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Dealing with an unaggressive editor

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by Cousin Mose, Nov 16, 2007.

  1. Cousin Mose

    Cousin Mose New Member

    My editor is a nice guy who is a joy to work for in a lot of ways.

    But often, I worry that I'm not developing as a writer/reporter under him.

    He seems to hate enterprise, making a quizzical look any time I suggest anything that doesn't fit into the preview-game story-player feature paradigm of sports journalism.

    And you can tell he gets very squimish about taking on any local institutions - anything that would ruffle feathers or even require some investigative elbow grease. He seems to think that's a waste of time.

    Is this a common attitude in sports? And how do you overcome it?

    I have a feeling the answer is that you have to work on some of this stuff in your own time, but it gets discouraging. I'm starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn't pursue a switch to news, where the people seem to have a different attitude toward what journalism is. At my place at least, it seems that the sports bigwigs look at it as taking what the teams spoon feed you and polishing it up real pretty.
  2. wickedwritah

    wickedwritah Guest

    Go to your top news side guy and tell him that you want to pitch an investigative story, sports-related, for page 1. Couldn't hurt.
  3. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    You may be assuming that the editor doesn't want to do those kinds of stories.

    Maybe he would love to have them but fears more than if you are out on some wild-goose chase, the nuts and bolts stories you need to put out the section won't get done.

    Not sure what you are pitching, but if you have a great story that you want to do, I would spell it out in a note or email and include how and when you would work on it and how the other stories would get done and cc a copy to his boss.
  4. Wow, this sounds like an editor I know.

    I think Ace might be right. You're not being specific, probably on purpose, but it could be that the editor feels as if he just can't afford to send you off on any non-essential story.

    I happen to think that's a really bad idea. Enterprise is the key to extending whatever dim future newspapers have. I'd like to think I'm in the majority when I say I'd rather read one memorable news-feature than 10, or 20, or 100 game stories. But game stories are safe, because they are on a schedule (and they also can be photographed).

    Taking your enterprise story to the news editor is not a bad idea, but I'd run it first through your supervisor. I once worked for an editor who put reporters in a special place in Hell for going over his head. Good luck.
  5. Beach_Bum

    Beach_Bum Member

    going over your editor's head is a very, very bad move.
  6. Ace

    Ace Well-Known Member

    Agreed, but you can be clever and subtle.

    Wrong: "Editor Guy, you wouldn't let me write the story about crappy food in school cafeterias so I pitched the story to Boss Editor and he wants to see you in his office."

    May work: "Hey, Editor Guy, remember that story about school cafeteria food I was talking to you about last week? It was just joking with Boss Editor in the lunchroom about the food and he says his son got sick from eating at school. I brought up the idea we were kicking around, and he wants it for A1 next week."
  7. Kaylee

    Kaylee Member

    Building on that...

    There's a misconception among some that the SE is the lone source of information or input within a sports department. That's shortsighted.

    Sports departments can be notoriously clubby...something I can't stand. News-siders can be an invaluable resource to someone in sports who wants to break out of the usual routine of advances and gamers. Sometimes they can give you a fresh perspective, or even hints and tips on how to best pitch a story to one's supervisor.

    The best sports stories that I've ever written - granted, that's not saying much - were looked at by friends on news-side. I'm now pretty much convinced that hanging out in sports, talking only with people from sports and discussing ideas only with sports people can severely cap a writer's development. You don't have to work news-side...just have an ongoing professional dialogue.

    And Mose, regarding your SE: I would also strongly advise not going over his head. I would, however, considering looking at things from his perspective. His job is to crank out a section day after day, and I'm sure he has a boss that doesn't like to see overtime on employee time cards. If he has a concern that doing enterprise stuff would eat into your time management, I'm sure it's perfectly reasonable. You're likely going to have to prove you can handle several things at once. I would suggest asking him what his idea of a reasonable extra workload is, starting there, and then slowly building his trust so he can let you do The Big Center Package.

    Enterprise and investigative pieces take up scads of company time that a SE has to sign off on. Therefore, there has to be some trust built up, and that takes time.
  8. Cousin Mose

    Cousin Mose New Member

    Thanks for the constructive responses, guys. I really 100 percent expected to be bashed as some snot-nosed know-it-all who needs to open his ears and shut his mouth, etc., etc., etc.

    I'm pretty even-tempered and actually quite humble when it comes to my abilities. I just always have a desire to go even deeper. I think it's because I fell in love with John Feinstein's books and other non-sports examples of immersion journalism.

    It seems my editor wants to protect me from working hard, which I guess is a problem a lot of people would love to have. But he takes it too far.

    I don't even tell him that I tape and rewatch the games of the team I cover, because when I let that slip one time he thought it was this colossal waste of time on my part. It's a little obsessive, I know, but I always see and learn things that I didn't know before. I mean, I was the kid who recopied his notes from class in high school and college just because it helped me commit them to memory and "own" the material.
  9. dragonfly

    dragonfly Member

    OK Mose, that last part is weird. Don't tell people that :)

    I can totally relate to your problem. I have the same issue at my shop. I've been finding a lot of ways around it though.

    1. Go to an assistant sports editor and ask them what they think, and if they could mention it to a news editor. The ASE is usually ambitious, and if the idea is good, he gets to take credit for it so let him do your bidding.

    2. Like some of the other posters said, go hang out with the folks in news, talk about it with some reporters over there and let an editor accidentally hear you say it.

    3. Do the project on your own time without telling your SE until you have a lot of it done already. Then, when you tell him, downplay the amount of time you spent. Make it seem like all the research was just screwing around on the internet and making a couple calls.

    I have and have had several bosses like yours. It's not a dead end. The key is to find other editors to learn from. Several of the editors in news have really helped me with my writing. The stories I do for A1 have to be bright and tight. No spare words at all. I find it to be a good writing exercise.

    Good luck!
  10. Blitz

    Blitz Active Member

    See, that's perhaps the eternally worst problem in this biz. Sometimes there is no alternative.
    And when I did go "above" once, a managing editor had nothing but lip service for me and a fellow writer.
    Our section continued to be unaggressive. (Except for all the great stories I wrote and somehow got published, of course) :)
    Seriously, you need to go to the editor him(or her)self and talk one-on-one.
    Explain your concerns.
    Try that first
  11. NoOneLikesUs

    NoOneLikesUs Active Member

    This last part makes me think you are batshit insane.
  12. patchs

    patchs Active Member

    I had an "aggressive" writer. He was a pain in the ass.
    One time, we had a couple of HS football players who, while on their way to a all-star game practice, hit a wild boar with their car.
    My writer thought this was a huge story. He drove out to the rural area and knocked on doors trying to find the boar.
    Then he was going to do a Plimpton-type piece at a pro baseball tryout. He tells me he wants to drive 300 miles round trip to his old college to borrow a team uniform.
    Again, I thought it was a waste of time.
    But, after seeing the final product (we did a photo page), he was right, and I told him.
    We both wanted to put out a great section but we had different ways of achieving it.
    As the editor, for the three years we worked together, I tried to understand where he was coming from and we worked it out.
    You have to communicate, show respect and compromise.
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