Monday, September 14, 2009

In need of a good editor

If you've been a writer long enough odds are you've wanted to kill an editor at some point.

From my time with the Muse right up until my last job, there have been times when I've looked at copy I've written which has been altered and homicide has raced through my mind. Any number of times parents, former girlfriends and Cathy have seen that look - that someone fucked around with my copy, made things worse and now clearly I was going to have to kill somebody.

It's been all sorts of things...quotes altered, pull quotes used that gave disproportionate weight to what someone said, changes to paragraphs that made them nonsensical, photo spreads fucked with, changes to copy so that it resembled how the editor would have written the story had I not been around and useless changes made just so some editor can say they did their job. They didn't do their job well by improving the copy, but they changed it in some way to justify their existence, so that's just as good.

Oh yes, just evilness all the way around. I'm not so vain as to think what I've written is gold. The frustrating thing is there have also been any number of times when editors have saved my ass. Boneheaded grammatical and typing errors, libelous statements, paragraphs that were not as clear as they should have been, crap photos that did nothing but occupy space on a page.

So yes, I understand editors are a necessary evil, I really do. My favourite story of an editor saving my ass came with The Express. I'd written a column celebrating the news that my old high school was being closed. To say that I hated my time with Booth Memorial would be an understatement. If it burned to ground, firemen would have found me dancing in the smouldering rubble, rubbing ash over my naked body, cackling madly. That's how much I hated Booth.

So I wrote a column saying good fucking riddance, let me know when they're selling tickets on blowing it up with demolition explosives, I'll buy them all. Or at least that's what was printed in the paper. The original draft might have contained suggestions that, oh, perhaps a perimeter of barb wire should be put around the school and the grounds laced with landmines just to make sure no one got out.

The editor called me into the office.

"This is funny, but a little over the top. You might want to cut this bit."

"No, it's funny and honest. It needs to stay in."

"Not unless you wanted to be lynched at high noon on their school grounds. Cut it."

And so on and so forth. Eventually, with much anger and resentment, I cut the offending paragraphs. As it stands the column was so hated at Booth that the principal called the publisher and demanded my head, a chunk of the student body wrote letters to the editor informing me I was an asshole and my heritage of a dubious background. Also, a couple of former teachers got a hold of me, personally hurt that I hated them so much.

I can only imagine what would have happened if the original draft had been printed. My ass may very well have been canned if it had seen print.

All of this is to say that editors have their purpose. I hate the useless ones, but good ones will save your ass day in, day out.

There are times when I wished I had one for this blog so that I would not make some of the stupid mistakes that I make. And not just the grammatical goofs that I know happen here, but the ones that could actually hurt someone.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a blog post endorsing Simon Lono in his bid to win a councillor-at-large seat on St. John's City Council. Simon's a good guy, smart as a whip and a friend. I hoped the residence of St. John's might make one of those rare leaps in logic when it comes to city politics and elect someone who would good at the job.

If I had just written that, it would have been good enough. It would have been fine. But no, I had to be clever. I had to throw in the story about how I voted in the last election even though I wasn't living in St. John's the last time. Any editor even remotely on the ball would have looked at that blog post and went "nice endorsement and all, but why don't you kill the bit on voting in the last election." And then I would have looked at it again and went, "yeah, that's probably for the best" and would have killed that section.

But I didn't. And Simon, because he is a good guy, linked to that post on his blog. Because hey, he was proud and happy that I said nice things about him. I doubt he was under any illusions that it was going to bring him votes, but he linked it anyway, which I thought was both amusing and cool.

Except today, in a story in The Telegram about candidates using technology in the municipal election, someone pointed out that Simon's character was obviously flawed and showed a lack of judgment because he linked to a person who may have committed electoral fraud. And then the anonymous hacks started jumping on it.

I honestly feel terrible right now. If Simon were, God forbid, to lose by a handful of votes I'm going to feel awful for a very, very long time. Because that was a stupid thing I wrote. Any decent editor would have spotted that.

I will say one thing, though. If Satan ever wants to reorganize the Inferno, then I hope he puts aside a spot in one of the rings for chickenshit assholes who rip people on news websites and don't have even the smallest amounts of courage to sign their real name to it.

That said, I'm still feeling pretty bad. I've told Simon if he wants to pull the link, I completely understand. If nothing else, I need to start checking my copy closer before hitting the "publish post" button.

Last Five
All from Hunter, Hunter by Amelia Curran


Edward G. Hollett said...


It's understandable you are upset by this but don't let the small minded turds get you down.

That's what they want. That's why they did it in the first place and you know that neither of the two people who attacked Simon had any intention of voting for him or being fair to him. Causing is strife is all they know.

They are motivated by fear themselves, of course.

Simon frightens them because he is everything they are not. He is articulate, generous of himself and his spirit. He is motivated to make things better and he identifies small minded bullshit for what it is.

They fear him.

Simon scares them shitless.

They are cowards.

But they are also ineffective.

They can only make their petty comments in a post on the Telegram website.

Big deal.

Fortunately they do not represent the majority. Most people in St. John's are decent, fair-minded and open minded people.

Simon's on track and with some extra hard work he should win. And if he doesn't, it won't be because of anything you said or did.

That is, unless you don;t work the phones to all your friends and family and make sure they vote for a decent, hard working guy we need on council.

WJM said...

Voter irregularities in St. John's, where they mail out ballots by the tens of thousands, and where you can go on-line and "consult" the virtual voters list, making "corrections" if need be?


Jon said...

Maybe you could just tell the truth... you're actually still living in Wedgewood Park and the whole northern blogger thing is just a hoax! No one is interested in facts anyways...


p.s. I'm an editor. Wouldn't you just have guessed.

SRD said...

That's the least of the electoral fraud in St John's - anyone remotely involved in elections there can give you a list a mile long. Most of it is gross and in your face corruption, but probably the real damage is the little old biddies who get a different result everytime they count the ballots....(We can talk later about why Editors are good kind people who turn gibberish into english - I finally remonstrated with a guy I've been editing and said 'you know, we expect people educated in and working in english-language institutions to be able to write English. He replied 'yeah, but I'm from Canada'...)

SRD said...

Further thoughts: I don't see how voting, when you are on the electoral register, can be fraudulent. In a national election, it would be fraudulent to be on the electoral register in two different places and vote in both. But if you weren't on the register in your new home, but had been legitimately registered when you left, then I think it must be legal.

babe in boyland said...

we have a voting system in st john's that allows for all kinds of dodgy voting, bulk mail voting even, and YOUR one vote is what these guys make noise about? what about re-establishing a system that protects ballot integrity?

towniebastard said...

Thank you one and all. And especially you, Sara. Leave it to you to find a perfectly acceptable and logical reason why it was all right for me to vote in that election.