December 11, 2018

Mel Elfin, Newsman Who Built up College Ranking Guide, Dies at 89

“Look at it, but it’s not the be-all,” Mr. Elfin said. “There are other things to consider.”

Melvin Elfin was born in Brooklyn on July 18, 1929. His father, Joseph, was a truck driver, and his mother, Bessie (Margolis) Elfin, was a homemaker. Mel attended Brooklyn Technical High School, where he worked at the student radio station, and studied journalism at Syracuse University. He earned a master’s degree in American civilization at Harvard.

After working briefly as a copywriter for an advertising agency in Boston, he was hired as a reporter by The Long Island Daily Press, where he won a George Polk Award in 1956 for a series that exposed unethical practices in the home mortgage industry.

Two years later, Mr. Elfin joined Newsweek as a features writer for the magazine’s back-of-the-book sections. He rose to education editor and was named Washington bureau chief in 1965, succeeding Ben Bradlee, who had been hired by Katharine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post, as its deputy managing editor.

At Newsweek, Mr. Elfin had a reputation as a witty, no-nonsense, sarcastic and high-strung boss.

“He made the work so exciting,” Eleanor Clift, one of the bureau’s former reporters, said by telephone. “I’d go to a mundane White House briefing, then head into his corner office, which was like sticking your head in the lion’s den. You had to throw him a fresh piece of meat.”

In 1969, Mr. Elfin hosted a dinner at his house in Washington for Vice President Spiro T. Agnew with a guest list that included bureau reporters and Mrs. Graham, whose Washington Post empire included Newsweek. Agnew’s attacks against the news media concerned Newsweek and many other print and broadcast outlets, and his abrasiveness that night did little to assuage the guests’ concerns.

“What we all had for dinner was pure essence of Agnew,” Mr. Elfin wrote with his colleague Robert Shogan in a post-dinner memorandum that Mrs. Graham cited in “Personal History” (1997), her Pulitzer Prize-winning autobiography. “It may or may not be reassuring to know that the man doesn’t sound or act differently in a semiprivate, semi-social situation than he does in public.”

Mr. Elfin had a strong relationship with Mrs. Graham, which led him occasionally to write speeches for her.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/25/obituaries/mel-elfin-dead.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

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