A Savior for the City

by longformphilly

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Sandy Hingston | Philadelphia Magazine | April 2010

THE LAST TIME Buzz Bissinger was a newspaper writer, Ronald Reagan was president, Wilson Goode was mayor, nobody in the world had ever blogged, and the Philadelphia Inquirer had a circulation of close to 500 large. Under legendary editor Gene Roberts, the city’s newspaper of record was in the midst of a Pulitzer blitzkrieg that would snag 17 of the coveted prizes in a decade and a half. Buzz, in fact, had just won one, along with two colleagues, for a series of articles on corruption in the city’s courts.

The year was 1988. Ed Rendell had recently lost two straight elections: for governor, to Bob Casey Sr. in 1986, and to Goode for mayor in 1987. David L. Cohen was seven years out of law school. And Buzz, at the height of his and the Inquirer’s powers, was about to make a move that would prove oddly prescient: He would leave his job to move to middle-of-nowhere Odessa, Texas, and write a book about high-school football. The result, Friday Night Lights, would become a New York Times best-seller, be named the best football book of all time by Sports Illustrated, be made into a hit movie and critically acclaimed TV series, and launch Buzz into the career stratosphere. He’d go on to write for TV’s NYPD Blue, the New York Times, and, especially, Vanity Fair, for which he specializes in epic tales of tragedy and waste: failing shock jock Don Imus, doomed Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro, disgraced journalist Stephen Glass, the sad denouement of Joe DiMaggio.

Writer bio: Sandy Hingston is a senior editor at Philadelphia Magazine.

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