Pretending to be Megan

Reader asks:

How do you tell your coworker to STOP REWRITING YOUR STORIES and putting your name back on them, when you don't want to sound like a whiny child, and you don't want to start a confrontation?

I swear to God, I sent this story I'm working on to my coworker to check over, and he COMPLETELY rewrote the whole thing, INCLUDING the quotes. Now, I only semi-recognize 2 paragraphs, and most of the quotes were never actually said by the interviewees. I'm so frustrated I'm actually close to tears.

Any advice/calming words would be appreciated.

I just about puked all over my desk. That's how sick this whole thing makes me. I can't believe that someone who calls themselves an editor would butcher copy like that - let alone ENDORSE changing quotes.

Here are my thoughts:

You may not want to start a confrontation, but if you do not recognize the piece, your name should not be on it. Imagine if it was even a mildly-controversial story. And his rewrites made your writing inaccurate. You would be held accountable. It's your name on the copy.

You need to talk to this person. He is so out of line. I've read your writing, I know that it's good. You have flexible style. You are a good journalist. It's not that you are a bad writer or a bad reporter. You have a bad editor on your hands.

I remember back in j-school, one of my fellow students was working for the Charlatan (the school's weekly news publication). She wrote a semi-technical article that required some calculations on her part. When she passed it into her editor, the editor made changes without properly researching.

The article was published in the second-last issue of the year.

The following week (the LAST issue of the year), the "readers comments" section blasted the reporter for poor research, calling her "yet another incompetent Charlatan writer" and so on.

Because of the changes her editor made without double-checking.

And because it was the last issue of the year, she basically never got a retraction, never got an apology, and ended up feeling (rightfully) REALLY jilted.

Now the woman has obviously moved on from the incident. She never went back to writing for them, and has been a television reporter in Edmonton for a year... but I advise keeping this in mind next time he "over-edits."

But that's just IMHO.


Megan January 19, 2009 at 2:45 PM  

AUGH. I feel awful for your reader. Hugs, whoever you are.

Kate Nova January 19, 2009 at 3:13 PM  

My stomach just sunk into my boots. I've felt similar pain very recently.

I have also had to request that my byline not be included with something so altered in the past, and the editors were surprisingly receptive. It's about picking your battles I guess.

KOTN January 19, 2009 at 3:21 PM  

I always found that if you fight this battle once, and hard, you don't have to do it again.....

Has never been a problem with my newest employer.

I donn't mind changes, if they help the story. I always asked to see them, and commented on every single change, just to make sure they always knew I was watching.

I've also been in the other chair, having to edit someon.... in that case, it went well, because all I had to do was shorten, clean-up and add an occasional bit of artful prose.

Plus, my victim was sitting right next to me, and I made suggestions. "What do you think of this?"... the end product was always their call.

towniebastard January 19, 2009 at 3:59 PM  

You know, I'm going to play devil's advocate here...because I have been an editor and a reporter. And as an editor, when I'm hard up against a deadline and I get a story that's very poorly written and I simply don't have the option of punting it for another day, well, then I will gut and rewrite that fucker.

I will dig ledes buried 10 paragraphs down, I will cut rambling sentences, fix quotes (everybody fixes quotes, admit it) and do whatever it takes to make the story readable. And if I hurt the reporter's feelings, well, it's better than a 20 inch hole in the paper.

Really good editors will give the story back to the reporter covered in red ink and tell them to rewrite it. But if you're hard up on a deadline, you don't have time to coddle someone's feelings.

Don't get me wrong, I've been brutalized by editors before, who pissed all over my story just so they can make their mark and earn their paycheck. But I've also had editors save my ass.

I'm not saying anybody here is a bad writer. I'm not saying the reader who submitted the story that got hacked is a bad one. But it happens. If you're going to pick a fight, just be damn sure of the quality of your writing.

Idealistic Pragmatist January 19, 2009 at 6:15 PM  

I wouldn't dream of giving you advice, but I will say that this sounds incredibly frustrating. I wouldn't cope with it well, either.