« Phew! Thank you Larry King! | Main | Community Outrage: Same old song »

One thing you might not know about newspapers

I'll try not to wax too poetic here, but what you might not know about newspapers is this: Take away the pomp and circumstance, the grind of the business side always on the hunt for ad revenue, and the false glamor of newsrooms often portrayed in movies, and you're left with content and the writers and editors who generate it.

If the relationship between editor and reporter is good, they can produce news articles so sweet they jump off the page at you. But if sour milk can produce illness, a sour relationship between editor and reporter can produce garbage.

My editor, Terry Jackson, recently passed away after a long battle with cancer. His memorial service was over the weekend. If you have a spare minute to read about a man who squeezed a lot of adventure into an extraordinary life, here is Terry's obituary.

But if you don't have time, let me at least explain the importance of that editor/writer relationship.

For every news writer, having a good editor is like having gold, or platinum, or a super model, or whatever does it for you.

Contrary to what you see in the movies and hear from fatheaded radio pundits, your editor doesn't scheme with the evil emperor on how to use you to spread falsehoods to the public. But your editor doesn't just look for and correct errors in your articles, either.

Your editor advises you on the direction a news story is taking - whether he feels you have the goods or if you need to start over. If you're off your game, your editor tweaks your story to make it flow just right. Your editor never changes your article so much that it reads like something he'd have written, rather than something you wrote. That's called being ham-fisted, and your editor can make changes that are nearly seamless and hard to detect after the fact. He listens to your story pitches and either acts as your muse, or, when necessary, he calls BS on you and tells you an idea was total garbage. Your editor is an advocate for you, when meeting with the top brass. He never lets another editor from another department put you down. When there's room for just one more article on tomorrow's front page and five editors fighting for that space, your editor pulls out the fangs and argues that your story should be the one. When a reader with an obvious political agenda calls the paper and says you suck, your editor doesn't just relay that message to you. He tells the caller to prove it. If you have a good idea that revolves around current events or popular culture, you don't have to explain it to your editor, because he's so well read he kinda knows where you're going with it. Occasionally your editor will assign you a story that makes you grimace, but if he's inspired loyalty in you you'll complete that assignment quickly, 'cause you won't forget all the times he's had your back.

But that's only if you have a good editor.

Pre-Terry, I once had an editor tell me he didn't like me because I didn't know my place. I once had an editor caution me to not let my skin color hinder me from reporting on a black authority figure - a caution he never gave to white reporters covering white authority figures. I once had an editor force me to write a story out-of-context, because he wanted to make a point to the subject of my article. I once had an editor, in a moment reminiscent of Elizabeth Berkley in Showgirls,ask me about the VerSACE outfit referenced in my article. That's right. The editor pronounced Versace VERSE-ACE. A friend of mine who'd won a Pulitzer Prize for his work on a big national story was asked by an editor what else he had to offer.

Fortunately for me, Terry was a good editor and none of these people. He was Perry Mason to my defendant. He was Q to my James Bond. He was Insp. Douglas Todd to my Axel Foley.

So R.I.P. Terry Jackson. You were a great editor and will be missed. 


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference One thing you might not know about newspapers:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Account Deleted

I'm sorry for your loss.
Terry sounds like one of a kind.

ɔıuʎɔıʇsɐɔɹɐs ǝɥʇ

I, too, am sorry to hear of this loss. There is no editor out there who can make you feel as strongly about the editor/writer relationship as with Terry.

... or IS there.

James B.

Okie Sister, thanks much. He was one of a kind.

Sarc, thanks. And it's possible I'll have that good an editor/writer relationship again. But the person who fills the editor slot in that equation has big shoes to fill now.


It has got to be difficult to lose someone you have been this close to, someone who has been so important to you in your adult life. No one will ever replace him. There will be others, but they will be different. Not necessarily worse, just different. Cherish your memories, and hold him dear to your heart.


I write, review, and respond to technical reports and I've had many editors over the course of my career. Some of them were real stinkers and some of them were gems who not only corrected my mistakes, but also made me become a better writer.

So, I am sorry for your loss of a legendary editor, colleague, and friend. On the other hand, I envy you for having the opportunity to know and write for Mr. Jackson. May he be an example for us all.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | Copyright | About The Miami Herald | Advertise