People often ask me why am I so averse to editing and feedback. Whenever I get feedback for a paper or an article, anything I've written, I nearly always go into a blind rage about how stupid, silly or confused the person is, how they don't understand what I'm trying to say, or how they are trying to soften or muffle what my intentions are. Sometimes I can argue my way out of making changes, other times I can't.
Today, while I was writing a letter to the editor of the Pacific Daily News, I came across another reason why I find feedback so horrifying. The size limits to the PDN letter to the editor page are 300 words for letters, 550 for editorials.
I wrote out the article that I would love for them to print. It was about 600 words long, too much. It was hard to cut but I started making some edits, here and there. Taking out some cool lines I had, some cool language, imagery, etc. The more I cut, the less exciting the letter was, the more academic it sounded.
What I've learned through my interactions with editors and newspapers is that newspapers are hardly the places for anyone to make arguments. You can take positions, but God forbid you should ever actually try to argue them, there's no room for that! Ever wonder why print journalism has declined so much? Because there's not enough room for real investigative journalism anymore, its far more space and cost efficient to just repeat press releases, or in the case of the PDN, just regurgitate colonial mandates (how many editorials can they print, without any evidence, which amount to "the more military the better!").
The letters to the editor that editors love are short and sweet. The take a position but don't take the time to prove it or explain it. "All politicians are corrupt!" is a great one, especially when they end with an admonishment that sounds like a Who song, "we won't be fooled again."
Returning to my letter. Alot of points that I was making were cut and set aside. All references to President Bush were soon gone. The evidence that I was making my point with, got thinner and thinner, until I almost felt uncertain about writing this letter, because someone could now say that I was just talking out of my ass (but then again, people can say this even if you have boatloads of evidence). What I used to compensate for this, was a call for action at the end. I erased three descrptive paragraphs, which saved me more than a hundred words and then re-used the evidence in a different style, an imperative style, incorporating it into my calls for future action!
When I was done with it, and had successfully trimmed about 150 words from it, I realized how genius the newspaper format is for maintaining status quo. When people who want to make a real argument, a sound and reasoned critique, they can't do it here. What the limits themselves will always force you to do is to either rely on common, general knowledge, "We all know that this is true..." or just through out pathetic points which are easily ignored, "Camacho is an idiot!"
I turned in my letter, and it was returned a few hours later, saying that it was too long and to trim it by another two hundred words! This, of course despite the fact that letters to the editor are regularly longer than 300 words, and in fact none of the five letters that I have published previously were ever under 450 words.
I decided to make a few more cuts, but go no lower than 400 words. And if they still ask for more, then forget about it. Although the form itself requires it and encourages it, I refuse to become just another person yelling out "colonialism is bad!" "why can't we vote for president?" "we're Americans too!" and so on.