsored by LGM reader donations as well. Many thanks! If you would like this series to visit other magazine publishers, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. James Harper, who started what is today Harper Collins and who also founded Harpers, is in Brooklyn and Henry Luce is in Moncks Corner, South Carolina. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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