Editors Often Conditioned for Mediocrity


Clever entrepreneur and author Seth Godin posted an interesting piece on editors today. His point: the easy route for editors is the safe route, which avoids trouble – but also eliminates success.

“Sometimes, a great editor will push the remarkable stuff,” stated Godin. “That’s his job.”

I wholeheartedly agree editors often take the trouble-free route, which can result in lame material. However, it’s often not the choice of editors, but rather the suffocating layers of policies and bureaucracy enforced by the poor soul’s boss, department or company. Editors are, frankly, politicized and homogenized into submission.

Only once during my 16-year career as an editor and managing editor of two international corporations, both with 20,000-plus employees, was I supported to take a chance — with a feature highlighting several clients and communicating point blank what they valued, how they perceived our services, and what could be done to increase their satisfaction.

Out of the thousands of articles I wrote and edited over the years, that one received the most enthusiasm and recognition in the form of dozens of letters and calls by employees who were otherwise uninterested in company news. It created a buzz, got people talking about opportunities and generated genuine interest in the company and its future.

But that was one time. Otherwise, ideas and articles were pushed through endless approval processes involving directors, VPs, legal departments, marketing teams and even the CEO. In one case, I sat in a boardroom for three hours having a feature article dissected by 13 committee members. More often than not, the end products turned out to be dull, if not useless.

I recall pitching a unique newsletter concept to grab employees’ interest when there was a push to bring “fun” into the workplace. It was a format and style mimicking tacky tabloids with ridiculous headlines, complete with attention-grabbing photos of frontline staff and fun-filled captions.

The response from headquarters: “We’re wondering about you.” Not a speck of interest. Ironically, two years later, another company produced a very similar tabloid-type publication, which won them all sorts of acknowledgment and awards.

It brings to mind a quote from Tom Peters’ Essential Series book titled ‘Talent’. During a seminar in Sydney, a successful businessman stood up and said to Peters: “Reward excellent failures. Punish mediocre success.”

What a powerful philosophy — one that organizations should embrace.

2 responses to “Editors Often Conditioned for Mediocrity”

  1. Dave Fields says:

    I like it, but most managers don’t have the balls to try something different. They hide under their desks to avoid the waves of layoffs.

  2. Grant NY says:

    In all fairness, I was a manager for years and almost lost my job twice for trying to rattle the cage and get beyond mediocre. Don’t blame the managers when the system is at fault.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *