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My editor is a jerk

Dear Coach,

I have an editor whom I can’t stand. He gives me an assignment, suggests a story angle, then says, “But do it how you want – it’s your story.” When I file the story, he rants and says I didn’t follow his instructions, that I have to do it “this way.” He can’t interact with people without condescending to them. You can’t convince him he’s wrong about anything. If you try, he gets defensive. Furthermore, sometimes he changes things I’ve written just to change them. He has edited in errors, changed the meaning of things and changed wording to end up being something I would never say. I could go on. But he might hear me. Suggestions for approaching him? -- Exasperated

Dear Exasperated:

You are talking about two separate things here: (1) errors edited into your copy and (2) someone who isn’t good with people, and who may be (warning: I am not a psychologist) either stressed to the limit or have a personality deficiency.

First thing is to separate the two.

If someone (doesn’t matter who) edits in an error or inaccuracy, it is important to bring it to someone’s attention. First, your editor. If he rants or backsteps or gets defensive, then go to his supervisor.

Errors and inaccuracies need to be corrected. That is just a fact of life in a newsroom.

The second thing – condescending, ranting, telling you what’s what – is something else. It has nothing to do with fact or reason. It has everything to do with stress, personalities and, just possibly, someone who should not be supervising others.

But guess what? That is not your call. Nor is it your business. Bad or unpleasant editors are as much a fact of life as bad or unpleasant reporters.

Here are a couple of steps that might help, depending on who the guy actually is:

  • Ask him out for coffee. Tell him that you really want to learn, and you want to know if you might sit with him as he edits and listen to his explanations so you can learn from him.
  • If he rants or condescends or blows you off, then make a note of it, in writing.
  • Keep asking for guidance and feedback and (in a polite way) explanations.
  • Sometimes people are really busy and stressed and feel as though they don’t have the time. Give him the benefit of the doubt. Give him a chance to include you in the editing. If he simply will not – and if he rants about it and continues to condescend – he may have a personality issue that is beyond your control. Again: not your business.
  • It is your business if he crosses the line into unprofessionalism and/or verbal abuse (which is what you describe above). In that case, a paper trail, with details and dates and circumstances, will be helpful in your appeal to a higher up, maybe even the human resources department.
  • Key in all this is: Separate out the factual (errors in your copy) from the interpersonal (he is a bad manager).

And finally, despite the guy’s unpleasantness, try as hard as you can to do your job, to be professional and to not (in the words of CQS program co-founder John Quinn) let the b------ get you down. You can always ask for a transfer.

About the column
Ask the Coach is updated regularly. Have a suggestion for a future column, contact Mary Ann Hogan.

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Last updated: Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014 | 03:29:20