Second day on the job at The Boston Globe. I was silently freaking out that I was being sent to an assignment in a town I had NEVER been to — not once — on deadline.
So I started doing what I always do and tried to find something else to focus on. In this case, it was a conversation between two of my colleagues as they were washing their hands in the ladies room.
They were reporters not much older than I was, but to me, they were rockstars.
“You couldn’t PAY me enough to be an editor,” one said to the other. “Shit flows BOTH ways in that job — downhill toward you, and uphill from your staff at you.”
Her comments stayed with me, and for years I never wanted to be an editor because I wanted to be the one simply writing a different story every day with her biggest problems including if she would make deadline, spelled everything correctly, not misquoted anyone, and somehow managed to avoid accidentally libeling someone.
But eventually, I went from writing obituaries to writing breaking news stories, to covering education, and several towns, and writing profiles and narratives, and health stories, and somehow wound up editing other people’s work.
I had to learn how to go from Elizabeth the writer, to Elizabeth the woman who suggested things for people to write about — or help tighten up ideas, or help smooth the edges on rough copy.
I had to learn new skills — to learn how to allow a writer to keep their voice, while making their words sparkle without you being able to see I polished them. I have to ask the right questions to spur the ideas I know are in there. I have to carefully tell people — I get their point but it’s too damn long…
I’ve come to learn it’s hard to be an excellent editor, but I’ve also been lucky to have more excellent editors than terrible ones.
There was Freddie, who told me to throw away my first paragraphs because “you’re just clearing your throat there, Lizzy” and that if I could “put him there and make him care” then I had won the battle.
There was Joe, who told me, “don’t write political stories about politics. Write them about the fight in people against others to be the top.”
Roy Peter Clark told me to “reward your reader for sticking with you, by placing gold nuggets — little jewels inside your story that will just delight them.”
Good editors listen to your wacky ideas, too, and go to bat for you when no one else will. They will let you chase something that you have a hunch is a story, even if you only have one notebook’s worth of scribbled threads to pitch them with.
We lost a good editor today.
“Put out the best, most honest newspaper you can today,” Ben Bradlee said, “and put out a better one the next day.”
One of the best editors.