Monday, March 21, 2011

Oh, to be an editor

I have a friend who was writing a column for a city newspaper. I say "wrote," because he has stopped writing the column. I'm not going to reveal the name of the columnist nor the name of the paper that he worked for, but his experience is instructive, not only to people who work in newspapers, but also to people like me who work on proposals.

As a proposal writer, I am responsible for gathering lots of information from many different subject matter experts. My job is to ensure that the final proposal is a single consistent document. At the same time, I need to preserve the main points being made by the subject matter experts - after all, they are experts. This often requires some very careful editing.

My friend submitted his column to the paper, and was very distressed when the article actually appeared. You see, my friend wrote a column on Christian topics, and this particular column included several references to Joseph as the "foster father" of Jesus.

The editor at the paper removed the word "foster," thus referring to Joseph as the father of Jesus.

Now even if you're not a Christian, you probably realize that this edit dramatically changes the substance of the column. It is a basic point of Christian doctrine that Jesus is the Son of God. Therefore, to change references to Joseph from "foster father" to "father" not only shortens the column by a few words, but also caused some rather unorthodox statements to be issued under my friend's name.

Of course, some people claim that editors themselves are gods. Or at least that editors were gods, once upon a time.

And now (and my friend, who is not Lutheran, will cringe here) I must ask the question, "What does this mean?" It means that, in my ideal world, an editor and a writer should work together to reach a common understanding on issues that an editor will raise regarding a writer's piece. Of course, in the ideal world there are no deadlines, and perhaps the editor of my friend's piece only had five minutes to get the article to press. We may never know, but I do know that one city paper has lost one columnist over the incident.

P.S. Yes, I've been absent from blogging for a while. For an explanation, see the posts that will appear in my Empoprise-MU music blog on Monday, March 21 and Tuesday, March 22.

P.P.S. And yes, I'm going to urge my friend to start blogging.
blog comments powered by Disqus