Instant Omniscience

by Matthew Sitman

Calvin Trillin recalls his early days working at Time magazine. He was a “floater,” an editor “who was brought in to a section when, say, the person who wrote Sport was home with the flu, or when one of the World writers was on vacation”:

There were some enjoyable aspects of being a floater. When I settled into the desk chair of, say, the Education writer, someone who presumably pored through the education quarterlies and lunched with school reformers and kept abreast of the latest disagreements about how best to teach reading, I could feel myself imbued with the authoritative tone favored in those days at Time; I called that “instant omniscience.” I had become adept at using one of the tools employed to assert Time’s authority—what I thought of as the corrective “in fact,” as in “Democrats maintain that the measure would increase unemployment. In fact…” There were no bylines in Time then, so the readers had no way of knowing whether the Art section’s critique of the new Coventry Cathedral had been written by someone steeped in the history of church architecture or by a floater who’d moved in after a short stint in Medicine that had left him with no words in the magazine for two weeks and a more detailed knowledge of loop colostomy procedures than he’d ever hoped to have.