Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Revelation II

Revelation the second: in my trumpet news editing job I am sometimes too nice, and this can be a bad idea. (Yes, Colin: "Duh" indeed. You funny little chap you. See me afterwards.)

Here's the background:

  • Story submitter sends me an interesting email, but it is not a finished story.
  • I write back and say this is great but needs writing up... I can do it from what I've got here or you can do it.
  • He replies saying that I can do it, but then goes on to specify a change of emphasis, supplementary sources and so on. Huge long list of what he wants done. Like an idiot I fail to explain/protest/clarify/whatever so now, instead of editing a more-or-less finished story, I am writing and researching on his behalf.
  • So let's get this straight. I don't have time even to do my normal editing job properly and I almost never have time for my own writing (c.f. the Proms saga and its loooooong gestation, and many others like it [Morgan, Balsom et al]). Due, however, to my brilliant negotiating skills I am now in effect a commissioned author writing to the story submitter's specification, but unpaid. And cheesed off.
  • The story, far from being a finished object, is currently a kit of parts, a shopping list, and a sheet of assembly instructions.
  • Gah!!
  • This is NOT what I'm meant to do!
  • Have I mentioned that I'm an idiot?

Now. I've been here before. The only difference is that this time, having been ill several days and with the looming risk of a backlog developing (cue distant long low moaning sound), I've actually had the sense to call a halt. Ahem. Hurrah. Yes.

So ... I wrote to the story submitter and explained that I can't/won't work like that, and it's either going to be written by him or me - either is fine - but not by me under his direction.

I hasten to add that my email doesn't put it as bluntly as the paragraph above. I worked very hard to keep it very positive and nice, and couched it in non-resentful terms concerning how to get the story done well - also perfectly true. I cc'd my dear friend and supereditor Gary M in, and he kindly assures me that it reads OK and that what I've done is reasonable. (To be truthful, I know that it is, but, given my multiple personality defects, the reassurance is of course extremely welcome.)

Why have I hardly ever had the sense to do this before? It's sensible, it gets the job done, no-one gets hurt. I think my anxiety to please and to be seen to be "nice" has not done anyone any favours here.

Some other semi-random thoughts:

  • It's kind-of-my-fault anyway, in the sense that if I'd ever published clear guidelines then this issue would be in there. So some people would see the guidelines before they wrote in and it would be nipped in the bud, and then even if they did send a non-compliant story in I'd be able to point to the guidelines as a standard reference rather than writing long, late, defensive emails.
  • (Actually something like this did happen with the other almost-guidelines concerning content. They are not good, finished or appropriately presented yet, but even in their current grotty state they are a gigantic help.)
  • Yes, I do still intend as one of my pre-leaving acts to get some better guidelines up. Indeedy doody.
  • It's good to discover some clarity (even at this past-eleventh hour) but it does not need to be inflexible. I have in the past gone to great lengths for a story and this can continue, but only if the story is worth it, and that's the crucial difference. Of course if Maurice AndrĂ© sends me a story in then I'm not going to quibble about who's translating it. But that's the difference - I have to learn to recognize what is important and how to prioritize it, and not treat everything as if it were the Crown Jewels. It doesn't mean being nasty about "lesser" stories but just deciding where I can target the most limited resource, to wit: me.
  • You won't be able to work out which story this is, by the way: I don't think that would be fair. Details, timings, whatever, may have been altered or obfuscated to render identification impossible.
  • Why've I suddenly decided to be a bit more brisk in defending my own position/sanity/whatever? (And, indeed, the quality of service, to take a slightly longer view!) Isn't it a pity I've taken five years to do this? Is the timing a coincidence? Well I suppose it's probably, as you've guessed, that I am getting demob-happy (1, 2) to some extent. It's not that I don't care any more, far from it, but obviously as I am leaving in 143 days then my perspective has necessarily changed and I am perhaps learning some detachment, or impatience, or something, all of which I should have acquired earlier but was unable to. It's not exactly that I was that anxious to please or concerned about keeping the job (especially given the pay!) (goak here) but yes, something along those lines. I think what I'm doing now, the way I'm thinking, is perhaps a bit more grown-up. I like the job but do not have to bust a gut for it unless it is really worthwhile, and this particular case was better dealt with otherwise.
  • (Yes, I do know the exact number of days to 11th April 2008. Spreadsheet spreadsheet. Sad? Don't care!)
  • I cannot help but be strongly reminded of when I left my previous (day) job in IT/learning-centre support for students in an FE college somewhere north of the Thames. (This was an incredibly stressful time, about which I might write one day when sufficiently medicated and/or whiskied!) Once I appreciated that I was really leaving, and that it didn't exactly matter in the same way any more, I suddenly became the most efficient learning support manager - in respect of that dreadful bugbear of student behaviour - ever seen, because I really didn't care whether I was their friend or not, and as a result things actually got better. I suppose that I stopped worrying about whether I was "nice", and became more professional as a result. It was a good lesson but one which I seem to be chronically slow to learn: a pity.

And that's pretty much it. As I get closer to 11th April I suppose that things - these things, other things, just things - are bound to become clearer. I will just have to try to use the information sensibly, both in what I do for, ahem, posterity with the editing job (documentation, guidelines etc) and in what I do with my other work and life. Sounds a bit idealistic for me, doesn't it? Oh well ... onward, and, indeed, upward!

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