I had a lot of editors over the years, some good, some bad, some scared, some incompetent, some patronizing, some funny, some pretty good with words, some in over their head.
I must tread carefully here. I do not mean to make fun of any of these editors; they were most, with few exceptions, hard-working and dedicated to journalism. They worked long hours. They got no glory; the job of an editor is to make someone else's work better, and then stand back and let them take the praise. (And if there is criticism, the editor is right there to accept blame.)
But I did not always see eye-to-eye with them. The truth is, I hate being edited. I hate it. I work hard at my writing, and I have high standards. If something needs to be changed, I would rather do it myself than have someone else insert his pacing or rhythm into my creation.
I realize this makes me a diva. I realize that sometimes editors just have to dig in and fix stuff on the fly, and while it might not be perfect, there's a deadline to make. (I realize this very well, since I have been an editor myself for 15 years, and I am constantly doing this to other people's work.)
My first editor was a round man with gray hair and a mellow attitude. He was my boss for about four years while I covered the Iron Range and northwestern Wisconsin. His idea of a story was not always my idea of a story, but I was just learning and he'd been in the business for 35 years, and so I kept my mouth shut and did as I was told.
A couple of times a week, he ripped lame feature stories out of the weekly papers and lumbered over to my desk and told me to do the same story. I once had to drive to Virginia, Minnesota, up on the Iron Range, to write about a retiree who made miniature decorative metal chairs out of old toasters; everyone for miles around knew that if they had a broken old toaster, give it to Nick. Nick could use it. Nick could make something out of it!
The guy's apartment was full of these chairs; every available inch of space--bookcases, tables, the top of the TV--was covered with small, shiny tin chairs with curlicued arm rests and tiny cushions cut from old velvet drapes that he had bought at Goodwill.
Once I had to write about a family that put up a birch tree at Christmas instead of a pine tree. And once--I'm not kidding--he assigned me to go interview an Iron Range businessman and find out if he was a member of the Mafia. ("He says he's not," was pretty much all I was able to find out, after driving to the Range and interviewing the guy in a closed cafe, where I was basically pinned into the booth by two silent thugs.)
My friend Katy, who also worked for this editor, had to write a story about a guy who owned a really old parrot. And then when the parrot died, she had to write its obit.
Mostly, this editor and I co-existed just fine. I rolled my eyes at some of his assignments, but I also loved getting out of the office, checking out a staff car, and heading north for the day with one of the colorful photographers. On road trips, lunch was always on the company. It just didn't get any better than that.
(Favorite place to eat: Range Catering in Virginia. The sign outside read, "Breakfasts, and Meals.")
One November, my editor assigned me a follow on some routine local election in northern Wisconsin. Despite my best efforts to make the story sing--you will never, ever, ever hear the phrase "quick and dirty" out of me--he apparently thought the top of the story needed some work. He made some changes, and he sent it on.
The next day, the copy chief stopped by my desk. "I saved your butt on that lede," he said.
What do you mean? I asked.
"Your lede," he said. "It said, This wasn't just an ordinary slam, bam, thank-you-ma'am election. Don't you know what that means?"
I went pale. I didn't write that! I said.
The copy chief walked off, laughing.
Holy mother of god. My editor had written that! And under my byline! Thank god for the copy desk. Had I ever said anything bad about copy editors? If so, I took it all back, right then and there.
A NOTE ON THE PHOTO: On assignment for my editor, playing paintball in northern Wisconsin. Not only did I lose, but I ended up with serious bruises all over my butt and legs.
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