Remembering the Editors Who Made a Difference
Early in my career, I had several editors who helped shape me into the journalist I am today.
Phil Angelo, our faculty adviser at The Lantern, the daily student newspaper at the Ohio State University, often used the word “ugh” in his critiques of the paper. He was tough and would fill pages with red ink, pointing out various blunders or troublesome paragraphs bogged down by meaningless statistics. When it was all too much for him to explain, he’d simply write “ugh.”
A few of my fellow student reporters felt as if his approach was too heavy-handed, and that a nurturing experience could be more productive. At the time, I was intimidated by him but also realized that he was trying to help. And he did: I saw improvements in my copy and reporting as I continued my Lantern experience.
A thoughtful approach
Several years later, I joined Columbus Monthly, the city magazine in Columbus, Ohio, as a staff writer. Lenore “Lennie” Brown was the longtime editor; her husband Max was the publisher of CM Media.
Lennie was quiet and thoughtful and never appeared rushed, regardless of how busy we were. She was also prone to marking up copy with her own style of handwritten one- and two-word comments in the margins. (This was before the days of the review tab in Microsoft Word.)
Her favorites included “huh?” and “what mean?” Sometimes Lennie explained what she wanted to see; other times, we were on our own to figure out the troubling line or sentence structure.
My longtime friend Erik Battenberg, a San Diego-based PRSA member, also worked at Columbus Monthly and enjoyed his share of Lennie-isms.
“I vaguely recall her drawing a curved line around the edge of a paragraph, quote or passage and writing ‘nice’ or, rarely, ‘very nice,’ and that always made me happy,” Erik told me. “I also remember her writing questions about word choice. Once I wrote a nightlife feature and had a line about ‘adventurous bar-hoppers’ and she circled adventurous and wrote, ‘Should this be adventuresome?’ on it. Not sure if she was asking because she wasn’t sure or because she wanted me to learn something, but she was right.”
My first major feature focused on Ohio State football coach John Cooper. I had dozens of sources and pages worth of observations in the article. It was my “War and Peace,” or so I thought.
I filed the piece and anxiously waited for the results. I casually walked by Lennie’s office multiple times — until she closed the door! Ultimately, she reworked my first 15 paragraphs, and let the detail-laden passages breathe, bringing life to rushed observations. It was a master class in editing.
I was fortunate to work with Lennie for nearly four years, always appreciative of her kind leadership, before I moved to New York.
This past October, I learned that Lennie passed away at age 74. I never had one of those “you were my favorite editor” conversations. However, I think Lennie knew that she had a positive impact on my career.
I share all this against the backdrop of our annual writing and storytelling issue. Whether you had a Phil or a Lennie in your life, I hope that you had someone who helped you grow as a writer and communicator like I did.