“The name of the site is WestportNow, not WestportLater.”
That’s something my boss at that time would say to me several times. It was 2005 and I had made the switch from newspaper reporter to web-only reporter, and Gordon Joseloff often would tell me the strength of working on the web was we could be immediate. It was what we all call “real-time news” today.
Gordon was tough. He was old-school and wanted everything a specific way, whether it was having a story up quickly about something that happened in town or making sure my copy was clean (and we often had grammar debates). But he also was respectful, and that made me want to do my best. It’s why I showed up to cover meetings after my night classes for grad school or made sure a story was filed almost immediately after a vote.
A lot has been made about “tough” editors in the days since Jill Abramson was dismissed from the New York Times. People are recalling the editors who made them do ridiculous things, saying those editors made them better at their job. But there’s also a theme to most of those editors: They were bullies and jerks to the reporters.
Then Dean Baquet, who replaced Abramson as the Times editor, basically said we should stop worshiping the nasty editors. It’s something others and I have been thinking.
I’ve had editors who people would describe as “tough.” One of my first editors would edit my copy by hand and pass it back to me and tell me to put in the corrections. A friend, who had been a copy editor, reviewed these things many times and said this boss was being ridiculous with 75 percent of her editing. Plus that editor never did anything to build you back up after she tore you down.
Another editor, who some would say is tough, would make me do ridiculous things. In my first weeks on the job she was unhappy with how the police department allegedly held back a story (they had not). But who was the one who had to make the call to the chief? I felt like the loud conversation (I don’t want to call it a fight) resulted in setting back my relationship with the police for a few weeks. She also tried to deny me the right to eat a meal after I had been on the run for 3/4 of the day. Her boss stepped in and told her she couldn’t deny people lunch. Her treatment almost made me leave journalism.
I look back at those editors, who seemed to do things just to toy with people, not as the ones who shaped me to become the journalist I am. It would be people like Gordon, who was a mentor before I even worked for him. I also had editors I’d ask questions about a story because they always treated me fairly, even if they were tough. And that always made me want to work harder. It got to the point where one such editor would let me leave before he edited my copy. “Your stuff is always good. You can leave.”
And those editors are the example I follow when I’ve been in the editor role. I don’t want to alienate people; I want to make them better. People will call me tough, but I also hope they will say I’m not a jerk about it. I think most would because they’d write me recommendations and some are still friends. It’s proof you can strive for a high standard and not be a jerk on the way to the top.