Has Editors’ Abuse of Authors Fueled the Rise of Blogging?

Two years ago, a British newspaper editor emailed Mark Kleiman and me and asked us to write a short piece about crime and drugs. We dutifully did so and promptly sent it to him. But he didn’t respond. I rang him up a week later and asked if he had received it. He said “Oh Yes! I have it right here. I will read it right now and get back to you.”

Another week passed, during which Mark and I sent the editor a few emails to which he didn’t respond. I phoned him again and asked if he didn’t want the piece after all, because we could send it elsewhere if so. Oh no he very much wanted it, he indicated, why else would he have asked for it? He promised to get right back to us. We emailed him and left him voice mails a few more times in the coming weeks and then gave up, having never heard back from him. He never said our piece was good, he never said it was bad, he just solicited us to write it out of the blue and then blew us off.

Fast-forward to this week. I had helped a bright, friendly journalist from a national magazine on a story she was writing. Afterwards I got an email from the editor thanking me for helping the author and asking me to write a response to the article for the next issue. She gave me a word limit and a short time frame to produce the piece. It was a busy time, but my mother reads the magazine and I thought she would like seeing her son in print. I pulled the piece together with some help on drafts from friends and from my mother as well. The editor emailed me “thank you, very much, for this carefully considered response which we are delighted to have.”

Out came the magazine with a number of responses to the article, but mine was not among them. I had no note from the editor explaining why. I therefore emailed her and was informed that she didn’t have space for it. I told her this was most unkind, which beyond my mom and I cancelling our subscriptions is all I can do in response to such shabby treatment.

Mind you, I understand completely that editors receive an avalanche of unsolicited material. And when I send something unsolicited to a newspaper or magazine, I don’t expect any response at all if it isn’t what is wanted. But God, it galls me that editors contact strangers and ask them to write pieces on specific topics and then treat those authors like lepers for the sin of complying with the request.

Much has been written about why blogging has become popular, with decreasing technology costs, desire for self-expression, increasing individualism and the like being cited as plausible causes of the rise of medium. All of that seems reasonable to me, but I have to wonder if exasperation with editors isn’t also in the soup, at least for those bloggers who have experience publishing in print form. I have been edited by some real gems (Matt Seaton at The Guardian, Meredith White at San Francisco Chronicle), but when I see how some editors treat authors, it makes me more prone to cut out the abusive middleman and just go straight to on-line print.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is a Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans and drugs. He is the author or co-author of numerous books and scholarly articles, and has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), the San Francisco Chronicle and other media outlets. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area, he is usually in London, where he is an ad hoc policy adviser to the national and city government, an honorary professor of psychiatry at Kings College, a senior editorial adviser to the journal Addiction, and a member of The Athenaeum. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London, he is usually in Washington D.C., where he serves as a frequent science and policy advisor to federal agencies, and where he has served previously as an appointee to a White House commission and several Secretarial task forces. From July 2009-2010, he served as Senior Policy Advisor at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy. When he is not in the San Francisco Bay Area or London or Washington D.C., he is usually in the Middle East, where since 2004 he has volunteered in the international humanitarian effort to rebuild Iraq’s mental health care system. This work has taken him to Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon to teach and consult with Iraqi health professionals and policy makers.

5 thoughts on “Has Editors’ Abuse of Authors Fueled the Rise of Blogging?”

  1. Fair enough. Maybe next time, tell the person they get X amount of time to print something, and then you use it elsewhere. That way your time isn’t wasted. Probably they were just too wimpy and rude to tell you that they had changed their minds. The older I get, the more I think that being somewhat obnoxious up front is better than being a “nice” weasel. It’s not easy, though.

  2. “Rem facias, rem si possis, recte, si non, quocumque modo, rem.”

    “Oof, Bertie, moolah, spondulicks.”

  3. I don’t think this is something new. When I was a minor sub-editor I ignored people all the time, and told others to hurry up and wait on a fairly regular basis. But back then there wasn’t much they could do about it.

  4. Blogging is better both because it gets your stuff out there when you want it out and because it gets it out in your words. The only thing worse than editors who sit on stories until they’re dead is editors who (1) think they can write but can’t and (2) think they understand your topic better than you do.

    I like to have my prose edited, and I’ve worked with some great editors, including Gary Rosen at the Wall Street Journal. But I must have my by-line on between fifty and a hundred op-eds, and I can count on my fingers the number that weren’t significantly disimproved in the editing process.

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