© Ted Clifton 2015
Ted Clifton
THE WRITING PROCESS This month as a feature in the newsletter we are beginning our interview with Stanley Nelson.  Stan co-wrote the Muckraker series with me and is a good friend.  His background is journalism and editing.  My opinion is that he is one of the best on both counts.  I asked Stan a number of questions which will be answered in the newsletter and also listed here as a reference.  #1 Question Ted.  What do you consider the primary responsibility of an editor? Stan.  The primary responsibility of a professional literary editor is to be Reader No. 1. As simple as that sounds, a lot of editors either forget or never realize that. The more of other writers' material I edit, the more I find myself dealing not with how the writer writes, but rather with how the reader will respond to what's written. Technique isn't that big a deal. Grammar's more flexible than we give it credit for being. And who really has a handle on what "style of writing" means? (In fact, practical emphasis on any of those marks an editor as an amateur.) What matters most is the reader's experience with the story. The editor's job is to help the writer reach the reader, and the reader to reach the story. The idea is to achieve Kurt Vonnegut's first rule of fiction writing:  Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. It is not simple. The job demands people skills, intuition, exquisite diplomacy and the acute sensibilities of a deeply learned literary critic. But the last thing an editor should do is to present himself or herself as an authority--that always cripples the relationship with the writer, which must be a partnership. Even at that, the editor must understand that he or she works primarily for the reader, and must begin from that perspective.
Ted Clifton’s 
Newsletter
Features
 #3 Question Ted.  You were involved with newspapers in the 1970s and 80s at a much different time than the newspaper world today.  What do you see in the future for major daily newspapers? Stan.  Not long after I was asked this question, the present owners of The New York Daily News, which has earned 11 Pulitzer Prizes for its journalism, announced a shocking reduction of the paper's newsroom staff, by about half. The resultant purge deleted entire sub-departments, and left about eighty-five, not all reporters, to cover about 4,500 square miles and about 8.6 million people, besides most of our nation's leading cultural institutions. Meanwhile, out west, reporters and editors at the Denver Post, once a giant of Southwestern US journalism, can but wish they had it so good. After a punishing series of personnel and capital cuts by its present owner, the newsroom was moved into the scarcely populated outskirts of town, as if banished. The string of similar indignations against the staff yet continued, and in time they rebelled, publishing a number of columns and editorials detailing the socially deleterious effects of the owner's strategies and openly pleading that the Post be sold. The owner has so far refused to do so, even against an offer from at least one other media owner with a visibly different business philosophy.
Not all instances of journalistic decline or recession—and there have been many—are similar. The owners of The Tulsa Tribune, where I worked as an editor for 13 years, elected in 1992 to close the paper and provide generous aid and farewell compensations to the staff after learning from the Tulsa World that their joint operating agreement, in which the World held the greater part, would not be renewed nearly four years later. Present at each instance were choruses of various official and quasi-official sources and authorities, each offering similarly grave warnings of consequences that were, and are, already evident. One has been characterized as an accelerating deterioration in the relationship between the public and the journalists who insist they serve the public interest. There always has been a remarkable and somewhat unique tension between the business of journalism for profit and the market for that business’s product. The tension plays out in the characterizations each resorts to concerning the other. To the public, journalists seem a misbegotten breed of cynical, self-serving voyeurs, lusting to sell people out for the sake of profit and titillation. To journalists, the public seems a faceless, homogenized mass of the uninformed, gullible, intransigent and treacherous, equally as prone to lie as to believe lies. To an extent, both are correct, for honest reasons. Newspapers and similar media are businesses, whether this one does well or that one only just survives, and thus find themselves exposed to the same judgments as any other enterprise for profit. Readers are customers, legendarily fickle and given to impulses that range from merely counter-intuitive to frankly inexplicable. For example: newspapers offer thousands of words of information on a regular basis, at least most of them vetted for veracity and authority, yet they lose customers by the thousands each day. Social media, which offers far less and little to no guarantee it will make sense, let alone tell a word of truth, gained adherents by the millions. It isn’t difficult to see how loss of circulation and popularity among newspapers happened, given all that. Still, some giants survive without suffering precisely the same effects. Examples are The New York Times and The Washington Post, putatively the leading newspapers in our nation. Each has assumed the obligations of staying “up to date” in technological terms, if not always smoothly. Most importantly, both have maintained their images in the media market as authoritative and dependable sources of news and investigation. Neither is or has been owned by a company similar to the ones that own the Denver Post or the New York Daily News or others in similar circumstances, and have suffered similar, rather inevitable consequences. But those other papers don’t suffer only because of what their owners are accused of, being a headlong pursuit of profit regardless of consequence to the core business. It’s because their owners haven’t the first understanding of the business they’re in. The Times is and has always been the standard of newspapers, and journalism itself, not only because of technical excellence—reportorial diligence, editorial rectitude, technological flexibility, whatever—but because its staff never forgets their primary business and product is the telling of stories. Storytelling, even in the specialized ways the Times does it, is not a simple matter, but a necessary one. It keeps entire cultures together. It transcends politics. It keeps readers connected to countless concerns in countless ways. The papers, or especially their owners, who understand that, either will survive or have the best chance to. The ones who don’t, or aren’t allow to act on that understanding, will vanish into the great, whirling, directionless Mixmaster of social media. That truth will brook no regard for form or format, size or circulation.
#2 Question Ted. You have written books yourself. Do you believe someone can self-edit or should everyone have someone else edit their writing? Stan. Short answer: Yes. Writers always edit their own material. They pretty much have to. How they do it can make a difference: - More or less edit as they go--write some, edit that, repeat. - Use what I call the Jay Cronley method (I once worked at the same newspaper with Jay, who wrote Funny Farm, Quick Change and other novels that were made into movies). It goes: write, lay it aside a while--he recommended two weeks at least--and go back over it. - Or a combination, which I think most writers do. For however little it's worth, like most other writers, I keep an eye on things while I write--check facts, spellings, syntax, etc. And sometimes, especially while writing fiction, I'll set the work aside for a few days before I'll go back to read it from the beginning or some point far enough back to suit me. I'll edit as I go, and pick up where I left off. After I write the end, that begins a whole other, long cycle of rereading and revision, beginning to end. But every writer is different, and every project is different. Still, the point to be made is that every writer self-edits. The big question is, can we trust self-editing as sufficient for publication? Short answer: No. Full disclosure: I did, years ago, self-publish a solely self-edited title. How I wish I hadn't. And I never will again. I'm not saying I didn't edit and revise and rewrite, like the experts counsel. I certainly did. And I'm not reticent about my skills as an editor--I'll tell anyone, I'm one of the best I know. But that time I learned that confidence won't catch everything. And it can't stretch nearly enough to cover comprehensive developmental editing of my own work. I see that truth reinforced every time I write for publication, regardless of the project. In a nutshell, others' eyes see other things. Also, a writer must never forget that she or he may be a reader, but is not and cannot be the reader. Through each story, fiction or otherwise, runs a boundary as real as it is invisible. On one side is the writer, whose understanding of the story and everything to do with it is necessarily more intimate and complete. On the other is the reader, who must be introduced to the story, word by word, idea by idea. Only an independent editor can be relied upon to make sure the story works for the reader. Having dealt with all that, the next matter to consider is the editor. The only advice I dare to offer and that even approaches specificity is to find one you can trust. How you work that out has to be up to you. What kind of editors do I trust? I trust ones who edit for the reader.
© Ted Clifton 2015
Many of my stories take place in New Mexico, where I lived and painted for many years. 
PurpleSage Books
THE WRITING PROCESS This month as a feature in the newsletter we are beginning our interview with Stanley Nelson.  Stan co-wrote the Muckraker series with me and is a good friend.  His background is journalism and editing.  My opinion is that he is one of the best on both counts.  I asked Stan a number of questions which will be answered in the newsletter and also listed here as a reference.  #1 Question Ted.  What do you consider the primary responsibility of an editor? Stan.  The primary responsibility of a professional literary editor is to be Reader No. 1. As simple as that sounds, a lot of editors either forget or never realize that. The more of other writers' material I edit, the more I find myself dealing not with how the writer writes, but rather with how the reader will respond to what's written. Technique isn't that big a deal. Grammar's more flexible than we give it credit for being. And who really has a handle on what "style of writing" means? (In fact, practical emphasis on any of those marks an editor as an amateur.) What matters most is the reader's experience with the story. The editor's job is to help the writer reach the reader, and the reader to reach the story. The idea is to achieve Kurt Vonnegut's first rule of fiction writing:  Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. It is not simple. The job demands people skills, intuition, exquisite diplomacy and the acute sensibilities of a deeply learned literary critic. But the last thing an editor should do is to present himself or herself as an authority--that always cripples the relationship with the writer, which must be a partnership. Even at that, the editor must understand that he or she works primarily for the reader, and must begin from that perspective.
#2 Question Ted. You have written books yourself. Do you believe someone can self-edit or should everyone have someone else edit their writing? Stan. Short answer: Yes. Writers always edit their own material. They pretty much have to. How they do it can make a difference: - More or less edit as they go--write some, edit that, repeat. - Use what I call the Jay Cronley method (I once worked at the same newspaper with Jay, who wrote Funny Farm, Quick Change and other novels that were made into movies). It goes: write, lay it aside a while--he recommended two weeks at least--and go back over it. - Or a combination, which I think most writers do. For however little it's worth, like most other writers, I keep an eye on things while I write- -check facts, spellings, syntax, etc. And sometimes, especially while writing fiction, I'll set the work aside for a few days before I'll go back to read it from the beginning or some point far enough back to suit me. I'll edit as I go, and pick up where I left off. After I write the end, that begins a whole other, long cycle of rereading and revision, beginning to end. But every writer is different, and every project is different. Still, the point to be made is that every writer self-edits. The big question is, can we trust self-editing as sufficient for publication? Short answer: No. Full disclosure: I did, years ago, self-publish a solely self-edited title. How I wish I hadn't. And I never will again. I'm not saying I didn't edit and revise and rewrite, like the experts counsel. I certainly did. And I'm not reticent about my skills as an editor--I'll tell anyone, I'm one of the best I know. But that time I learned that confidence won't catch everything. And it can't stretch nearly enough to cover comprehensive developmental editing of my own work. I see that truth reinforced every time I write for publication, regardless of the project. In a nutshell, others' eyes see other things. Also, a writer must never forget that she or he may be a reader, but is not and cannot be the reader. Through each story, fiction or otherwise, runs a boundary as real as it is invisible. On one side is the writer, whose understanding of the story and everything to do with it is necessarily more intimate and complete. On the other is the reader, who must be introduced to the story, word by word, idea by idea. Only an independent editor can be relied upon to make sure the story works for the reader. Having dealt with all that, the next matter to consider is the editor. The only advice I dare to offer and that even approaches specificity is to find one you can trust. How you work that out has to be up to you. What kind of editors do I trust? I trust ones who edit for the reader.
#3 Question Ted.  You were involved with newspapers in the 1970s and 80s at a much different time than the newspaper world today.  What do you see in the future for major daily newspapers? Stan.  Not long after I was asked this question, the present owners of The New York Daily News, which has earned 11 Pulitzer Prizes for its journalism, announced a shocking reduction of the paper's newsroom staff, by about half. The resultant purge deleted entire sub-departments, and left about eighty-five, not all reporters, to cover about 4,500 square miles and about 8.6 million people, besides most of our nation's leading cultural institutions. Meanwhile, out west, reporters and editors at the Denver Post, once a giant of Southwestern US journalism, can but wish they had it so good. After a punishing series of personnel and capital cuts by its present owner, the newsroom was moved into the scarcely populated outskirts of town, as if banished. The string of similar indignations against the staff yet continued, and in time they rebelled, publishing a number of columns and editorials detailing the socially deleterious effects of the owner's strategies and openly pleading that the Post be sold. The owner has so far refused to do so, even against an offer from at least one other media owner with a visibly different business philosophy. Not all instances of journalistic decline or recession—and there have been many—are similar. The owners of The Tulsa Tribune, where I worked as an editor for 13 years, elected in 1992 to close the paper and provide generous aid and farewell compensations to the staff after learning from the Tulsa World that their joint operating agreement, in which the World held the greater part, would not be renewed nearly four years later. Present at each instance were choruses of various official and quasi-official sources and authorities, each offering similarly grave warnings of consequences that were, and are, already evident. One has been characterized as an accelerating deterioration in the relationship between the public and the journalists who insist they serve the public interest. There always has been a remarkable and somewhat unique tension between the business of journalism for profit and the market for that business’s product. The tension plays out in the characterizations each resorts to concerning the other. To the public, journalists seem a misbegotten breed of cynical, self-serving voyeurs, lusting to sell people out for the sake of profit and titillation. To journalists, the public seems a faceless, homogenized mass of the uninformed, gullible, intransigent and treacherous, equally as prone to lie as to believe lies. To an extent, both are correct, for honest reasons. Newspapers and similar media are businesses, whether this one does well or that one only just survives, and thus find themselves exposed to the same judgments as any other enterprise for profit. Readers are customers, legendarily fickle and given to impulses that range from merely counter-intuitive to frankly inexplicable. For example: newspapers offer thousands of words of information on a regular basis, at least most of them vetted for veracity and authority, yet they lose customers by the thousands each day. Social media, which offers far less and little to no guarantee it will make sense, let alone tell a word of truth, gained adherents by the millions. It isn’t difficult to see how loss of circulation and popularity among newspapers happened, given all that. Still, some giants survive without suffering precisely the same effects. Examples are The New York Times and The Washington Post, putatively the leading newspapers in our nation. Each has assumed the obligations of staying “up to date” in technological terms, if not always smoothly. Most importantly, both have maintained their images in the media market as authoritative and dependable sources of news and investigation. Neither is or has been owned by a company similar to the ones that own the Denver Post or the New York Daily News or others in similar circumstances, and have suffered similar, rather inevitable consequences. But those other papers don’t suffer only because of what their owners are accused of, being a headlong pursuit of profit regardless of consequence to the core business. It’s because their owners haven’t the first understanding of the business they’re in. The Times is and has always been the standard of newspapers, and journalism itself, not only because of technical excellence—reportorial diligence, editorial rectitude, technological flexibility, whatever—but because its staff never forgets their primary business and product is the telling of stories. Storytelling, even in the specialized ways the Times does it, is not a simple matter, but a necessary one. It keeps entire cultures together. It transcends politics. It keeps readers connected to countless concerns in countless ways. The papers, or especially their owners, who understand that, either will survive or have the best chance to. The ones who don’t, or aren’t allow to act on that understanding, will vanish into the great, whirling, directionless Mixmaster of social media. That truth will brook no regard for form or format, size or circulation.
Ted Clifton’s
Newsletter