The Editor's Page -- Defining Moment

Dec. 21, 2004
Above all else, remain a professional.

He's an award-winning journalist and editor now, but this scene took place just after his first big promotion, to story editor at a magazine. One of his first duties was to edit a lengthy article by one of his heroes, an author 20 years his senior who wrote not only magazine pieces and newspaper columns, but also books -- novels that were read, admired, and even made into movies. It should have been a dream assignment. Unfortunately, my friend's charge was not to polish the words of a master, but to cut them -- thousands of them -- to make the piece fit into an issue with limited space. Even worse, it was evident from the topic and the prose that the author had spent a significant amount of time and effort crafting the piece. My friend struggled to make cuts like the wise editor he hoped eventually to become, but he felt instead like a vandal attacking a sculpture with a hammer. He dreaded explaining his hatchet work to the author. At a meeting to discuss the edits, my friend sweated while his hero affected an air of impassivity. My friend talked and explained and apologized and sweated some more, receiving in return nothing but polite nods from the author. After what seemed an eternity, my friend could take no more. "How can you watch me tear your work apart?" he said in exasperation. "How can you just sit there while I do this to you?" His hero eyed him coolly before replying. "Because I'm a professional," he said. And then he waited, silently, for his editor to finish the job. My friend learned more in that moment than in all the years of training and experience that led up to it. About what it means to take your work seriously, but not yourself. About what it means to have enough confidence to trust that someone else -- even an inexperienced junior editor -- might have something to add to what you've created. About what it means to finish a job, and to know when it's time to move on. About how important it is to be able to say, with absolute conviction, "Because I'm a professional." Can you?

This issue marks my last Editor's Page, as I relinquish my duties as Publisher and Editor-in-Chief to pursue a new challenge as editorial director of a publishing company. My sadness at leaving IndustryWeek is tempered by the knowledge that my byline will still appear in IW as the magazine's newest contributing editor and columnist. Look for my column in the next issue of IW, and stay in touch.

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