Yesterday I had a little asterisked mini-rant about some sloppy thinking in an article on Slate. Well, today I discover that they’ve printed an article from someone who thinks that editors are narcissistic megalomaniacs who deserve no credit or consideration. I won’t name him (I’ll say why below), but I will say he knows Jack Sh…itt about editors and editing.
I mean this. This guy is offended by the New York Times’ new policy of including an editor credit at the end of a piece. He thinks the NYT is perhaps doing it just to set themselves apart and grab attention. It couldn’t be because it’s a good idea, after all.
There are, of course, in reality, good reasons for including editor credits, especially in a newspaper, where facts are important and it’s worth making clear everyone who touched an article. It’s not somehow saying that the editors are the real heroes; as professional editors well know, there are some writers who need very little work, and others whose information or ideas may be good but whose expression of them is a bit lumpy, but the writer is the one doing the writing and it’s their name on it. It just happens that editors are also part of the process. And they are generally a necessary part. If there were no editors, the content of these newspapers, magazines, and books would simply not be as engaging reading. Some articles would be scarcely different. Others would be jumpy and annoying and sloppy.
But editors are surprised when anyone gives them credit. I know a lot of editors (a lot), and they are the sorts of people who are not in it for the fame. Editors are always surprised and delighted when they actually get credit. I’m not talking about the Tina Brown kind of editor, which is a managing and acquiring editorial role, a big boss-person. I’m talking about the lowly cotton pickers: the substantive editors, the copyeditors, the proofreaders (not three different people usually, by the way). They are in the world of “don’t clap, just throw money.” They know what their role is, and their role is to make the writer’s meaning come across to the reader as effectively as possible. See Are you editor material for more about what kind of person makes a good editor.
But this Slate guy, whom I will call JS for what he knows about editing (see above), somehow doesn’t know this. JS labours under two delusions, one common, the other one almost bizarre.
First, he seems to subscribe to the romanticist, actually narcissist idea of artistic output, where there is the glorious hero and then there are a bunch of little serving people who really just, you know, get in the way by doing dumb things like (in a film) designing the lighting, making the lighting work properly, editing so that things look good and make sense, and otherwise providing the necessaries for the actor to do his thing, and (in a publication) making sure the structure flows well, the sentences aren’t lumpy, the facts are correct, and it all sits well on the page so the reader can get the content without roadblocks and hiccups. Such little non-persons, such nonentities, just practically standing in the way of the Charlie Sheens of this world!
Never mind that without these people the movies you see and the stories you read wouldn’t be there, and with just some of them lacking it still would not be as good an experience. Who gives a darn about them? Why can’t they just shut up already? Why bother showing all those credits on a movie? Writers and actors must be good enough to do it all without any help, and these other people are just parasites. Et cetera. Never mind that most people ignore the credits anyway.
But those of us who are in the real world know that making these things is a cooperative effort. Never once, in all the plays and other performances I’ve been in, have I forgotten that there are technicians who make it possible. And never once, in all the writing I’ve published, have I forgotten that publishing is optimally a cooperative process involving a number of different pairs of eyes and hands to make sure that what comes through is as effective as possible. And it’s worth making people aware of that. Otherwise people have unrealistic ideas basically on par with a belief that food grows in cans.
The more bizarre assertion is that somehow editors are all megalomaniac narcissists. Let me quote: “Let me tell you a thing or two about editors. Most that I’ve known have mistakenly thought they, and not the writers, deserved the credit for all the good pieces that run in their publication and none of the blame for the bad ones.”
WTF?! This is frankly idiotic. I don’t often say things that harshly in my blog, but please refer again to what I wrote above about editors. I really can’t say enough bad things about his presentation of editors. He claims to have been one at some point; he must have been a bad one with a bad attitude. And now he’s a poor excuse for a writer, with an obvious disregard for reality and fact-checking and an apparent narcissistic approach to writing and life in general.
Now, let’s just say for the sake of argument that JS did know some editors who always felt they were the ones who made the stories work. Perhaps they only said that about his stories, because he wasn’t capable of writing something that wouldn’t make sensible people want to flush his head in the toilet. But perhaps his newspaper editor colleagues did engage in that kind of braggadocio. If they did, it would likely be as an antidote to, and as part of the atmosphere of, the arrogance they were getting from people around them like JS. That’s not the usual approach editors take, though.
And saying that that kind of attitude is in itself sufficient reason to sentence them to perpetual anonymity is also necessarily saying that JS, who himself displays just that kind of attitude, should also be perpetually anonymous. I’d go with that – because while what he says about editors is generally about as false as saying that cats are bad because they bark too much, JS in particular is a member of that class of people who seem to think that ignorance, and aggressive ignorance at that, is a sign of superiority.
And that is why I am not bothering to spread his name around. Actually, he should sink beneath the waves, into that den of obscurity that is the deserving final resting place of trolls everywhere. His article has all the intelligence and factual background of a YouTube comment written by a thirteen-year-old.
And shame on Slate for publishing such rubbish.