Thursday, 30 October 2008

Brand or bland? The editor’s decision is final

Thanks to Messrs Brand and Ross for knocking the Credit Crunch out of the headlines for a day or two (though I’m already bored of their story too). I don’t want to comment on the detail of the incident, but I do want to talk about the editor’s role in the palaver.

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Kelvin McKenzie actually said something sensible (on Today, R4) this morning: it’s the decision of the editor – or more specifically, the editor’s line managers – that should be called to question.

I'm not saying they should be sacked, suspended or anything else, but I do think that they are the ones who need to be out there justifying their decision, not B&R (although they’ve had the sense and/or PR advice to apologise).

This wasn’t a live show; it was recorded. The editor apparently took the tape to line management for approval and someone somewhere in the chain of command decided to approve it. Now they need to stand up (or 'fess up) for their decision.

Being an editor is a tough job; they don’t tell you that in the careers guidance. But I do try to tell would-be editors that, when I get the chance. You need to be thick-skinned, and you need to be able to stick to your guns if necessary, but you also need to be quick to hold up your hands if you’re wrong. And that’s as true for editors of books and journals as it is for those in charge of national newspapers and radio shows.

On my first outing as a trainer of editors I likened the role to that of Graham Poll, the international footy ref whose error during a World Cup game led to his resignation. This certainly wasn’t the first time GP had made very public errors, but he wasn’t afraid, when necessary, to stand up to international football superstars.

Editors need to do the same. Even if it’s just a simple matter of defending your stance on a grammatical construction, or choice of illustration, or whether or not to publish the damned book at all…

You don’t often hear young people saying “I want to be an editor”, do you? But we’re actually an awful lot more powerful than people realise. Not just the big names in the national press or TV, but right down to the humble freelance book ‘editor’ who wonders whether she should strike out the author’s phrase ‘cradle-land’ and use ‘place of origin’ instead. (Go on – live a little. Let that new word fly!)

Meanwhile, I’m currently being edited myself. It’s a dull technical book I’ve been working on for 9 months; and now that the gestation period is nearly over, the editing process feels nearly as uncomfortable as Braxton Hicks contractions. Having spent 2 hours late last night responding rather tetchily to the editor’s queries, I now realise I need to rein myself in a bit and let the beleaguered editor get on with her job.

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