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Jones and Pierce and my slight disagreement

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by SF_Express, Mar 8, 2011.

  1. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    This is Charles Pierce talking to Chris Jones. I can't find it on the site anywhere currently:


    Charlie goes off on a note about how writers make lousy editors. Because I think I'm a decent editor, if I buy into that thinking, I was a lousy writer, which could be true, but I don't think so. Reporting, not so much. Pushing a noun against a verb -- I wish I could remember the movie right this second (wait, Inherit the Wind) -- I think I learned to do pretty well.

    And obviously, nothing is absolutes. But ...

    I think there are some decent editors who once wrote, and the reason they're pretty good is BECAUSE they once wrote.

    If you think about it, what's the other complaint you hear a lot about editors from writers: He was never a writer, so how does he know what it's all about?

    So I think having been a writer can make some editors better at it, because they are coming at it with some first person knowledge of the process.

    This is a slap-dash post on the way to a teeth cleaning, so sorry if it's substandard.

  2. LongTimeListener

    LongTimeListener Well-Known Member

    I agree with Pierce's point, not based on word ability but on personality. Writers are often, maybe even predominantly, the lone-wolf types. They work odd hours, they have energy patterns that border on the manic, and so many of them thrive on getting up in someone's face and getting confrontational, which can cause hurt feelings but yields the best information. Writers are also intensely personal and protective of their work, often adhering to a standard they've created in their head rather than any objective measure of how the majority of the world might see something. "Good enough for this edition" is something a lot of writers struggle with, and it is after all their name up there.

    All of those traits are helpful, and some of them are necessary, to being a good writer. They work horribly as traits for editors, though, both in communicating with an individual writer and managing an entire staff. You can't be a lone wolf in the office.
  3. Michael_ Gee

    Michael_ Gee Well-Known Member

    Dear SFE: At the Boston Phoenix, where Charles and I both worked in the 1980s, there were several editors who were excellent writers and proved it on many occasions in print. But they were primarily editors and had been trained and employed as editors first. We also had an excellent reporter who became a very poor editor, but that was because of his nonexistent management skills, not editing skills per se.
    I think I was a reasonably proficient writer, and I know I'd make a very poor editor. But I think Charlie's point was that if you've been a writer for a long time, it's really hard to become an editor. I'm not sure he meant that the reverse was true, too.
  4. Azrael

    Azrael Well-Known Member

    This is what he said.

    One thing that drives me crazy, and this is especially true in newspapers, is the notion that you should take your best writer and "promote" him to be an editor. This is idiotic, and it happens all the time, and nine times out of ten you lose a good writer and end up with a mediocre editor. You can no more "promote" a writer to be an editor than you can "promote" a plumber to be a gardener. Totally different skill sets. Just to use one example—I am the world's worst editor. Every change I make in a piece of copy makes the piece sound like I wrote it, and we all know how popular that phenomenon is with writers. The ability to work within a writer's voice while leaving no fingerprints is a talent as far beyond me as landscape painting is. In between counting beans and worrying about the Internet, the people who run America's newspapers should get off their ass, identify their best young editors, and train them AS EDITORS
  5. shockey

    shockey Active Member

    Can only speak from personal experience but the best editors of my stories/columns have always been editors or became one after deciding that writing wasn't their thang.

    the WORST editors the former writers who wish they were still writing.

    deing a good editor and being a good writer are two separate skiils. my experience is that few are both. it's similar to the best managers/coaches almost never being great players, isn't it?

    writers who resist editing on the premise that, 'what they know? they never wrote' is as insulting as when a player dismisses us with, 'ah, you never played the game.'
  6. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    As noted by everybody, some good points. If you're an editor who wishes you were still a writer, right, isn't going to work. And taking your best writer and moving into editing is dumb, too.

    I guess it's just a question of how the writer-turned-editor got there, and whether he or she wants to be there.

    And LTL, there are some lone-wolf writers, but there are probably those who have the personality to edit, too -- but maybe the point is, if they have the right personality to write, they'd still be doing it.
  7. Versatile

    Versatile Active Member

    I think you really twisted Pierce's premise into an obvious falsehood. David Remnick seems to be doing pretty well as an editor, for one.
  8. Editude

    Editude Active Member

    I was a pretty decent writer who transitioned to editing for personal reasons, and while that has worked out well, I still enjoy crafting teasers, sked lines and blurbs as a form of writing. I keep thinking that writing preps in a small town would be a rewarding (while low paying) way to come full circle.
  9. imjustagirl

    imjustagirl Active Member

    I'm terrible at both.
  10. DanOregon

    DanOregon Well-Known Member

    I agree with the idea. I don't think he was using "writer" in a broad sense, but as people whose strength is writing, as opposed to reporting.
    Writers have certain personalities, editors do too.
    Promoting a writer to an editor slot not only takes away a good writer, but also might cost you a decent editor.
  11. YankeeFan

    YankeeFan Well-Known Member

    Having no experience in the matter, this statement makes perfect sense to me.
  12. SF_Express

    SF_Express Active Member

    Geez, I hope my intent didn't come off as sinister as all that. Just a discussion, I thought.
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