A month ago, there was an attempt to draw me into a debate regarding a blog I had written in late 2022. I immediately thought of my father. More to the point, I thought about what my father might do in this situation.
See dad was a newspaper man. It was the job he held for over 50 years. Around 1952, just out of the army, he began as a sportswriter. This was work he dearly loved. It also came with lousy hours if you had a young wife and two small kids at home. Most local sporting events in Bremerton, Washington took place at night, so my sister and I didn’t see much of our father until the weekend.
My father was a good writer. He was a massively better editor, and the newspaper recognized that skill and promoted him to City Editor; gone was the night work. In his new role, he was responsible for editing the front page of The Bremerton Sun. He was also responsible for editing the editorial page.
Editing is a skill and often a thankless job. He used to tell me that the job of an editor is to “kill off the writer’s darlings.” This phrase means to edit out bits of writing that are interesting or loved to the writer, but do not carry the piece forward. This is a newspaper phrase that has likely fallen out of style, but in the 50s and 60s, all writers understood the work this descriptor carried and they were ultimately happy having my father’s editing skills refining their wordsmithing.
Editors are on the look out for poor sentence structure and paragraphs that do not carry the story forward. They want to see a strong opening (the lede, it’s called in journalism) and a sharp close. Also, it is important for the editor to protect the writer’s unique voice. My father edited five distinct writers’ voices in any given week, and I believe he considered those voices his second family. He took care of them, he nurtured them, he saw them grow.
Reporting the news is about who, what, how, and where regarding the situation at the moment of going to press. The editorial page is the place where the writer and the newspaper express an opinion that usually goes beyond the narrow lane of reporting the facts of the event.
Historically, these two newspaper functions, fact and opinion, had a sacred barrier between them. That barrier has been eroded in recent years. Tucker Carlson is a case study on what can happen when hard news is blended with opinons.
So, what might my father say about the challenge to my blog post? I have a pretty good idea, he’d say: “Congratulations. Someone read your piece. You didn’t waste all your time.” He would also remind me that many readers lack a distinction between news reporting and opinion pieces.
I am not sure if that is what happened when I was challenged on my piece. I do know that there is a large marketplace for the exchange of ideas. We are all welcome to trade in that market. Opinions are a version of ideas for exchange. Inside the exchange is the possibility that something new can emerge.
More curiosity and inquiry are required. We live in a world where being an advocate is a coveted skillset. Being seen as an expert matters, but it can come at a cost of fresh ideas.
My father did not live long enough to read my writings. But he has had the last laugh. His grand-daughter, my daughter, Annika, has had a career as an editor in New York. She edits all my blogs.
I suspect she talks to her grandfather about his son’s writing all the time. For me, I write inside a sacred space between my father and my daughter. I am blessed.