Over 500 newspaper editors from around the country assembled at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday in the Sheraton Washington Hotel. The meeting, orginally scheduled at 8 o'clock, had been moved up to give it more time. It was also moved from a small room to the second largest meeting place in the hotel.
The subject to be discussed by a panel was ombudsmanship on newspaper. Like most early morning convention sessions, it had been anticipated that attendance would be low.
The huge numbers waiting for the session were not there to hear about ombudsmanship. Their profession had been hurt, and they wanted to know the story of Janet Cooke and "Jimmy's World."
When the session was over, the editors were less than satisfied because there is no way to be quit of what was bothering them, to understand it and to get on with it in an hour and a half.
One of their front-runners, The Washington Post, had stumbled badly and had run on its front page a fictional account, represented as fact, that had gone on to win a Pulitzer Prize. The echo of that sad saga hung in the air as it had since the editors had gathered earlier this week.
Many of them, maybe all of them, were examining their own practices and policies. So heavy a blow was felt throughout the industry. The fictional "Jimmy" could tighten the process of news gathering and editing, the very functions his story had betrayed.
At The Post, "Jimmy" and his creator, Janet Cooke, haunted the news room. Men and women who had spent their working lives in an attempt to write honestly for a tough newspaper in a political town were in anguish to be challenged by a lie.
At a Monday morning meeting of the national staff, which had not been involved in the "Jimmy" story, there was only one subject of conversation. Searching, intimate, fundamental questions were asked about methods and assumptions. The Metro staff, in whose office Janet Cooke had been enmployed, had already held a similar meeting.
The paper had been up-front with its mistake from the moment Janet Cooke's hoax became known. Executive Editor Ben Bradlee had roughed in a story of the fraud early that evening, but Miss Cooke took a long time to make her admission -- too long for early editions -- so Mr. Bradlee had to make a staff announcement the next day.
The report on the whole affair was the second longest article ever published in The Post. It will be attacked in every way the minds of analysts and critics can invest. Fair enough.
"Jimmy" won't go away. He will remain in the bloodstream of this newspaper and of journalism. And he has meaning for everybody who has been put pen or typewriter or computer keyboard to work in this business. Among his lessons is the power of the thing we call truth.
But, enough of piety.
Meg Greenfield, editor of this page, wrote some years ago that after every funeral, no matter how heart-breaking, there comes a time when somebody must ask what's for lunch.
By week's end among many other calls, a reader had protested that his boss' name was consistently misspelled in The Post.
A page was turning