The joy of rant
If you haven’t seen it already — it has been in circulation since last week — here’s a link to a rant by Giles Coren, a British writer, complaining about a copy editor (“subeditor “ is the term there) who cut an indefinite article from one of his sentences. Be advised that it incorporates a number of words that you will not see on this blog.
A subsequent riposte by Laura Barton contains a passage that can be quoted here:
There is, it must be said, something of a long-standing tension between writers and subeditors. We writers are rather protective of our words, prone to filing late and flouncing about and are altogether a tad precious. In short, subeditors view us as the Little Lord Fauntleroys of the office, and we in turn view them as our evil nemeses, hellbent on our undoing.
One of my readers, Bob Kirk, has this comment:
Are they both prigs?
Obscured in the food critic's lather is a good point. The sub editor did not need to remove the offending "a". Unless I miss something in British usage ("He's in hospital." rather than "He's in the hospital."), the editing added nothing except an affront to an oversensitive writer. Has the green-eyeshade nothing better to do? You may as well outsurce copy editing to India for spell checking, only.
It’s hard to resist the temptation of a full-throated tirade, whether you are a writer or an editor. After all, you are an embattled, heroic figure, struggling against great odds to achieve a little clarity, a little order in a disorderly world, and with it, a l touch of elegance — this is your craft, and you have expended untold blood, toil, seat and tears in pursuit of it — and now some cretinous, pig-faced little git comes along, without any regard for what you intended and what you accomplished, and this troll does a little tap dance of vanity and smug self-importance on your skull, until you could just REACH INTO HIS GUTS WITH YOUR BARE HANDS AND PULL OUT HIS SPLEEN AND FEED IT TO THE CAT.
There. Much better.
(A regard for strict truth requires me to say that, while copy editors are certainly given to outbursts of exasperation, I have more commonly heard such explosions from reporters. Copy editors are, after all, orderly, decorous, modest and much misunderstood.)
Mr. Kirk has it right. There’s ample blame on both sides, first for a subeditor/copy editor who made the kind of minor, unnecessary change that drives writers nuts, second for a writer who indulged in a hugely disproportionate public display of petulance. Not an edifying spectacle.
Journalism requires people of varying abilities to produce articles quickly while making a multitude of small and great judgments, not all of which turn out to have been well decided. Such an environment offers many opportunities for ranting and very little disincentive.
But I can say this with assurance after more than 28 years in the business: Almost without exception, the best writers have also been on the best terms with the copy desk — collegial, respectful, appreciative, and forgiving about slips and misjudgments. And the writers who have been most defensive about the editing of their work have tended to have the most to be defensive about.