When editing one of my student’s stories last week, I rearranged the sentences in a paragraph to make it clearer. Or so I thought. Knowing that some editor’s changes are really just fiddling around, I left a note explaining what I did, and added: “We can change it back, if you like.”
She responded: “As for the sentence rearrangement in the intro, I’ll do whatever you think is best. You’ve been doing this a lot longer than I have.”
True, but many times that simply means I’m older. (A lot older, but that’s irrelevant.)
My response to her: “I’m going to teach you two lessons right here and this alone will be the worth of the semester:
“First, editors aren’t always right. I’d say, maybe 75 percent of the time with the good ones. If you get one who thinks he — they’re almost always male — is right 100 percent of the time, start looking for a new job because he’s an asshole and will eventually treat you poorly. You want an editor who will listen to you.
“Second, as you know, I teach that intelligent readers react differently to a story. Neither is wrong. They just have differing viewpoints and appreciations. So, you could be right in how you wrote a phrase or a sentence or a paragraph or a story. If you like what you have, say so. If I feel strongly that you’re wrong, I’ll tell you and we’ll talk it out. But it’s your story, not mine. Your name goes on it and I want you to be proud of it.
“This isn’t just me. This really is the way of the world in journalism. At least with good editors.”