MY TURN: Once a publisher, always an editor in rewrite terms


The position of editor has been described as the best job in the world for a person with insatiable curiosity and a short attention span.

Although editors are generally respected, often romanticized, and at times talented, they almost are never loved.

This is based on the fact that there has never been a newspaper or magazine writer who hasn’t had a prized story hacked, butchered, or otherwise maimed by a rewrite person determined to “improve” the piece. It matters not, of course, that the article probably was elevated to new heights, for writers live on their pride.

My first editor was a man I better knew as Dear Old Dad, a gifted writer who displayed his way with words for many years in various newspaper venues. His editorial pen sharpened many a school composition, adding a certain luster to his son’s otherwise lackluster effort.

Editor No. 2 came in the form of a father-in-law, another wordsmith with an uncanny knack of making sensible semblance of another writer’s manic

It wasn’t long before he decided the best way to teach this new dog some old tricks was to anoint the struggling son-in-law as an “Editor-in-the-Raw,” giving him the joy of working with writers in the rough.

Such a baptism is a surefire way to reach editorial manhood, although it’s certain to test a publisher’s sainthood.

That first issue as Editor-in-Chief gained Guinness fame for the most frequent misspellings of a time-honored local name, “Finkbeiner.”

The editorial egghead moved on to the “Weidmayer” clan in the next week’s edition, raising the ire of what seemed like half the subscribers.

By week three it was time to accelerate the march to self-destruction, taking an editorial dig or two at the school establishment for perceived free-spending ways.

At the end of week four, the publisher knew it was time to escort the editor to the bakery, the newspaper’s cross-the-street outpost where many weighty hiring-firing decisions were made.

A doughnut here, a word to the wise there, and suddenly we were on the same wavelength.

Over the years it was a communication course at times interrupted, yet I seldom lost sight of the newspaper’s unspoken mission: To let the stories unfold for a community’s edification.

Recently, before COVID-19 became part of our daily lexicon, I caught up with a former newspaper colleague whose late father may have written the book on small town journalism, which on account of the 24/7 digital news cycle has practically vanished from the newspaper map.

His father was a master at weekly newspapering, serving as an editor, a publisher, a reporter, photographer, advertising salesman, ad compositor, pressman, and a bill collector. Seemingly all at once.

He had pasted up pages, opaqued negatives, stuffed papers, sold subscriptions, attended too many civic events and meetings, tolerated favor-seeking politicians and well-wishers, and taken verbal abuse for misspelling a name and editing copy about a vitally important service club luncheon.

Several years into my newspaper career, he took me aside for a few minutes of mentoring.

“Have you ever been late for dinner?” he asked. “Forgotten a family birthday? Gone to the wrong house for a picture? Arrived a day late for a meeting? Put the wrong caption under a picture? Sold advertising knowing that you won’t be paid? Walked around at night wondering why you’re in this business?

“When you can answer ‘yes’ to each of those questions, then you will be knocking on the door to success,” he said gruffly.

So while he never walked in the Washington circles of Ben Bradlee, he was every bit the newspaper titan. May he rest in newspaper peace.