Monday, May 16, 2005

Editing Mitch Albom

The Free Press has released its review of Mitch Albom's work.

It didn't find any problems of the magnitude of the column that caused this hullabaloo. But it did find that Albom has many times lifted quotes from other media outlets without attributing. (This practice recently cost two reporters their jobs, one at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and one at USA Today.)

There's also a section on editing Albom:
As Albom's profile rose he garnered national recognition.

But another perception also grew -- from sports to features to other sections that have all edited Albom's columns -- about the need to go light on editing his copy.

"Nobody ever came up to me and said don't touch Mitch, but there are lots of subtle clues," said Greg Crawford, a features copy editor. "With columnists here, management kind of encourages a cult of personality."

Crawford noted that even as the paper began reeling from Albom's flawed April 3 column, the copy desk chief sent his staff a computer message telling them not to touch the copy of another heavily promoted columnist, Rochelle Riley, without her permission. "Just about any change, beyond a typo ... should be discussed with her," said the memo, posted on the newsroom's intranet.

Riley declined to comment.

Alex Cruden, the chief editor of the copy desks, told his staff the memo was merely intended to remind copy editors to check with columnists before changing their language, a long-standing practice. But Crawford and others said the memo had a chilling effect on some copy editors, who are responsible for scanning stories for flaws.
Names are also given, toward the end of the article, on the editing Albom's original problem column got.
[Gene] Myers, Albom's direct editor, said, "I have no clue how I missed it. I totally screwed up. Everyone needs an editor, and I failed miserably in this case."

The column, in addition to the made-up descriptions, carried a St. Louis dateline that suggested Albom had been there. But he was in Michigan when he wrote it. The paper forbids the use of datelines if the writer did not report or write the story in that location. After reading the column, Myers sent it to the copy desk for further edits.

Two veteran copy editors -- Marshall Swanson and Lee Snider -- said they read the story, they noticed the past tense narration, but did nothing.

"I didn't raise any flag," Swanson said. "I'm sorry I didn't. I made a couple of assumptions that weren't worth a damn and so did Mitch."

Next in line was Barbara Arrigo, an editorial page writer asked to review a final version of the Sunday page, said she also put aside her concerns. "I could kick myself," Arrigo said.
Further reading:
>Recent discussion from "Albom apology" [Testy Copy Editors]
>Levine Resigns from 'AJC' for Lifted Quotes [Editor & Publisher]
>USA Today Reporter Resigns [Washington Post]
>Food for thought on Squitieri firing [A Capital Idea]

(Edited to update TCE link)


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