I stare at the words on my computer screen. My next words will define my loyalties yet again in this delicate game.
“Yes, there are a lot of potential problems with the statement,” I type finally, “but that’s the author’s opinion. I think we need to leave it.”
I read over my comment twice, then smack enter. Loyalty to excellence and to my publication pitted against loyalty to my author—this time, I back my author.
This challenge arises every week, a regular part of my new adventure: editing the opinions page for The Echo.
The job seems simple enough. Opinions, the least restricting page in the paper, should have more submissions than I can handle. I should be sending rejection letters.
Instead, I’ve been scrambling. Since school started, any time I hear a strong opinion in conversation, I say, “Write me an article!” I pester people for pieces up ’til the last minute, accept articles hundreds of words over the limit, spend hours revising solid ideas badly written.
People are afraid.
Putting your position in writing—especially in a newspaper—makes it real, public, irrevocable. You may change your mind later, but that one article, archived somewhere, forever links you to that one opinion. People are afraid they’ll lack support, afraid they’ll offend, afraid they’ll fail. The more personal an opinion, the more frightened they are; the more you care, the greater the potential for pain.
What if nobody agrees? Worse—what if nobody cares?
As an editor, I can’t force anyone to write. People have a right to hold their opinions in silence. And yet, I think, important convictions should be shared—not necessarily in the interests of convincing a reader, but in the interests of posing a question, making space for a challenge to your thinking, opening the door to bigger ideas and deeper considerations.
Unsolicited submissions arrive with false bravado phrases:
“I hope you see the importance of this topic.”
“I believe this is extremely relevant right now.”
Newspaper-thin shields hiding their fears:
This might not look important, but it is to me; please print it.
This might not seem relevant, but it is to me; please print it.
Solicited submissions arrive with apologies.
“I hope this is what you’re looking for; it probably needs editing.”
“It’s pretty bad; you can change it if you need to.”
Newspaper-thin shields hiding their hopes:
This scared me, but I searched for the words and voiced my convictions; please print it.
This stretched me, but I struggled through the writer’s block and research; please print it.
And I accept them, reassure them, print them.
And on production night, with copyeditors’ comments popping up, filled with late-night snark and made-up words, I balance my loyalties. Yes, this grammatical concern is valid. You’re right; this sentence is redundant.
No. You cannot change this idea.
Because my loyalty is to excellent writing, to the paper I work for. But ultimately, my loyalty is also to human beings.
To writers with minds and souls, worries and hopes. My job is not just to critique and copyedit, but to help people share their opinions genuinely and fearlessly.