Stephen Wilbers: 800 columns, and editors helped make them better

  • Article by: STEPHEN WILBERS , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 19, 2009 - 11:06 PM

I dedicate this, my 800th column, to you, my editors and readers.

First, a word about editors. Sometimes viewed as the enemy by writers, who accuse them of nitpicking, often unappreciated by readers, who blame them for errors that slip by them, editors get it from both sides -- three sides if you count their bosses.

Accused and abused, and often underpaid, editors have a tough job. About the only thing they have going for them is they don't have to produce copy. That and they can take pride in the accomplishments of the writers whose copy they correct and improve. If they're the nurturing type, they also can take satisfaction in helping younger writers develop over time into accomplished writers.

In the old days, secretaries served as editors, saving writers from countless infelicities and embarrassments. These days, however, most on-the-job writers work without backup or assistance, with no one preparing or reviewing their text for them. As a result, it's a straight shot from writer to customer, from cubicle to the great wide world, a perilous arrangement at best.

Fortunately, in the newspaper business, columnists and reporters still have editors. Thank goodness. Over the 18 years I've been writing this column, my editors have rescued me from error and disgrace innumerable times. On that rare occasion when one of my errors slips by my editor, my readers happily, even gleefully, point it out to me. If I were holding up my end of the bargain, I would be sending my editors perfect copy.

A few weeks ago I was having lunch at a local Thai restaurant with Neal Gendler, my editor at the Star Tribune. We were talking about the challenges of meeting daily deadlines, producing a largely error-free daily newspaper and cutting down overly long stories to fit the space available when he paid me a wonderful compliment. "To tell you the truth," he said, chopsticks in hand, "you're the least of my troubles."

So to Neal and to my two previous victims at the Star Tribune, Susan Peterson and Randy Salas, I offer my sincere appreciation. Thanks for putting up with me. And to editors everywhere, I offer my thanks for your hard work. We writers appreciate your patience, knowledge and expertise. Thank you for working behind the scenes, generally unacknowledged and often unappreciated, to make us writers look good. You take the blame when we blow it, and we take the credit when we get it right.

I also thank you, my readers, who not only point out my errors but also encourage me in my efforts to offer helpful writing instruction. I appreciate your kind words, and I enjoy hearing about your own challenges, failures and triumphs with writing. Thank you for sharing your stories with me.

In appreciation of your commitment to clear, precise, correct communication, I invite you to join me for a celebration of my 800th column at Kieran's Irish Pub in downtown Minneapolis on May 27. For details, see www.wilbers.com.

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