In journalism, an editor isn’t just someone who corrects spelling and grammar. Those people still exist, of course, but they’re referred to as copy editors, to distinguish them from the much more powerful section editors. If the newsroom is an orchestra, then editors are the conductors. They decide what gets reported, who does the reporting, and where and when it goes in the newspaper. Collectively, these decisions are called the budget. To extend the musical metaphor further, the budget is the sheet music.
Understanding this is the key to understanding the complicated relationship between editors and journalists. To a journalist, the editor is both supervisor and supporter. They are the source of assignments, deadlines, and criticism, but they are also an advocate, mentor, and collaborator. Your editor can be your best friend, your worst enemy, or both in equal measure.
Kurt Holmes had been my editor for more than a year now, and I still wasn’t sure where to place him.
He was a former beat reporter who had written his way to the other side of the desk, and it was clear from the way he managed his own reporters that he hadn’t forgotten this. He gave us a huge amount of freedom in pursuing stories, knew how to collaborate without micromanaging, and was always willing to accommodate our requests.
He was also a casual lycanphobe, although not of the humanist variety. Like many people, he had a pretty distorted conception of lycanthropy, which was made evident by his frequent stereotyping. It wasn’t malicious though; in fact, his ignorance often ended up benefiting me. For my part, I was more than willing to put up with the occasional insensitive remark if it meant being on the receiving end of some of the more favorable stereotyping he was prone to.
I had come in early that morning, intending to catch him before the weekend budget meeting, but a crash on Central had thwarted those ambitions. Instead, I found myself lurking in the newsroom outside his office, waiting for the section editors to finish their discussion.
It didn’t take long for Kurt to return, and he didn’t seem surprised to find me waiting there.
“Morning,” he said, nodding politely. He barely even slowed his step to unlock the door, doing so in a single fluid motion, of the kind that came from years of repetition. He motioned for me to follow.
“Good article yesterday,” he said, taking a seat behind his desk. “Solid piece of reporting.”
I looked down so he wouldn’t see me smile. It was an empty compliment, little more than a polite conversation starter. And while my human mind understood that, the complexities of conversation were lost on the lupine instincts that copiloted my brain. All my wolf understood was that we had earned the approval of an authority figure.
“That’s actually what I wanted to talk you about,” I said.
He held up a finger as he took a sip of coffee. “Right, right. That opinion piece you asked for, right?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Alright, so.” He paused for more coffee. “Just for future reference, it really helps me sell this stuff in budget meetings if you can give me some arguments for an op-ed. That said, I snagged some space for it in tomorrow’s run.” He finished off the coffee and dropped the cup in the trash. “Now I want you to tell me why I just agreed to bump a feature on water policy so one of my junior reporters can do a Saturday opinion piece.”
Even though I had come prepared for this, I winced. In asking to do an opinion piece, I had been requesting both a specific subject and a certain space in tomorrow’s paper. Kurt had been willing to get that space for me, but now I had to justify that decision. How well I did that would affect how willing he’d be to entertain my requests in the future.
“You said it yourself, I have a unique perspective on the issue.” Technically, as the only werewolf journalist there, my perspective was automatically unique, but saying so would probably ruin the only cachet I had. “That perspective is lost if the only thing I’m doing is reporting on it.”
He looked skeptical. “Keep talking.”
“Lots of people have opinions on wolves, but how many of them have actually been a wolf?” Or have one riding shotgun in their head, I thought. “Same deal with poaching. Not many people have to worry about poaching as an existential threat, but I do. I can say stuff about this topic that nobody else can, and the only place people will be able to read it will be here.” That was the real key, coming up with a way that this could help sell more papers. Framing it as a sort of exclusive scoop was my best shot at getting that op-ed.
“A real insider’s view, so to speak.” He nodded thoughtfully. “Yeah, that could work. Give people something to think about.” He nodded again, more forcefully. “Get it to my desk by five.”
I grinned. For all his lycanphobic views, Kurt was still one of the most accommodating editors I’d ever had (in no small part because of said lycanphobia).
“Thanks Kurt. You’re great.”
“What the hell was I thinking, Rico?”
Rico sat down across from me and started unwrapping his sandwich. “Well, knowing you, you probably weren’t.”
The two of us had elected to take our lunch break at Jimmy John’s that day, and I had spent most of the walk down to CityScape (a concrete labyrinth of shops and restaurants that looks like it was designed by an escaped Nazi architect; just one of Phoenix’s many disastrous attempts at urban redevelopment) explaining to Rico the unexpected difficulties I was experiencing in writing an op-ed.
“You know what I mean. You’re impulsive, Stone.” He lifted up the top of his sub and groaned. “I told them no lettuce. Why is that so hard? It is the default state.”
“How was this impulsive? I had a plan to convince Kurt and everything.”
“Okay, so maybe impulsive isn’t the right word.” He carefully started peeling the lettuce off. “But you do have a tendency to quickly decide on a course of action, and then spend more time coming up with post hoc reasons to do it than actually planning the thing itself.”
“When have I ever done that?”
“Aside from just now?” He held up a hand and started counting off on his fingers. “Let’s see. Moving to Phoenix. Getting a cat. That entire shitshow in Mexico.”
“Mexico wasn’t my fault.”
“Ehhh.” He wobbled his hand in a so-so gesture. “Agree to disagree there.”
“You’re an ass.”
He shrugged. “Doesn’t make me wrong.”
“Fine, whatever. That still doesn’t help me write this op-ed.”
He took a bite out of his sandwich. “Well, how did you spin it to Holmes?”
“An ‘insider’s view’ of the issues affecting wolves,” I said, making air quotes around the phrase.
He laughed. “His words?”
“Alright, and what’s the real reason you want to do this?”
I hesitated. Rico was a good friend, but I was never sure just how much to confide in him. He wasn’t a werewolf, and that meant that there were some things which he wouldn’t – couldn’t – ever fully understand. But if I couldn’t explain this, how the hell was I going to write an opinion piece about it?
“I’m angry,” I finally said. “And worried.”
“About?” He motioned for me to keep talking.
“I don’t know. Society? Everything?” I sighed. “I guess… I guess I’m angry that nobody else seems to care about these issues. I’m angry that I could get shot by a poacher because nobody bothered to enforce the law. And I’m worried about what will happen if those laws just go away.” I clenched my hands into fists.
Rico looked at me carefully, his expression inscrutable. “Then say that. You’ve been reporting on the facts all week, but now you can actually tell people how you feel about them. So do that.” He reached across the table and touched my hand. “And just for the record? I care.”
I nodded slowly. Took a breath. Exhaled.
“You’re right. That’s exactly what I need to do.” I looked up and smiled. “Thanks for the help, Rico. And for lunch.”
“Just doing my job as a friend.” He smiled wryly. “Although I don’t think I ever said anything about paying for lunch.”
I punched his shoulder lightly. “You ass!”
He laughed. “I’m kidding. I already paid at the register.”
I rolled my eyes. “Has anyone ever told you that you joke too much?”
He shook his head. “Impossible. What’s the point of life if you can’t joke about it?”
I didn’t have a response to that, so instead I focused on eating my sandwich.
As it turned out, Rico was right about the opinion piece. Once I knew what it was that I wanted to say, it wasn’t hard to write a full column on it. Seven hundred words about why I hated wolf hunting? Not a problem at all. In fact, I soon found myself with the opposite problem: exceeding the word count. Having to triage your own article is never fun, but it’s not a bad problem to have.
Eventually, a few hours later, I found myself back in front of Kurt’s desk, waiting for his verdict.
“Hmm.” Kurt’s face was blank, his expression impossible to judge.
“What?” I asked, worried. “Is something wrong?”
He shook his head. “No, no. Wasn’t quite what I was expecting, is all.” He idly tapped a finger on his desk and hummed again. “It doesn’t quite read like a normal opinion piece. It’s less… I don’t know… opinionated, I suppose.”
Given how strongly I felt about the subject, I had been worried about being too strident, so I had taken a tone more in-line with my normal reporting style. I had, apparently, overcompensated somewhat, going a bit too far on the reporting side of things.
I kept my gaze focused on his hands. “I can rewrite it if you want.”
“What?” He stopped his finger tapping. “No, no. That wasn’t a criticism. I think the more restrained tone is a benefit. Helps get the point across rather well.” He paused a moment to collect his thoughts. “Honestly, the biggest issue here is just a lack of space. You’re condensing a lot of background info into a few column inches, and I imagine that means there’s a lot of nuance that’s being lost.”
I shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant. “It can’t be helped.”
I had actually wanted to include less background info, but I’d been forced to give a very brief overview of the Parahuman Protection Acts in order to explain why the decriminalization of wolf hunting posed such a danger.
He nodded in agreement. “No, it can’t. Still, it’s a topic that could benefit from a more detailed examination. Maybe something to keep in mind for the future.” Before I could think too much about that particular statement, he continued. “Anyways, I’ve got no objections to this, so if you’re okay with it as is, I can go ahead and send it down to the copy editors now.”
“Sure, that sounds good,” I said, trying not to sound too relieved. “Anything else you want me working on over the weekend?”
He waved his hand dismissively. “Nah, don’t worry about it. We’ve got the Monday issue squared away already.”
“I guess I’ll see you Monday then,” I said, standing up to leave.
“See you Monday,” he confirmed.
“Oh, and Heather,” he called, stopping me in the door of his office. “Enjoy your hike.” He smirked slightly as he said it, making it clear he was referring to the euphemism I had used in the piece for my weekend shapeshifting jaunts.
I forced a smile to my face. “Thanks, Kurt.”
Sometimes you just had to take the good with the bad (and, occasionally, the ugly).