Would you quit over this?

This happened a week ago, and I’m still fuming.

First, we have a new editor at my publication. He came in, asked very little and proceeded to fuck up; i.e., he changed text in certain stories to be “cleaner” – stories ended up to be “cleaner” but also wrong…that kind of thing.


I had written a feature on an organization that helps people with Cerebral Palsy and traumtic brain injuries. Basically, they focus on what the participants in their program can do and place very little emphasis on the physical limitations.

When I spoke to the woman I interviewed, she repeatedly expressed concern about making sure that she was getting across the spirit of the program – “it focuses on their achievements, things they want to do and how we help them get there…not the fact that they need help using the bathroom, etc.”

I assured her that I understood her concerns, said I thought the program sounded great and that she shouldn’t worry. I work for a small, community-focused newspaper, after all.


I send our photographer out to take photos. No problem.


I look at the proof last week, and on the front page is my story with accompanying photo, which is of one of the participants being helped by an attendent. She is laying on her back and her head is rolling to the side and her tongue is slightly hanging out of her mouth. It’s not flattering at all and not a picture I’d want to see of one of my relatives on the front page of a paper.

I tell my new editor that the photo is inappropriate.

He tells me, “It tells the story!”

I tell him, “It doesn’t tell the story! In fact, it tells the exact opposite of the story! The story is that the program focuses on achievements and the picture is basically reinforcing the stereotype that they’re trying to break down!”

He disagrees and blows me off. I call his boss and express my objection. She thanks me, says she’ll look at it, but lets it run.

I’ve also come to find out that the photographer was in the process of trashing the picture when new editor saw it and tagged it for the front page. Photographer said that he had a lot of other pics that could have run showing participants working on computers and doing other activities.

Basically, I feel like I can’t trust him. Trust me when I say that this is not a tabloid type paper that’s failing. He was not brought in to spice anything up – he seems to be a tasteless control freak, and I think I have a major problem with him screwing with stuff when my name is on the story.

Am I wrong? Am I right? Thoughts? Advice?

I’d make him take your name off it, then start stealing office supplies. :wink:

I wouldn’t quit, but if you continue to bring concerns to this editor and don’t feel he’s taking them seriously, then maybe you should look for another publication.

Just for background, I’m a former reporter and editor for a community newspaper and now a copy editor for a daily.

Your editor is within his job description to overule writers and photographers about how stories and photos are presented, although he’ll have to answer for the mistakes he edits into stories and the questionable taste of photos he selects. If his choices are out of line with the community’s tastes, you’ll hear from your readers in complaints and in readership losses, which should raise some red flags with your publisher.

Here’s how I’d play it: When you have a concern, share it with the editor, but also document it. Also keep a record of mistakes that he’s responsible for in your stories, as well as your own mistakes, (just to show you’re being fair).

If you really don’t feel you agree with his news judgment and don’t respect his choices and it looks like he’s going to be there for a while, then I’d look for other work. There are plenty of publications out there looking for conscientious reporters.

Good luck.

I’ve been told first-hand accounts of similar stories. With well-respected national papers. Cause a huge stink. Contact the people involved to apologise for any misrepresentation (on your behalf, not an apology on behalf of the paper). Make it clear you’re not to be messed with.

Go back to the organization and tell them that you did not approve of that picture that was ran with the article and that the editor over ruled you. Enlist their help in complaining to the editor about misrepresenting the organization. The organization can enlist the help of the persons it serves as well as family and interested others to write letters of complaint. Trust me, editors hate bad publicity. It might make him think.

I work for an organization that provides services to persons with a variety of disabilities and our focus is on assisting those who come to us to achieve their personal goals. A little advocacy on the part of the organization can go a long way, trust me. I’ve done it. The people we serve have done it. Family and other interested persons have done it. You’d be surprised what it’ll do to attitude on the part of people like your editor.

Sat On Cookie I guess I’m encouraging you to hang in there and fight.

Nope, I don’t think it’s appropriate for her to go to the organization and lobby them to complain. She’s a representative of the paper, not of the organization.

If the group feels it was treated unfairly, then it can complain on its own. Cookie isn’t responsible for being their advocate.

She’s within her rights to raise her concerns, but it shows a lack of professionalism to go on a crusade against the editor.

Nor should she volunteer her concerns to the organization. If they call to talk to her, she can explain that she didn’t choose the photo, but beyond that, it’s a matter between the organization, the editor and the photographer. If they have a concern with her story, she can discuss that with them. But the photo is not her responsibility.

Raise your concerns, Cookie, but don’t raise a stink.

I wouldn’t go to the organization.

That’s part of the problem. If I felt like I could go around and blame the editor, it would sting a little less. As it is, I can’t do anything but pursue it internally and let the organization think I’m an asshole.

I think it would be appropriate for you to go to the organization before the publication date, not with the intention of lobbying them to complain, but just to warn them about the decision on the picture so they can be prepared. That way you won’t seem quite as asshole-y and clueless to them, and they can be prepared for the distress the picture may cause. What steps they take after that are their business, but at least they will still have faith in your ability to report on their mission.

Well, i’m not going to recommend that you quit. It’s a tough job market out there, and journalists aren’t exactly in huge demand.

But if you do (and maybe even if you don’t) may i suggest that you tell your tale to the Columbia Journalism Review. They perform and excellent public service by exposing poor journalistic practices such as the one your new editor indulged in.