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Has anyone ever REALLY worked with you?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by McNulty, May 17, 2008.

  1. McNulty

    McNulty New Member

    I have always felt that the best writers are often the ones who were lucky enough to stumble into a situation where they had a great editor.

    Recently, I submitted a story on spec to an alternative weekly. The editor emailed me back saying he liked the concept, but had a lot of questions about both the structure and clarity of the piece.

    And he really took the red pen to the thing (figuratively speaking). I was almost embarrassed by what must have looked like elementary writing to him - if I hadn't been so grateful.

    I'm not a hack by any means. I've won a lot of contests, including APSE, particularly for my feature writing. I study this stuff - Jon Franklin's book, Syd Field's book on screenwriting (just to get different thoughts about storytelling), I pay attention to the structure of both narrative journalist as well as short story and novel writers.

    But I truly have never had an editor really go through my copy relentlessly. Not in college. Not in the professional world. The last time? Probably college English professors. I cannot even imagine how many bad habits I've picked up since then, and had no one to correct them.

    I love my editors in many ways. Great guys. Give me freedom.

    But I don't feel I've ever been developed.

    Is this an industry-wide problem? Or am I just unlucky?
  2. silentbob

    silentbob Member

    It is a problem. The editors (in sports) who can really work on story construction and identify holes in storytelling are few and far between. If I had to guess, I'd say most sports editors don't even know who Jon Franklin is.
  3. funky_mountain

    funky_mountain Active Member

    this is a problem at some papers because often times editors doesn't have the time for the kind of editing some stories require. at some places, editing comes down to quality control -- AP style, words spelled correctly, the basics.

    you shouldn't feel embarrassed. that kind of editing happens to many talented writers, reporters and authors.

    i have been fortunate at two stops. a couple of editors cared about my personal development and the type of stories that ran. another editor, who is very good, wasn't so much interested in my development but wanted quality stories and consequently, my work has improved. at papers, it often times takes a place with the resources to do the kind of editing you are talking about.

    don't worry about the red pen. that's what good editors do. folks like jones and jgmacg can talk more eloquently about the editing process. the more that kind of editing happens, the less you'll see of the red pen. while it's nice to think your copy doesn't need that much work, i'm also grateful that people care enough to make my story read even better.
  4. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    On any 100K or above, you can find someone who'll work with you if you ask. But it's not up to them to tell you what you want to hear if you ask them, they'll tell you the truth as they see it. Also, be aware that on papers where there are daytime assignment editors, there may be territorial issues, so someone else is not going to volunteer, you'll have to approach them and do it very informally.
  5. copperpot

    copperpot Well-Known Member

    It's definitely a problem, and not just in sports, in my experience. I actually had something happen to me that was similar to what you describe. I landed a freelance gig with an in-flight magazine, and I was kind of shocked at all of the suggestions the editor had -- but also grateful she didn't just rubber stamp it.

    That said, I was blessed at my first job to have an editor who took his job very seriously, and would give the greatest, most in-depth reviews. Even though there would invariably be things I could work on, he made sure to point out the good things, too, and it was always productive and, dare I say, enjoyable.
  6. Tom Petty

    Tom Petty Guest

    when i was young, i had a freakin' awesome writer who saw a bit of potential and gave me loads of his time. all these years later, the time he spent with me influences my approach to this business ... and he's still winning apses.
  7. forever_town

    forever_town Well-Known Member

    I've had someone supposedly below me in the food chain (I was actually his editor) who could give me concrete ways to improve my stuff, be it a news story or opinion column. In fact, I kept an e-mail in which he ripped one of my columns a new one. In fact, I ended up spiking that column completely as a result of his feedback.

    I don't get a chance to get that kind of detailed feedback at my shop because I'm THE editor. And as someone with relatively little experience, it's daunting on those days when I'm unsure if I've noticed everything I need to about other people's writing OR my own.

    Having said that, I try to provide detailed feedback to my student writers whenever possible. At a weekly, I often have a little more time to go beyond the cursory edit, but usually, if I don't have the time to do so immediately, I'll send the e-mail after the paper's been put to bed.

    Earlier on (actually, when I was writing for a *FAN* Web site), I had an editor who took an interest in my work. In fact, he scrubbed a gamer I wrote, asking me to write more of an analysis piece. He also said he would edit me more aggressively than his other writers, explaining it was because "I think you're the best writer I edit." That made a huge impression on me. I like to think I paid that debt back by doing the same with one of my better student writers some years down the line.
  8. ServeItUp

    ServeItUp Active Member

    Never. I had a couple of editors who would occasionally spend some time with me and my stuff but for the most part, I've been laissez-faired into complacency, to the point where I'm now working on the desk, taking the time work with our young'uns in a way few bothered to do with me. Still, I miss writing and I occasinally get the chance to do so. I know my copy needs work, but few editors have bothered to take the time to work with me, even though I've asked for help repeatedly.

    100K and above, Frank? You mean the papers where I've tried desperately to hire on for 10 years, only to be told I "need more experience at a larger paper?" Or the ones where veteran writers are bottom-lined out of the business? I'd seek out whatever instruction I could find if they'd have me, but it's hard to motivate myself given the glass wall/ceiling I've found.
  9. McNulty

    McNulty New Member

    What I'm saying is that I feel like that's all I've ever had - people who tell me what I want to hear. Because I think most of the editors I've ever had have been mostly good organizers of a department, not necessarily ruthless writing and reporting coaches.
  10. fremont

    fremont Member

    At one time, yes, and without it I would basically be another hack. As it's been put to me by several other people, I have a natural skill for writing and telling a story. But that in itself only gets you so far. My writing back in the day was raw. I can pull up a few old issues with my stuff, look and think "what in hell was I thinking." Everything you produce looks dated and "damn I could've done better" - but you get that feeling only in time and after you have, in fact, gotten better. Having someone go over your stuff and let you know how to get better is great. When I was starting out, the managing editor took a lot of time with me and the other writers (we averaged maybe 24 years old, and I was 18), told me exactly what I needed to do and it helped tremendously. Unfortunately he didn't last long there.
  11. This is my little tin drum in newspapers.
    They do a loust job identifying, nurturing, and training skilled editors. Half the time, people become editors because the drones above believe that it's a promotion from being a writer, instead of a radically different skill set. So you wind up losing a good writer and gaining a mediocre editor.
  12. Frank_Ridgeway

    Frank_Ridgeway Well-Known Member

    Below a certain size, you are going to find that people don't have the time or (sometimes) the experience to help you. They're busy on large papers, too, but can make the time for you, if asked.

    So, what? Did you want an honest reply or someone to blow sunshine up your ass?
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