1. I have a mortgage. Why else do you think anyone goes in to work every day to deal with those people?
2. I lack the imagination to write fiction and the temperament to do academic scholarship.
As an undergraduate at Michigan State University, I imagined that I had potential to write poetry and fiction. When Syracuse University turned me down for the master's program in creative writing but offered me a fellowship in the academic program, I took it, eventually leaving the program without completing the dissertation for the Ph.D.
It took me an unconscionably long time to recognize that I was not really cut out for academic scholarship, sitting in a carrel ransacking texts for publishable insights. My professors were always encouraging; they are always encouraging to students who appear smart and articulate and promising. But you have to figure out for yourself what your bent is.
I discovered mine at the age of twenty-nine when, in good part by sheer luck, I landed on the copy desk of The Cincinnati Enquirer. Then, more by design than by luck, I made my way to The Baltimore Sun.
3. Journalism matters.
At the very beginning of The Federalist, Alexander Hamilton writes, "It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force."
Journalism is what enables people to make informed decisions about the way they conduct their lives from reflection and choice rather than from accident and force. That extends beyond the political. If I edit an article about political issues, I have responsibility to ensure, as far as I am able, factual accuracy and clarity so that readers can make up their own minds. The same applies if I am editing an article about medical treatments or diet, so that readers can make informed decisions about their health. The same applies if I edit a restaurant review, helping people make an informed decision about where to spend their money and seek amusement.
Shoddy as much journalism admittedly is, we hold dearly to the hope that edited, verified information will rise above noise and chatter and dishonesty, to be recognized and valued.
4. I am mildly obsessive-compulsive.
All good copy editors are. We itch to see things made right, great and small alike. Facts, spelling of names, grammar, usage, house style. It all matters, and we know that if those people will just give us the text and get out of the way, we can fix it, render it clean and correct and ready for publication.
The emphasis, however, is on mildly. Severely obsessive-compulsive editors are never able to let anything go.
5. You have no idea how gratifying editing is.
I used to say that editing is the most fun you can have legally. Andy Bechtel at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill likes his variant: Editing is nearly as much fun as you can have with your clothes on.
You get to work with language. You get to fix things and make them better., And you enjoy the quiet inner satisfaction of identifying other people's lapses. Keep that glow inner. No need to trumpet your findings. It's enough to know.
6. Editing is the thing I am reasonably good at.
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