Learning From Editors (part two)...

We were still adventuring when I hired on at the newspaper. University days were long over, we had found our calling and discovered our gifts, and we were still headed for the mission field. Not just any mission field. We had our hearts set on the Pacific Islands… any of which that could be found along the Pacific Rim. There had to be ocean, there had to be wilderness, and there had to be boats. Especially boats.

We were living aboard a forty-three foot sailboat when we pulled into a remote little town on the Oregon coast and decided to stay for a while. The newspaper business proved much different than magazines. Newspapers are not enterprises they are organisms. They are the pulse and beat of a place, and a good one will not miss any pulses or beats. You especially do not miss deadlines. Even if it means working twenty-four hours straight. If you can’t do it in twenty-four hours, others will step in to help you: but if that happens too much, you’ll get fired. You can get fired for other things, too.

My new editor and I had a tumultuous relationship. Which was mostly my fault. Looking back on it, I must say I am amazed at how much patience he had, considering he was the one that got called on the carpet for any of the mistakes I made. Things like leaving the soda out of the recipe for Irish soda bread in the Coastal Cooking column. Or asking subversive questions in the public opinion polls that generated hostile calls to the publisher from half the town. Or having to buy air time at the radio station because I got the date wrong for when all our senior citizens would be bussed up north two hours for free flu shots... all of these he bailed me out of and forgave me for.

But he never forgave my being biased. Such as when a revolutionary from Nicaragua came through town to raise money and I was sent to cover the speech. I had no right to persuade people in the man’s favor, he said. But if an issue was clearly black and white, I argued, wasn’t it our duty to support the white? Especially if the black side failed to even show up at the event?


Well then, if something pretty darn lousy was going on in town, weren’t we obligated by our integrity to expose it to the citizens – whether it "fit in" with our publishing philosophies or not?


How about if you knew a dangerous crime was eminent because of something you became privy to during an interview? Were you not more than obligated to report it to the police?


I had too many "scruples" to be a good reporter.

After having to kill too many articles that I would not budge on, I got demoted to the entertainment section. After writing a scathing review of James Michener’s latest book (it was anti-American -- for goodness sake – was no one supposed to mention that?), I was hauled by the collar into the publisher’s office to face the music myself this time. After which I was relegated to advertising for the duration. I did have one consolation out of the entire newspaper experience, however.

While I was dutifully sitting in the composing room, making up slogans for this week’s special on vegetables down at the local market, a buzz went around the room that THE EDITOR was making the long walk down from his office just to see me. Uh-oh. I hadn’t written anything subversive in weeks. What could he possibly –

He sat down on my desk that was littered with grocery coupon memos and clipart suggestions for various food items. "That little article you wrote for the Fourth of July special edition -- the one about the rights of every American?"

"Well, if you think I should I have expanded it to include Hispanics, Asians, or even Middle Eastern--"

"I think it was the best thing ever written for this newspaper. I’m going to put it on the front page."

Did that get me out of the advertising department?


But it got me an agent.

What’s happening on the farm today: All that noise yesterday was a new set of double doors leading from the living room into the curiosity room. Finishing touches wrapping things up this afternoon. Such loveliness! The word "art" can encompass so many forms.

Habit status: Day 14. Round 2 is over. It is no longer a question of habit now, but whether or not it has any relative value to our craft. Thus we will devote one round to a value meter, and then… the end.

No comments: