Saturday, March 20, 2010

The best of the best

I'VE SEEN WRITERS who hated editors and editors who felt nothing but disdain for writers. When I worked at a newspaper in the '80s and '90s, all of the writers acted like my job was to answer the phone and tell them that their stories were in. Later when I covered sporting events, they acted stunned that I could do their jobs as well or better than they did.

One writer, a friend of mine at another newspaper, once was talking loudly about how writers had it so badly and how editors had it so easy, how writers had to work hard and editors did nothing. Another friend of mine and I laughed, and we both told him that editors work much harder than writers. We knew.

The sad thing is that my editor-loathing friend soon became a sports editor, and I'm sure he still felt the same about editors. I imagine his copy editors loved him; or not.

I've seen lots of editors who were terrific editors and a few writers who were really good editors. In fact, I've worked with one top-flight sports columnist who is 10 times better than most editors. At least with his own writing.

Some writers say they don't care what mistakes they make; it's the editor's job to fix it. And some editors cut a story to fit and put a headline on it. They don't care if the story's screwed up; if the writers don't care, why should they?

And many writers think it's the editor's job to infect their stories with mistakes. (Sometimes that happens. A friend told me that an editor used spellcheck and changed the names of three people in his story. Something hit the fan the next day.)

I'VE WORKED WITH editors who are bossy, tell you exactly how you should do the story and then yell if you deviate an inch from their orders. And I've worked with editors who offered no suggestions at all. I worked with one guy who always turned my leads into boring mush and two others who kept asking questions long after a story was right. They had to change something.

But every once in a while, there's a great collaboration between editor and writer. Some editors have injected my stories with pertinent information that I didn't know. The stories were often better, and I thanked them. No, I saluted them.

On an occasion or two, editors have saved me from making embarrassing mistakes. Some have praised my work, then told me how I could have done it a little better.

I've worked with pain-in-the-butt editors who kept asking questions, trying to make the story a tiny bit better. It was excruciating, aggravating at the time, but I had to thank them. I was used to these editors cutting my stories to 500 words, no matter what. One surprised me when I wrote a story on a local man who survived D-Day. The editor told me I should add some history on the month-long battle. I did, and the story was nearly 1,000 words. But it was much, much better. I thanked him profusely.

I've often helped other newspaper writers when I was on the desk, and once or twice they've thanked me.

One of the best moments I've seen came when I introduced my wife to a friend. Holly knew that Mike is a writer, and I told Mike that Holly is a copy editor. His response? "Thank you," he said, shaking her hand. Mike, who had been a copy editor for several years, was thanking her for an often thankless job.

I concur. To all of you caring and careful editors, I salute you. You're the best.

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(a book of great stories about the Intimidator)
(the book of great NASCAR stories)

More blog entries by Tom Gillispie

Anecdotes by Tom Gillispie

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