From the Editor

What exactly do editors do?

sduerr@thetribunenews.comJuly 10, 2014 

Sandra Duerr

When speaking to various groups around the county, I’m often asked what editors do. In his farewell column to readers today, Bert Etling, managing editor of our sister newspaper, The Cambrian, wrote a thoughtful, eloquent answer. I couldn’t have said it better. Bert will start next week as editor of the Ashland Daily Tidings in Ashland, Ore., where he will be closer to family.

In his words:

“An editor is a chef and a butcher, picking the best ingredients, cutting off the fat, coming up with a combination of courses (appetizer, entrée, dessert; briefs, news, entertainment) to make for the reader an edible meal with no inedibles on the plate. It’s much easier than foraging for your daily meals, or your daily information package, yourself. Trust me on this.

An editor is a ringmaster, presenting the varied skills of expert performers in several rings to the wonderment and elucidation of the audience.

An editor is a bricklayer, stonemason, carpenter — stacking, carving, joining the elements of a structure, a publication, an informational entity, he hopes stands up to the elements, to scrutiny.

An editor is a gardener, pulling out the weedy words, planting ideas, nurturing stories, combining elements to create an environment he hopes proves hospitable and nurturing to those who pass through.

An editor is an honest broker in the information marketplace, finding and delivering facts without fear or favor of friend or foe. Period.

Finally, the obligatory Lincoln and Twain quotes.

‘You can please all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time,’ said Abraham Lincoln. He was a politician, not an editor, but dittos to that. It’s fine. How would any progress ever be made if everyone was always happy? It’s a no-brainer, as in a ‘Brave New World,’ soma-induced state. We want the fray, the spray, the dialogue, the argument. ‘Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants,’ as Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once said, and a community conversation is the best decision-making process.

Mark Twain wrote, ‘Ever since I survived my week as editor, I have found at least one pleasure in any newspaper that comes to my hand; it is in admiring the long columns of editorial, and wondering to myself how in the mischief he did it!’

And he also wrote: ‘I am not the editor of a newspaper and shall always try to do right and be good so that God will not make me one.’

Yes, editing is a lot of work, terrifying most of the time, exhilarating from time to time but, on the whole, I thank God he made me one.”

Do you have a question about the newspaper, our website or our coverage? If so, please write me c/o The Tribune, P.O. Box 112, San Luis Obispo, CA 93406-0112, or email me at sduerr@thetribunenews.com. Follow me on Twitter @SandraDuerr

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