Why Being A Good Editor Matters

I heard on the radio this morning that Ben Bradlee, Executive Editor of the Washington Post during the Watergate era, turns 93 today.  If you’ve ever seen “All The President’s Men”, you’ll remember Jason Robards’ turn as Mr. Bradlee, which won the actor an Oscar.  At one point in the film, Bradlee raises questions about his reporters’ source for an article, but then realizes that he must trust them to do their job properly.  “I can’t do the reporting for my reporters,” he admits, “which means I have to trust them. And I hate trusting anybody. Run that baby.”  One wonders what Mr. Bradlee thinks of that trust level today, or indeed, what Perry White would think of it.

News that a rare, pristine copy of the first comic book to feature Superman sold for $3.2 million this weekend has generated a substantial amount of media reporting over the last couple of days.  Unfortunately, the rush to report also generated numerous errors in grammar and punctuation, enough to make any high school English teacher go into paroxysms of rage.  At the same time, the hurried storytelling has revealed, once again, that too many news outlets are committing factual errors in the urge to upload.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this piece from MTV News, for example.  Opening with poor verb-subject agreement (“statistics” is plural in this instance, not singular) is not a good omen for what’s to come.  I realize that many of my readers and followers have a problem with my pointing out this sort of thing.  However, errors in grammar and punctuation do make a difference.  This is a fact made all the more apparent when reading a bullet point like this:

4. This debut issue features the first appearance of Superman, alias Clark Kent and Lois Lane.

When you do not put a comma after “Clark Kent”, the headline becomes rather different, as I think you’ll agree.

Then there are the obvious research and reasoning issues with this piece.  For example, the author’s statement about Christopher Reeve being the first to play Superman on the silver screen is simply wrong.  Not only was there a live-action Superman series shown in movie theatres back in the 1940’s, in addition to animated cartoons, but George Reeves played Superman in the first feature film about the character in 1951.

The piece concludes with Reason No. 5 for the price of this very expensive comic book.  The author explains that Superman was originally an orphan, and that neither the Kents nor Kansas were mentioned at first in his mythology.  I’ll choose not to split hairs over the Last Son of Krypton being an orphan, and instead focus on the real problem with this assertion.  It isn’t so much that it could have been phrased better, but the fact that it’s irrelevant to the story.  It’s a bit like saying that a Francis Bacon painting sold for tens of millions of dollars because his last name also happens to be Twitter’s favorite pork product.

Of course, I don’t mean to pick on this individual writer, per se.  The real issue in my mind is whether anyone at MTV News actually does any editing, given that they let this piece be published as-is.  Keep in mind, this is just one, short piece on a pop culture subject, so one has to ask oneself what else are editors at major media outlets allowing to slip past on more serious matters.

Trying to put out a well-written, well-researched story is more important than simply throwing information onto the digital wall as quickly as possible, and hoping that at least some of it sticks.  Without common writing standards, and the enforcement of those standards by editors, writing becomes a kind of free-for-all, in which no one may point out anyone else’s faults.  Yet if you don’t tell me what I’m doing wrong, how am I ever going to get better?

If you write online, you have just as much responsibility to your readers when you hit “publish” as a newspaper or book publisher does.  If you expect your online readers to pay attention to what you’re about to tell them, then you have to be authoritative, and back it up with facts.  You also have to command the language, rather than either allowing language rules to intimidate you, or pretending that they don’t matter when they most certainly do.  Just because blogging is a new form of media, doesn’t mean that you should be allowed to escape the virtual red pen of a good editor.

Clark Kent could have snapped Perry White like a twig, if he wanted to.  Nevertheless, he respected his editor, and followed his orders when it came to writing a story.  Let’s all try to aspire to good writing and good editing in following that example, even if that means being corrected for mistakes, so that we can improve upon the writing powers we already have.

Perry White and Clark Kent by Curt Swan/George Klein  Panel from Action Comics #288 "The Man Who Exposed Superman" (1962)

Panel featuring Perry White and Clark Kent by Curt Swan/George Klein
Action Comics #288 “The Man Who Exposed Superman” (1962)

 

 

 

About these ads

A Million Thanks

Those of you who follow me on social media know that yesterday afternoon this blog hit one million visits!  I want to take this opportunity to sincerely thank all of my readers over the years, as well as fellow writers in the blogosphere who have encouraged me from the beginning and continue to do so.  That so many of you subscribe or take the time to drop by this site, when there are far better writers than I whom you could be reading, is both humbling and a great honor to receive.

As regular readers know, I do not make a living from my writing – although if you are an editor or publisher let’s have a chat, shall we?  This blog is just something I do, usually five days a week, and in my spare time.  I bear the costs of running and hosting this site, and I do not expect that is going to change, for however long it continues.

Someone told me recently that I am more of an essayist than a blogger; this is probably true.   I do not break stories, and I generally do not share a link unless I have commentary to accompany it.  Often a news item is merely something which I treat as a jumping-off point to discuss something else entirely.

Also, the length of my average scribbling on these virtual pages is generally far longer than the typical 300-500 word post.    To date, I have written the equivalent of roughly fifteen 100K word novels.  That is a lot of thinking, typing, and editing over the years, but fortunately I work pretty quickly.

As to the “Why?” of what I do, I hope that I serve as a voice for culture, in a society which has largely forgotten what that word means.  The temporary trends of political tit-for-tat, and the needs of a celebrity-hungry media do not hugely interest me, since I take the long view.  While I criticize where warranted, I also hope that I seek to build up, not simply tear down.  Encouraging my readers to learn more about our world, and Western culture in particular, but also to look at popular culture in ways which might not otherwise occur to them, is the real raison d’être here.

By way of conclusion, I quote the patron of this blog, Count Castiglione, who in his “Book of the Courtier” rather neatly sums up what I have tried to do thus far, and will continue to do here on this blog for as long as I am able, and for as long as people are interested in reading it.

I say, then, that since princes are today so corrupted by evil customs, and by ignorance, and mistaken self-esteem, and since it is so difficult to give them knowledge of the truth and lead them on to virtue, and since men seek to enter into their favour by lies and flatteries and such vicious means, the Courtier…should try to gain the good will and so charm the mind of his prince, that he shall win free and safe indulgence to speak of everything without being irksome. And if he be such as has been said, he will accomplish this with little trouble, and thus be able always to disclose the truth about all things with ease; and also to instil goodness into his prince’s mind little by little, and to teach continence, fortitude, justice, and temperance, by giving a taste of how much sweetness is hidden by the little bitterness that at first sight appears to him who withstands vice; which is always hurtful and displeasing, and accompanied by infamy and blame, just as virtue is profitable, blithe and full of praise.

Detail of "The Suitor's Visit" by Gerard ter Borch (c. 1658) National Gallery, Washington DC

Detail of “The Suitor’s Visit” by Gerard ter Borch (c. 1658)
National Gallery, Washington DC

 

 

 

Taking the Right Book: Walking with Mary

As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I’ve been trying to make more time for reading actual books lately, as opposed to having nearly all of my reading material come from an electronic screen.  When I started reading “Walking with Mary” by Edward Sri the other day however, I got a few pages in and immediately stopped, because I realized I wanted to read it somewhere other than on the couch.  I saved it to read on a mini-retreat I had last Saturday at the Priory of the Dominican House of Studies here in D.C.; as you will see at the end of this post, it was providential that I did.

In his book, Dr. Sri examines the life of the Virgin Mary from a Biblical perspective, focusing on the Gospels of St. Luke and St. John, and thereby taking us on a spiritual journey along with her, in order to try to understand both her Son and the working of God’s Will in her and indeed in our own lives a bit better.   From the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel to the young girl in Nazareth, to the sorrowful mother at the foot of the Cross on Calvary, we are reminded that what we know now, Mary did not know then.  Dr. Sri shows us what a truly great woman of faith Mary was, because she did not know how everything was going to play out, only that God had made a promise: her faith that He would keep His promises kept her going, and can help us to keep going as well.

Dr. Sri takes the time to pause and examine words which, when translated into English, we may not stop to think much about, but which in the original text have a more profound significance.  For example, he explains how at the Annunciation, when Mary gives her “Yes” that God’s Will be done and that she bear the Messiah, the word she uses is not one implying meek resignation, but rather a joyful embrace of what is being asked.  In accepting what God wants her to do, Mary does not simply shrug her shoulders and say, “Sure, okay,” but more like, “Yes! Let’s do this!”

In looking at the life of Christ, Dr. Sri also takes the time to point out some of the thought-provoking parallels that we can pick up by more closely reading and paying attention to the Gospel accounts.  Thus, when Jesus enters the world at the Nativity, he does so in humility, poverty, and suffering, brought about at the hands of the Romans who have not only occupied Israel, but are forcing the heavily pregnant Virgin Mary to travel with St. Joseph to Bethlehem for a census.  Similarly, as Jesus heads to Golgotha, he does so in humility, poverty, and suffering, having been tortured and condemned to death by that same Roman Empire.

Dr. Sri finds many such Biblical bookends for us to consider throughout this very thoroughly-researched, yet highly readable book.  In St. Luke’s Gospel, just as the Infant Jesus is wrapped in linen and laid in a borrowed manger, so Jesus the Man is wrapped in linen and laid in a borrowed tomb.  In St. John’s Gospel, we see that the Virgin Mary is there at the very beginning of Christ’s public ministry, when he performs His first miracle at the wedding feast of Cana, and addresses her for the first time as “Woman”.  She is also there at the very end of that ministry on Calvary, when He addresses her as “Woman” for the last time as He sheds his blood.  The way in which the wheels which she set in motion at Cana by asking Him to step into the public eye for the first time, and at last come to their fulfillment on Calvary, is something I had not deeply considered before.  And Dr. Sri’s thoughts on Mary as the new Eve, alongside the significance of wine in the Bible, which he covers toward the end of the book, were extremely impressive.

I spent Saturday afternoon reading this book in the chapel of the Priory, and after finishing it I made my way to the front door to leave.  As I did so I happened to stop to glance at a table across from the porter’s desk, where there are always brochures and handouts for the taking.  There, I just so happened to find a stack of postcards, announcing that Dr. Sri is going to be leading a Washington Archdiocesan mens’ retreat this coming Sunday, March 22nd.  Clearly in taking this particular book along to Dominican House, if I might paraphrase the old knight in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, I had chosen wisely.  While I myself am not going to be able to attend this conference with Dr. Sri, those gentlemen reading this post here in the D.C. area certainly can.

Yet regardless of whether you can go along to meet the man or not, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Dr. Sri’s “Walking with Mary”.  If you are seeking some good spiritual reading this Lent, you will not be disappointed. And throughout the year, in the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem, Dr. Sri’s book would be a wonderful companion as we go through the liturgical seasons, as indeed is the woman who is its subject.

Detail of "The Visitation" by the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece (c. 1480) Aachen Cathedral, Germany

Detail of “The Visitation” by the Master of the Aachen Altarpiece (c. 1480)
Aachen Cathedral, Germany