In Other Words…

     “Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember with charity that his intentions were good.”
     – Mark Twain
     I know only two jokes about editors, and will tell them both in this column. Perhaps that will compensate for the fact that I am writing about editors at all.
     “I hate editors. All editors. I shall hate them until the day I die.”
     – Mikhail Bulgakov
     Poor Bulgakov had a reason to hate editors. They wouldn’t let him publish his books until he was dead – even his masterpiece, one of the great satiric novels of the 20th century, or of any century, “The Master and Margarita.”
     I happen to like editors. Not because I am an editor, and not because I like acerbic old drunks with short fuses, but because editors are necessary – like polio vaccine and root canals.
     The problem with getting news from the Internet is the lousy, often nonexistent editing. And the reason The New York Times is so good, and the L.A. Times used to be, until Sam Zell fired one-third of them, was the editing.
     Editors do what bankers used to do. They say, “No, that’s not good enough.”
Internet news sites, even the highly regarded ones, appear to function without editors. They are unreliable. They are a mess.
     I question the efficacy, and the reason to exist, of any “news site” or newspaper, tailored to tell a certain type of person what he wants to hear.
     OK, here’s one I heard from Kurt Vonnegut.
     “Waiter, there’s a needle in my soup.”
     “I’m sorry, sir. That’s a typographical error. It should be a noodle.”
     Bad writers are bad enough, and Lord knows they are common enough, but they do not inflict the smallest fraction of the pain and damage inflicted by a bad editor. If you don’t believe me, ask anyone who has worked for one.
     “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”
     – T.S. Eliot
     By pure, dumb luck, a wonderful editor was assigned to edit my first book. She made it so much better than it was before she got her hands on it, and what she got from me in return was whining, bad manners and complaints. Sorry, Barbara Ellington, wherever you are. I shall surely burn in hell for the way I treated you, but I’m afraid I was headed there anyway.
     “A city editor who has more than three cars in his funeral procession wasn’t much of an editor.”
     – Stanley Walker
Stanley Walker was a city editor back in the days when New York City had seven daily papers. City editors in those days were tyrants before whom reporters trembled and even publishers quailed. In his book, “City Editor,” Walker tells of a reporter who wrote up a murder by saying that a body had been pulled “from the melancholy waters of the East River.”
     “Melancholy waters,” the city editor grumbled. “That’s pretty good.”
     Soon every reporter on the staff wanted to write about melancholy waters. And the city editor muttered, “Damnit, the next time I see the words ‘melancholy waters,’ I’m firing whoever wrote it.”
     The editor saw the words, and he hollered the reporter’s name.
     “Johnson,” the editor hollered – or whatever the reporter’s name was – “tell me how in hell the East River can be melancholy, or you’re fired.”
     “Umm …” the reporter said, “because it went by Yonkers?”
     OK, here’s the other one. Editors are really like this.
      An editor, a photographer and a reporter were walking along a beach and they found an old brass lamp. The editor picked it up and rubbed it and Poof! – a genie popped out.
     “You have freed me from my prison,” the genie said. “I will grant each of you one wish.”
     The photographer wished he was on top of the highest mountain in Antarctica on the warmest, clearest day of the year, with all of his cameras and film and four beautiful assistants, and Poof! he disappeared.
     The reporter wished he was on a deserted island in the South Pacific with all the booze he wanted of every sort, and a dozen beautiful women, and Poof! he disappeared.
     The editor looked at his watch and said, “I want those guys back here in fifteen minutes.”

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