The stupid it burns! And, I'm looking for work

So part of my job includes partly overseeing the production of a professional association’s quarterly magazine*. It’s not Time magazine or anything, but it is newsy-information based and the readership is professional individuals on par with doctors and lawyers.

Level of difficulty: writers just out of school who think they are awesome, brilliant, and can do no wrong. In truth, we have to lie to them about their deadlines because they start the day before (heck, sometimes even the day after) it’s due and one plagiarized this year’s annual article from last year’s. But anyway…

All articles go to a professional copy editor for fact checking and proofreading. The other day, as I approached my colleague’s office, I heard yelling. One of our writers: “CHANGE IT BACK! You don’t know what your talking about, you are not qualified to make that decision. You need to take a writing course! I have a journalism degree!” and she stomped off.

What was that about? Her article had a few factual errors, and her blurb for the front cover of the magazine had a particularly egregious one, and they were corrected by the copy editor. She had just seen a proof of the magazine layout, was furious that we had corrected her work, and was insisting we change it back to what she had originally submitted.

“She wrote out ‘NYSE’ as the ‘New York Smurf Exchange’.” said my colleague.**

“Well,” said I, “we can’t leave it like that.” So we talked to our boss, who agreed with us and we deferred to the professional fact-checker, it was correct on the cover when it went to print.

So a few weeks later, my colleague and I got called to the carpet, by the VP no less. Basically, the writers think I’m an asshole and my colleague is incompetent, but the crux of the discussion boiled down to this: the writer’s think the copy editor/fact checker is mean and his corrections hurt their feelings, so we are not allowed to implement his corrections if the writers don’t want us to.

My jaw hit the floor and my colleague stammered: “But…but… 'New York Smurf Exchange!”

The VP shook his head and said, “Um… well, I’ll tell the writers they have to be more vigilant with their own fact checking.”

No more fact-checking for us.

Predictably, now a few months later, we’re organizing a fund raising event, for some professional group. It’s called the 10th Annual Dopefest***. My colleague and I don’t know anything about these people, but the writer who is in charge or organizing the event assures us that the keynote speaker - who’s making a rare special appearance - is really important. So the entire marketing campaign revolves around this one guy, Cecil Adams, and all the marketing pieces extol his virtues and feature photos of his happy smiling face (strangely, he bears an uncanny resemblance to Ed Zotti).

Yet, for some reason, despite all our efforts, and the past successes of Dopefests 1-9, this one isn’t working. We’re about to cancel it for lack of advance ticket sales, when we get an email from Cecil’s assistant, asking if we can make a correction on our website: “Cecil’s column is called The Straight Dope not The Striped Dope” she wrote.

I can’t do this anymore.
*Not quite, but just go with it because it’s comparable to what I do while maintaining my professional anonymity.
**Fake (but not far off) for illustrative purposes only.
***Also fake for illustrative purposes.

Sorry for being a pedant, but there are at least 3 typos in your OP. Maybe your game is slipping. :stuck_out_tongue:

Writers just out of school should be beaten with padded clubs daily. I know, I was once one of them. I did, however, respect the people who’d been in the business longer than I had and, you know, did as I was told. The audacity of the writer you describe (“change it back!” is unthinkable to me.

I feel for you. As a freelance writer for the last 10 or so years, I’ve seen editors both fix idiotic mistakes I’ve put on paper and add their own idiocy without telling me.

It’s not an easy gig on either side. Fewer “Smurf-type” prima donnas on the writer’s end would help…as would more upfront communication on the editor’s end.

Plus your VP may need to grow a set.

I don’t understand why you feel the clubs should be padded. Please explain.

Your VP is a moron who will soon be called on the carpet for allowing errors and will, in order to save his own ass, attempt to sacrifice yours.

Yes, but I’m not a writer, and when the copy editor fiddles with my stuff, I’m okay with that.

To be fair we have a couple that our in their 30s and they are just fine. A complete pleasure to work with. It’s the new ones from the Entitlement Era that are causing headaches. Eg/ a newbie who has been really underperforming and unable to meet deadlines going right into the CEO’s office to ask for a promotion, wanting a position that she was in no way qualified to do!

Our editor is actually really awesome. He used to teach writing at one of this countries best universities before starting his own company. So he is very diplomtaic and if you have any questions, you can usually get a really great lesson from him. Plus, he’s funny and writes like a Doper.

The conflicts are not being caused by objections to corrections of grammar and style. The issue is almost always factual. There should be nothing to dispute. If you write that Obama is the president of the “United States of Armenia” and that gets corrected to “United States America”, you’re going to go to your boss and complain that the correction hurt your feelings? Seriously?

I’m with you, I really am. I just cannot imagine a situation where the VP refuses to correct factual errors. I don’t know why he doesn’t fire the whole lot and start over. It’s not like writers (or at least people who claim to be writers) are hard to find.

One thing, though, about the deadline thing. As someone who’s managed people under deadline, they figure out pretty quickly if you’re gaming them about the due date, and they’ll just adjust their work accordingly.

The deadlines are passed along through their boss. We don’t deal with them directly. He doesn’t actually know when we actually need stuff and we do actually use the stuff when it’s submitted early. So it usually works out, except for the one person who meets her deadlines… and them submits “revisions” (i.e. does it for real the second time).

What finally broke the camel’s back was that someone wrote a promotional piece for an educational seminar for nurses* being hosted here and added the hyperbolic “Thousands attended our previous events!” which is patently untrue. It’s a very small course, so the first event maxed out at 75 people, the second was canceled to to lack of interest/funding. Hardly “thousands”. It’s a lie.


The frightening thing is, we’ve hired all sorts of journalism graduates and such and their writing skills are deplorable. The journalism grads we’re getting fresh out of school have such shockingly poor writing abilities that upper management had a special meeting about what we’re going to do about the future crop of university grads. In the short-term, we’ve trimmed 15% off the publication because we don’t feel we can get anyone who can write well enough to do those sections.

We do a lot of work for clients in the non-profit sector, so our budget is tight. We tend to have a lot of people in their 20s and fresh out of school and not many experienced writers.

  • Modified to protect company.

Why on earth do these people go into writing careers if they can’t actually write?

Although, sad to say, I’m not surprised. TEN years ago a colleague was teaching a journalism course part-time and we were all slack-jawed at his description of the level of incompetence. At the time I wondered if these were the people who wanted to write for a living, what was the level of writing ability for those in other disciplines??

Because they think they can and that they are brilliant. That’s why they think the copy editor is mean.

And to be fair to the VP he didn’t actually say mistakes should go through… he said we can’t change them if the writer doesn’t want us to. So they the writers get the soft copy version with tracked changes from the copy editor and accept of deny the changes. The non-brain damaged writers will accept the factual corrections. The others will say “Well that’s how I saw it on Google!” and deny the change.

And now, I’m off for a week of stress leave!


I would have sent an email summarizing the meeting and acknowledge that you no longer have ownership of the publication’s fact checking function. Errors such as “New York Smurf Exchange” will be emailed back to the author for correction. If anyone else needs to be in the loop please advise.

With that said, I can’t imagine working in a company where a VP WANTS to look foolish in a publication. My last Director reviewed EVERY piece of published work from my department.

Just make sure that you spell smurf-lady’s name right on the publication. Maybe bump up the font size up a notch or two.

So, where can I follow the activity on the smurf exchange? I think I’ll be coming into some money and small blue critters may be a decent investment.

Many Dopers write well.

Some Dopers are looking for work.

A company might gain by considering filling positions with out-of-work Dopers who write well.

Often much better. “Journalism” is almost always a pretty moronic degree, conferred not upon people who want to become reporters, but upon people who dream of having a lazy-man’s job with incredible pay. The degree does not, and cannot teach you much, and writing skills are not really very high on the list anyway.

I don’t know about the degree but I highly valued the single course in journalism I took in college. What started out as a filler course turned into a valuable writing tool for all my other classes. The professor was excellent and his coursework centered on accurate writing skills.

In addition to making sure you have the new policy in writing (such as by sending an email such as Magiver mentions), you may want to keep a copy of proposed corrections to articles.

That way, if an article contains a massive error, and questions get asked after it goes to print, you can show that you did suggest that it be corrected, but it was the writer’s call that it remain incorrect.