I love editors


February 25, 2000


            People don't get it.

            They think my ego is out of control because I don't trust editors.

            I do trust some editors, the sensitive souls, who can see what I'm trying to do with my copy and work towards the same goal, shaping my copy around the form I sought.

            A bad editor, however, can ruin a piece, and make me wish I hadn't tried anything adventurous.

            Over the years, I've had my share of both, those like Michael Richardson who knew how to read my tendencies and shape them into a better work.

            Others -- perhaps because they are writers themselves, rather than editors -- feel the need to justify their existence at editors by rewriting the work to fit their own vision of what the work should be, scrambling the facts, or readjusting them into an order unrecognizable from the original.

            I take a shit fit when this happens. Part of it is an act to make people nervous about changing copy without letting me know, part of it is a declaration of rights, my taking a stand against unwarranted changes.

            I do know the editor has last say in a given situation. But I maintain my right to defend my copy -- provided time allows for it, something for the most part Richardson allowed for, but others do not. Bad editors sometimes feel the need to fiddle with copy, just to prove they did something, feeling that no writer should pass their pen unscathed. Others simply don't recognize creativity or the value of a simplified approach, forcing everything into a lead that maintains the old journalistic adage of the five Ws.

            One copy editor at the newspaper these days actually believes herself a superior writer to the people she edits, proudly calling herself "a wordsmith" during an off moment -- someone with talent, but without sensitivity, whose changes sometimes enhance a piece, yet at other times, complete gut the original intent. She slices and dices without conscience, and worse, without consulting the original creator, so that when the piece appears in print, writers are often shocked at clever recreations that were not theirs, yet bear their names.

            From the first moment of our meeting, I set this editor off, telling her I disagreed with her changes whenever she asked me about them. She has justified this power to change by claiming she has more experience than the people who she edits, but I have yet to figure out what she is experience in, since early on she did not know what basic terms like DPW meant.

            I offended her so badly several times, she threatened to quit over me. The former head editor told me to stay away from her, saying that I did not "suffer idiots well." For the most part, I have kept my distance, registering my complaints about her copy with the new head writer, a former writer who is nearly as clueless to my problems as the copy editor is, both editors believing they had final say in any matter copy.

            And they do.

            I do not dispute that, but I maintain the right to reshape my own work to meet their demands, or at worst, be made aware of the change so I don't have to discover it later in print.

            I have won some ground on this point, though the head editor believes me to be a bit spoiled, missing the fundamental issues involved. Yesterday, when our copy editor started in on another writer, I listened, and then told her to leave the copy alone. If the writer wants the lead a certain way, she should have it that way, I said.

            The copy editor screamed I was crazy, and that I would never get a job with any other newspaper with an attitude like mine, screaming this as the lay out people downstairs pasted up the story about my winning three state journalism awards, a fact that everyone in the news room knew but the copy editor.

            I had no wish to humiliate her. I just want my copy left alone or want consultation over changes. Sometimes a change doesn't matter. Sometimes the editor is right. But sometimes -- and often at important times -- the editor is dead wrong and doesn't even know it.

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