Moments of Unexpected Outrage: On the Perils of Being “Edited”

Angie's boys looking handsome and environmental are about the only redeeming aspects of this article fiasco.

Angie’s boys looking handsome and environmental are about the only redeeming aspects of this article fiasco.

I thought I was doing a good thing when I told the library director I would write an article about the library’s can collection fundraiser. OF COURSE I wanted to let the public know about a program that benefits the environment AND the library I love. Just for good measure, I interviewed a Boy Scout leader since they also collect cans. As a result, I produced an article that, while it won’t win any Pulitzer prizes, was at least respectable.

Everything was fine at first; a friend donated her sons to pose for a picture to go with the article, and I submitted it in a timely fashion. All was good.

Then it got edited. More specifically, it got “edited.” Although Hell had a fairly easy time competing with my womanish fury before, it’s got a run for its money now.

Why, you ask? I lay my evidence before you. This was my original opening: “Win-win situations are rare in this world, win-win-win situations even more so. Even so, becoming part of one is as easy as making a trip to your local gas station or grocery store. These are among several sites in Augusta where you can dispose of aluminum cans while supporting great causes.”

As I said, this won’t win any literary prizes. (I just realized how close the “even more so” and “even so” are to each other—bad writer! Bad, BAD writer!) However, it’s fine literature compared to how it appeared in the newspaper: “If deals in which both parties win in a deal are uncommon, deals in which three parties win are likely even less common.”

This gem, which seems to be written by a pretentious sixth grader, appears on the front page of the paper, above the fold, directly below the banner, directly under my name. The Augusta community is going to think that I willingly use phrases like “deals in which both parties win in a deal.” I was an English major! I spent years teaching students to avoid redundancy! This is HORRIFYING!

To add insult to an injury I already consider excruciatingly grave, the editor went on to edit out the “of” in “dispose of,” quote marks on a direct quotation, and the final lines of the article. He also printed the article in a double wide column; since I’m paid by the column inch for my free lance writing, I suspect this means I’ll earn half the money I’d normally be paid for the article. Of course, this isn’t a lucrative gig—it may mean I’ll be paid $5 for the article instead of $10—but STILL…

I’d remained silent about last week’s article, in which I described the creation of a native plant garden at the local elementary school. I’d concluded by saying, “Although most of the plants are tiny and unimpressive at the moment, they’ll have become a beautiful source of pride for students and staff alike by the time school resumes in the fall.” Again, not prize-winning literature, but I think it made my point that although the garden doesn’t look like much now (and believe me, it looks like a field of mulch until you get up close to see the miniscule seedlings), it will grow up and fill in by the time school starts again.

Unfortunately, the editor “edited” out the crucial “at the moment,” leaving behind “most of the plants are tiny and unimpressive.” The paragraph now implies that the students will have until fall to resign themselves emotionally to having a crappy school garden. This is ESPECIALLY unfortunate since the plants came through a grant, which I co-wrote, and one condition for the grant was that we show the granting foundation how we publicized the impact of their donation, which means this article will be sent to them. If anyone from the Jimmy F. New Foundation is reading this, WE LOVE YOUR PLANTS! WE DO! DESPITE WHAT THIS ARTICLE IMPLIES, WE’RE GRATEFUL FOR THEM!

I didn’t want to burn any bridges with the editor, but I can hold my peace no longer. I’m so embarrassed about having my name attached to these articles that I want at least some small fraction of the world to know I wasn’t responsible for their final form. (Jane, if you’re reading this, PLEASE tell everyone in the book club and the Friends of the Library my feelings on this subject!)

I’m fully aware that the world is full of injustices much more grave and significant, and once my rant is done, I’ll try to go back to having perspective. But I figured that if ANYONE would have empathy for my “editing” plight, it’s a community of writers.

OK, rant’s done…Back to focusing on the serene and the humorous…Thanks for bearing with me. May the Muse always descend upon you, and may the overzealous editors stay away.

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5 comments

  1. That editor sounds like a real wiener.

  2. sugars12 · · Reply

    “I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.”
    -Mark Twain – Galaxy magazine, December 1870
    Sorry that they hacked up your article, Rebecca. I guess Mr. Twain had the right idea.

    1. Bless you, Jane; I knew YOU would have words of comfort, but it’s a bonus to know that TWAIN has some too! > Date: Sat, 15 Jun 2013 16:06:03 +0000 > To: reharris68@hotmail.com >

  3. I’m extending my sympathy across cyberspace, Rebecca. That wasn’t editing; that was revision, and only the writer has the authority to do that.

    1. Thanks, Traci; I appreciate your empathy. I thought that you, being a woman of letters AND an English teacher, would be in a particular position to feel my pain on this editing/revision issue. I finally got a reply from the editor, and he did NOTHING to placate my wrath. Instead of being at all conciliatory, he claimed that he had changed my term “win-win situations” to “deals in which both parties win in a deal” because his newspaper has the highest standards of objectivity; why the latter is subjective while the former is not, I can’t say. The real kicker, though was this (and I quote): “I’m sorry that I hadn’t been clear that I’ve always demanded the tightest, most concise writing from my writers.” And he WONDERS why most of the newspaper staff has quit since he became editor… Anyway, I’m ashamed that I can’t work up this level of moral outrage over some of the world’s REAL problems, such as hunger, pollution, or rampant corruption in India. (That last one springs to mind because I just read Behind the Beautiful Forevers, which is definitely a book that offers perspective on problems like mine.) I just can’t help feeling almost violated, though, by his egregious changes to my writing. Not to mention that he claims not to see a missing end quote, which he deleted when rearranging one of my direct quotations, when it’s IN THE THIRD PARAGRAPH. ON THE FRONT PAGE. RIGHT BELOW THE BANNER. OK, time to move on… Thanks again for tolerating my rant and extending your empathy. I hope all’s well with you and that you’ve been able to start recovering from the school year by now! –Rebecca

      > Date: Mon, 17 Jun 2013 00:49:01 +0000 > To: reharris68@hotmail.com >

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